Category Archives: Asia-Pacific

Analysis relating to USPACOM.

Understanding Australia’s Submarine Choice

Australia is set to embark upon its most ambitious, complex, and expensive defense project in history – the design and construction of its first indigenous submarine. Understanding why Australia has decided to commit to such a project requires both knowledge of Australia’s unique geographical environment and regional strategic realities.

Dubbed the Future Submarine Project, this ambitious scheme hopes to develop the ability to design, test, and construct an Australian submarine perfectly suited for the unique conditions in which it would be required to operate. The project is estimated to cost anywhere between 16 to 36 billion Australian dollars (the final price remains a point of contention) and aims to construct the largest diesel attack submarines in the world, surpassing even the mighty U.S. Virginia-class. The 2013 Defense White Paper unequivocally stated the nation’s intent, removing all other options from the table. There remains, however, a rather heated debate within Australia as to the risks versus possible reward of the Future Submarine Project. Australia has never before attempted something of this magnitude; normally preferring to purchase advanced pieces of military hardware from those who have spent decades perfecting the trade. Such crucial facts and some strategic foresight explain this ambitious move.

Firstly, unique geography plays an enormous role in Australia’s decision making. With one of the largest maritime domains in the world, a massive 8,148,250 square kilometers, Australia’s claims stretch from the freezing waters of Antarctica through to the far warmer waters in the North, near the equator. The sheer size of the zone raises a difficult question for the nation, which while large in geographic size, is relatively small in population, with roughly only 23 million people for a nation the size of the United States.

It remains rather difficult if not impossible, to patrol and monitor the vast majority of Australian waters. Subsequently areas of importance must be selected. Furthermore military platforms are required to spend long periods of time on station patrolling this zone and covering far larger swaths of sea with limited resources. Australia requires craft that are durable, versatile, and capable of long-term deployments.

The size of the continent creates another difficult situation for any navy but especially a submarine force. Multiple sea conditions surround the Australian coastline, with the warmer Pacific Ocean in the north and the much cooler Indian Ocean in the south, far rougher conditions occur in the Indian Ocean than in the milder Pacific Ocean. These climatic changes of temperature alter the salinity of the water, (thereby affecting buoyancy), creating a strong demand for durable and versatile craft.

Now, one may ask why the significantly more demanding polar South of the nation requires such serious attention. Despite being a zone of little activity, compared to the busy Northern trade routes, Australia places high strategic importance upon patrolling the Southern route, or so-called “Australian backyard”.  Australia claims up to 40% of Antarctica (despite being ignored by most of the world’s powers, including the United States). Australia does however take this entitlement quite seriously and consequently, the southern region is patrolled and monitored. Anyone who doubts Australia’s intention to protect and guard its southern approach, need only look at a map of claimed Australian maritime borders, and note the strategically placed Macquarie and Heard Islands. These seemingly insignificant parcels of land allow for the creation of effective choke points to any approach of Australia’s claimed Antarctic region and southern trade routes. Should circumstances arise where northern trade routes become unsafe, or worse still blocked perhaps through conflict, the longer and inhospitable south would remain of vital importance. Australia relies on seaborne trade for survival, and if the above mentioned eventuality were ever to arise, the ability to place quiet attack submarines in the newly vital southern trade routes to protect shipping and monitor activity, becomes of unquestionable importance. Combined with Australian Antarctic sovereignty claims, the enforcement of the entire region becomes clearer to understand, despite the highly unpleasant arctic conditions.

Secondly, growing military capabilities within Southeast and Northern Asia place a further emphasis on the need for a highly survivable and capable submarine fleet. Australia looks beyond 2025 when questioning future military capabilities in Asia, this points to a period where many neighboring nations will have acquired formidable submarine platforms and anti-shipping capabilities. For example Indonesia is seeking to expand its small fleet of two submarines toward a more powerful twelve with the recent purchase of Russia’s quiet running Kilo-class diesel submarine. Vietnam will take possession of its first submarine fleet by the end of 2016. This is not to forget the expansive growth of Chinese A2/AD, or area denial abilities, primarily the growth of anti-shipping weaponry from the emerging power. Lastly, this also heralds the end of the aging Collins-class diesel attack submarine Australia currently employs.

While not necessarily constituting an arms race, the growth of submarine capabilities throughout Southeast Asian nations demonstrates the development of these nations as maritime powers who are self-conscious of their perceived lack of maritime defense ability. The growth of ballistic anti-ship missile technology helps to explain the sudden popularity of submarine fleets, as surface vessels lose their survivability in conflict. For smaller nations, these vessels work to create an important deterrent and if need be, the capability to wage effective warfare against a more powerful enemy.

As for Australia, while it certainly doesn’t consider the growth of neighboring military capabilities a risk to its survival, it understands how maritime abilities developed by its neighbors can help secure Southeast Asia and those ever important trade routes. However, it also realizes that the growth of military capabilities erodes Australia’s traditional military edge over its immediate possible rivals. Seemingly then, the desire to have one of the most capable and deadly submarine fleets in the region remains critically important to Australia, which considers much of Southeast Asia of vital strategic importance. Any Asian history buffs should look to the 1951 Radford Collins agreement to get a sense of the zone (large portions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans) Australia has considered under its immediate strategic concern, and perhaps what it still does.

Thirdly we come to the varied options Australia has to replace the aging Collins-class. Taking into consideration the above requirements for the future submarine, the list of possible options for replacing the Collins-class is seemingly on the short side. The SEA 1000 project was the study committed in order to ascertain Australia’s requirements for a future submarine. Three basic options were put forward: to buy a MOTS (model off-the-shelf) design and modify it for Australian conditions, evolve the current Collins-class submarine for future use, or lastly create a brand new indigenous submarine designed for Australian requirements.

The first option of buying MOTS craft, while certainly more cost effective and of lower risk than the other two options, would struggle to fulfill Australian demands, despite major and costly modifications. While most capable submarines are more than suitable for many other Southeast Asian nations, the vast majority of MOTS-designed craft would not be suited for the expansive Australian maritime border. Most MOTS craft are relatively small, with an average crew of around 30-to-50 men, resulting in less time deployed and limited range due to lack of fuel and food supply.

The Collins-class by comparison holds upward of 80 men with far larger compliments of fuel and food, allowing for greater deployment time, upward of three months. The new Future Submarine is planned to be even larger. The increased size also allows for greater armament of torpedoes and guided missiles. The Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine has often been touted as a possible alternative to an Australia design, and while there have been indications that the U.S. might be willing to sell them, the nuclear element of the craft was rejected by the Australian government. While this has been blamed on a lack of nuclear infrastructure in order to effectively manage a nuclear propelled craft, it is more likely the government remains unwilling to attempt a difficult sell of nuclear technology to a voting public distrustful of nuclear energy, and as a major signatory of the NPT (non-proliferation treaty) it would be trekking into unknown legal waters by attaining nuclear powered craft. Ultimately then, a purchase of MOTS submarines would poorly fit Australia’s needs, and would more than likely result in far greater cost in order to get them to an acceptable level, and without nuclear power, any real contender craft are removed.

The option of evolving the current Collins-class is also touted as a more cost-effective alternative to producing a brand new submarine. However the historical failings of its original design have left an unpleasant memory within the Defence Force and government, who now strive to avoid the same mistake. The Collins-class was put to tender from seven of the world’s nine diesel shipbuilding companies. Eventually the Swedish company, Kockums, put forward the Type 471 submarine, fitted with systems from an American company, Rockwell. From the onset major issues arose with the submarine build, resulting in numerous mechanical failures and setbacks. This meant cost spiraled greatly, and a following disagreement between Rockwell, Kockums, RAN, and the Australian government meant the vessels were delayed in their construction.

A lesson learned after costly upgrade programs were enacted was that too much diversification on one project could result in communication breakdowns, and the incompatible mating of components made from different suppliers resulted in unforeseen issues, especially when attempting to implant American combat systems into MOTS submarines. This helps to explain the current decision to commit to the largest and most complex defence project in Australia’s history. Again, however, there is great depth into understanding the current decision, the emergence of a nation set on expanding its abilities and standing in the world.

The RAND Corporation was hired by the Australian government to conduct a study into Australia’s submarine building and design capacity. It subsequently found that while the infrastructure was only slightly lacking, and the software capability was acceptable, a skills shortage proved to be the greatest problem, especially in regards to undersea propulsion. At no stage was the possibility of an indigenous submarine design and construct ever deemed impossible, rather, it conveyed a real sense of the possibility of Australia enhancing its ability to produce complex and highly advanced defence platforms. Plans to amend shortages were subsequently created.

The Future Submarine Project is already well underway, with the Future Submarine Project Office established in Adelaide. Tenders must be sent out for the design and development for the hull, systems and various components, and the ASC (Australian Submarine Company) is to begin construction sometime within the new few years through 2030. The ASC is well placed to fulfill the construction of the Future Submarine, with decades of work on the Collins under its belt, from construction work to maintenance of the Collins and finally to upgrading the troublesome boats.

As for a nuclear option, it remains unlikely. While nuclear powered submarines would be the best possible option for Australia, as argued here, a lack of political will is likely to hamstring any attempts. The current conservative government however, is perhaps more pragmatic and positive towards the possibility and with a new Defence White Paper due the end of 2014, there remains hope. Australia is keenly self-aware of its unique strategic position in the world, and has striven since World War II to develop capabilities that allow for a self-reliant defence ability of the massive island nation. Despite a riskier option, the rewards offers far greater justifiable benefits in development of an indigenous Australian submarine, allowing the country to reach a new level of self-reliance and confidence, and take a strategic leap forward in the world in an uncertain and ever-changing world.

Ben Collopy is a honors study at the University of Newcastle Australia. He is undertaking an in-depth look at the future of the ANZUS alliance with Australia.

Developing an Assessment for the IO Environment in Afghanistan

You may be wondering what an article about Afghanistan is doing on a site about maritime security. Well, I found myself asking a very similar questions when, within six months of joining the U.S. Navy and graduating from Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Pensacola, FL, I found myself in a land-locked country serving on a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) conducting counterinsurgency operations. The irony was not lost on me since I had joined very late in life (I was 35 when I went to OCS). The recruiter had said, “Join the Navy and see the world!” Little did I know we’d be starting in alphabetical order …

Meeting the requirements of an “individual augmentee” – (Fog a mirror? Check!) – and having just enough training to know how to spell “IO,” I arrived in Khost province in early 2008. I was fortunate to relieve a brilliant officer, Chris Weis, who had established a successful media and public diplomacy program and laid the groundwork for a number of future programs.

I decided that before setting out to win the “hearts and minds” of the local population, we needed to take stock of where we were and whether our efforts were achieving the effects we desired.

The goal of Information Operations (or “IO”) is to “influence, corrupt, disrupt, or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own.”[i] But how does one know whether the decision process, either human or automated, has actually been influenced in some way? We can assume or surmise that, based on the actions of the target of the IO campaign, some desired effect was achieved or not achieved. But how much of that was based on our IO campaign and how much on other factors, perhaps unknown even to us? We can also attempt to ask the target after the fact whether campaign activities influenced their decision making. But such opportunities might rarely arise in the midst of on-going operations. 

Commanders conducting counterinsurgency operations should have two primary IO targets: the insurgents and the local population. Retired U.S. Army officer John Nagl notes that “persuading the masses of people that the government is capable of providing essential services—and defeating the insurgents—is just as important” as enticing the insurgents to surrender and provide information on their comrades.[ii] A PRT is not charged with directly targeting insurgents. Instead, its mission is to build the capacity of the host government to provide governance, development, and these “essential services” for the local population.[iii]

Information Operations traditionally suffer from a lack of available metrics by which planners can assess their environment and measure the effectiveness of their programs. It may be impossible to show direct causation, or even correlation, between Information Operations and actual effects (i.e., did my influence program actually have its desired effect?). This often places IO practitioners at a distinct disadvantage when attempting to gain the confidence of unit commanders, who are tasked with allocating scarce battlefield resources and who are often skeptical of Information Operations as a whole.

Given these constraints it was clear that the PRT in Khost province, Afghanistan, needed a tool by which the leadership could benchmark current conditions and evaluate the information environment under which the population lived. We hoped that such a tool could help provide clues as to whether our IO (and the overall PRT) efforts were having the intended effects. As a result, we developed the Information Operations Environmental Assessment tool, which can be used and replicated at the unit level (battalion or less) by planners in order to establish an initial benchmark (where am I?) and measure progress toward achieving the IO program goals and objectives (where do I want to go?). 

Since my crude attempt was first published in 2009, the U.S. Institute of Peace (yes, there is such a thing) developed the metrics framework under the name “Measuring Progress in Conflict Environments” or “MPICE.” This project seeks to:

provide a comprehensive capability for measuring progress during stabilization and reconstruction operations for subsequent integrated interagency and intergovernmental use. MPICE enables policymakers to establish a baseline before intervention and track progress toward stability and, ultimately, self-sustaining peace. The intention is to contribute to establishing realistic goals, focusing government efforts strategically, integrating interagency activities, and enhancing the prospects for attaining an enduring peace. This metrics framework supports strategic and operational planning cycles.

No doubt the MPICE framework is far more useful today than my rudimentary attempt to capture measures of effect in 2008, but I hope in some small way others have found a useful starting point. As I learned firsthand, and as practitioners of naval and maritime professions know, what happens on land often draws in those focused on the sea. 

The author would like to thank Dr. Thomas H. Johnson and Barry Scott Zellen, both of the Naval Postgraduate School, for their professional mentorship and constructive advice, and for including my work in their book.

LT Robert “Jake” Bebber is an information warfare officer assigned to the staff of Commander, U.S. Cyber Command. He holds a Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Central Florida and lives with his wife, Dana and son, Vincent in Millersville, Maryland. The views expressed here are not those of the Department of Defense, the Navy or those of U.S. Cyber Command. He welcomes your comments at


[i] Joint Publication 3-13 Information Operations, p. ix

[ii] Nagl, John A. Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002, p. 93.

[iii] Ibid.

What if the U.S. Gave an “Air-Sea Battle” and No One Came to Fight?

There has been much discussion in the past year on the relative merits and disadvantages of Air-Sea battle as a potential strategy or operational concept. Much of the debate has been a comparison between the warfighting options embodied in the Navy/Air Force concept verses those less kinetic choices incorporated in an “offshore control”, blockade situation. The usual opponent for these measures is the People’s Republic of China. Those in favor of these competing concepts rarely “give the potential enemy a vote” and talk more of what their idea could do vice what the opponent’s response might be. China’s own strategic choices ought to play a greater role in the discussion of these competing plans. One of the most surprising outcomes might be a failure on the part of the Chinese to engage with either vision. A review of a historical similarity, and recent Chinese strategic actions might very well suggest that if the United States attempted to have an Air-Sea battle, the People’s Republic could easily choose to not attend the event and still win the war.

This is not the first time that carefully laid plans for war at sea have come to naught. The naval situation in the North Sea throughout the First World War is an excellent example of one side not really needing to do battle in order to gain an advantage. On the outbreak of war in August 1914, many observers assumed there would be a titanic naval battle in the North Sea between the British Royal Navy (RN)’s Grand Fleet and Imperial Germany’s High Seas Fleet for the domination of the Atlantic. Noted American naval theorist Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan had predicted such an event as the logical result of the conflict of great naval powers. Both navies had planned for a confrontation for many years. They held a ten year naval race in the construction of battleships. German officers spoke of “der tag” (the day) that they would meet and defeat the Royal Navy in battle and the German Kaiser Wilhelm II complained that British Navy charts he observed on a visit to British battleship listed the German fleet as the principal British opponent. When war did come however, the seas were largely silent and no great battle immediately took place. German naval officers may have spoken of an immediate engagement with the RN, but their leadership had a much more nuanced strategy for success.

The Germans wanted to defeat the Royal Navy, but they knew they did not have the numbers to immediately force a decision. Instead they conducted numerous raids in hope of drawing out a portion of the RN they could defeat, and thereby even the odds in a follow-up fleet engagement. They were persistently unsuccessful in doing this, and although there was a brief opportunity at the May 1916 Battle of Jutland to accomplish this goal and destroy the RN’s battle cruiser squadron, the prompt arrival of the bulk of Grand Fleet frustrated these efforts and the German’s beat a sharp retreat for home. Many experts, including such luminaries as Winston Churchill and Admiral Sir John Fisher castigated Grand Fleet Commander Admiral Sir John Jellicoe after the battle for failure to repeat the efforts of the famous Admiral Nelson, who destroyed the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

In reality, Jellicoe had little chance of repeating Trafalgar as the Germans’ strategy did not support the likelihood of a fleet engagement of that magnitude. The German fleet had little reason to come to sea and face annihilation by the British. Its merchant fleets had already been rounded up, and submarines would increasingly become the principle tool for threatening the lines of communication and supply to the British Home islands. All of its vital resources came through protected waters like the Baltic Sea or through overland routes. Although the German surface fleet eventually became demoralized and rebellious after four years of inactivity, hunger, and fanatical disciplinary measures, its basic strategy of “doing nothing” was fully supportable. Admiral Jellicoe could truly have “lost the war in an afternoon” had a significant part of the British fleet been destroyed in battle, but the Germans on the other hand could afford to wait.

China could also afford to wait out any attempts to apply Air-Sea battle just as the Germans did in World War 1. China’s strategic calculations remain open to debate. The Chinese Navy’s leadership may talk boldly about their fleet and its capabilities, but it remains questionable what that fleet might do in wartime. It could be employed in a sudden rush to conquer Taiwan, and then retreat behind the formidable Chinese Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) system. Such a move would leave U.S. naval and air units without a seagoing opponent, but facing potentially high casualties in breaking through shore-based Chinese defenses to aid an occupied Taiwan. Unlike the British in World War 1 whose principle bases were a day’s sail from the potential battleground, a U.S. fleet would need to remain far at sea on station expending fuel, time, and energy waiting for a Chinese naval sorties that might never occur.

A blockade might be equally fruitless. The Chinese have worked to develop alternative shore-based routes for vital supplies like petroleum products and other basic resources for war. The Chinese govt. has invested large sums of money in the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean. It signed an agreement with the Pakistani govt. in 2013  to build a 2000 km. long road and rail route from Gwadar to the Chinese city of Kashgar. This route would largely circumvent any U.S. attempts to blockade Chinese fuel imports. The Chinese govt. has also developed friendly relations with Iran and Iranian oil shipped overland to Gwadar would entirely avoid naval blockade efforts. Further Chinese movement of resources and goods for commerce could be conducted through the vast Asian steppes of the Russian republic, another nation with whom China has cultivated an improved relationship. In the early 20th century, British geopolitical theorist Sir Halford Mackinder described this Asian interior as the “heartland” of a future Eurasian economic system. It remains, as it was in Mackinder’s time as largely immune to Western and U.S. military efforts aside from a dwindling U.S. strategic Air Force.

The British Royal Navy desperately desired to engage the German High Seas fleet, and in doing so somehow force an end to the First World War. German strategic thinking made this an unattainable goal. Chinese strategic efforts may equally make both Air-Sea battle and “offshore control” blockades fruitless endeavors. Some commentators have complained that the services’ effort to define these concepts has been slow. This is actually beneficial in that China’s strategic calculus remains nebulous. The usual U.S. methods of creating “strategy” through defense budgets and weapon programs are likely to fail if geography and history are not taken into consideration in planning a U.S. response. The U.S. might plan to conduct Air-Sea battle or an offshore control blockade, but neither would be useful if the Chinese chose not to accept the invitation. The U.S. can no longer deny the opponent their vote in the planning to counter their next move.

Need a New Idea? Try An Old One: Revisiting PAC-10 in the Air-Sea Battle Concept

One does not need to look to far into the history of maritime operations to discern a pattern of importance: you are always attempting to locate and fix your adversary in order to destroy them, while simultaneously, your adversary is attempting the same. The sea provides a certain ubiquity that cannot be reduced in any aim of contestation by the other domains or more directly via control. Yet, when one considers the problems of a domain, there is interplay of practical constraints, which are: tactics, technology, organization, and doctrine. Here, I would briefly like to focus the reader’s attention on the latter item—doctrine—although there will be references to the other aspects throughout. Specifically, I would like to highlight the importance of the 1943 Pacific Fleet Tactical Orders and Doctrine, also known as PAC-10, and its possible relevance to the Air -Sea Battle Concept (ASBC).

The proper usage of naval aviation, and especially its carriers, has been debated since the days of Eugene Ely’s first flights launching and recovering on rudimentary aircraft carriers in 1910-11. During the interwar years between the World Wars there was vast variance in doctrine recursively revised as result of technological improvements, experimentation, and exercises. Doctrinal development and revision did not stop there, even as World War II unfolded in the Pacific, but in 1943, PAC-10 provided both timely clarity and flexibility to commanders in that theater.

Vice Admiral Richard “Terrible” Turner (Wikimedia Commons)
Vice Admiral Richard “Terrible” Turner (Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to World War II, specifically in 1937, U.S. Navy Captain Richard K. Turner presented a lecture at the Naval War College titled “The Strategic Employment of the Fleet,” and produced an associated pamphlet entitled “The Employment of Aviation in Naval Warfare.” While his lecture maintained a decisively Mahanian tenor, Turner’s pamphlet stated that “nothing behind the enemy front is entirely secure from observation and attack,” which provides rhyme to today’s “attack in-depth” in the ASBC.

According to Thomas Hone, before and during 1942, aircraft carrier doctrine focused upon three things: raids, ambushes, and covering invasion forces. Where raids attempted to fix Japanese forces in particular areas, ambushes would seek to attrit Japanese ability to control the seas, and invasion forces sought to add cumulative strategic effect by maneuvering amphibious forces to occupy specific islands for follow-on usage against Japan by joint forces.

A Japanese “Val” Dive-Bomber is shot down over the USS Enterprise on October 26, 1942 during the Battle of Santa Cruz (Wikimedia Commons)
A Japanese “Val” Dive-Bomber is shot down over the USS Enterprise on October 26, 1942 during the Battle of Santa Cruz (Wikimedia Commons)

The major shortfall of the doctrinal precursors to PAC-10 was that, while useful for thinking (and spurring debate) about the control of the maritime domain and maximizing the contest of the air and land domains, they fell short of effectively suggesting to commanders how to best employ aircraft and carriers operationally in task forces. This shortfall came into clear focus during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. Enter the innovation of PAC-10.

In his Naval College Review article entitled, “Replacing Battleships with Aircraft Carriers in the Pacific in World War II,” Thomas Hone described PAC-10 as the following:

PAC-10 was a dramatic innovation. It combined existing tactical publications, tactical bulletins, task force instructions, and battle organization doctrine into one doctrinal publication that applied to the whole fleet. Its goal was to make it “possible for forces composed of diverse types, and indoctrinated under different task force commanders, to join at sea on short notice for concerted action against the enemy without interchanging a mass of special instructions.” PAC-10’s instructions covered one-carrier and multicarrier task forces, and escort- or light-carrier support operations of amphibious assaults. It established the basic framework for the four-carrier task forces—with two Essex-class ships and two of the Independence class—that would form the primary mobile striking arm of the Pacific Fleet. However, it did this within the structure of a combined naval force, a force composed of surface ships— including battleships and carriers….

 PAC-10 solved two problems. First, “the creation of a single, common doctrine allowed ships to be interchanged between task groups.” Second, “shifting the development of small-unit tactical doctrine to the fleet level and out of the hands of individual commanders increased the effectiveness of all units, particularly the fast-moving carrier task forces.”

PAC-10 was truly a watershed moment in operationally considering complement of sea and air capabilities en masse for strategic effect. It moved beyond the oversimplified “duty carrier” (self defense combat air patrol and/or antisubmarine warfare) and “strike carrier” (maritime strike and/or support to land forces ashore) concepts. “Whether a task force containing two or more carriers should separate into distinct groups . . . or remain tactically concentrated . . . may be largely dependent on circumstances peculiar to the immediate situation,” the doctrine stated, where “[no] single rule can be formulated to fit all contingencies.” Unsurprisingly, context was key in the application of PAC-10. Ultimately, PAC-10 focused commanders upon unified effort by maximizing strike, whether that is raids, ambushes, or amphibious attack, while also mitigating the risk of destruction via advanced detection.

Account of the valiant engagements off of Sumar during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. (Wikimedia Commons)
Account of the valiant engagements off of Sumar during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. (Wikimedia Commons)

There are several similarities and differences that need to be drawn from PAC-10 to now for consideration with the ASBC. First, and most importantly, the doctrinal concept did not and could not divine strategic victory. It was neither easy to accomplish, nor did it ignore the necessary requirement for termination to be chosen by the adversary, and furthermore, many heroically died in its use. However, and this is a fundamental truth that cynical detractors of the ASBC chose to ignore, many more would have died had PAC-10 not been developed. Rather, and it was apparent to them at the time, PAC-10 provided commanders an improved tool for use towards strategic effect. So say we all with concern to the ASBC.

U.S. Army Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Launch (SMDC Photo)
U.S. Army Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Launch (SMDC Photo)

Second, and almost as important as the first comparison, PAC-10 was a doctrinal concept that entailed warfare. And although there were no further constraints against escalation in World War II, PAC-10 provided considerable potential for strategic effect. How such an improved tool is used is a matter of decision in either the march towards war or during warfare to be made by policy makers via strategic negotiation, careful signaling, and demonstration. One mustn’t deny the value of PAC-10, or the doctrinal aspects of the ASBC, simply because of an over-wrought conflation of a tool with its purpose.

Tactical proficiency and operational effectiveness, are best measured in peacetime from the potential ideal, with the acknowledgment that fog and friction will chew away at that ideal in exercise and practice; whereas, strategic effect is best measured relative to a status quo and desire for continued advantage. The ASBC is focused clearly upon the former, and will only contribute limited strategic effect towards the latter. Clear-eyed strategists must admit that limited effect may be sufficient, but then again it may not as determined by context. However, neither is cause for rejection of an operational concept like the ASBC as a useful tool.

U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Force (Wikimedia Commons)
U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Force (Wikimedia Commons)

Third, the tactical combination of air and sea forces in PAC-10 combined with amphibious land attack, contributed to numerous successes in the Pacific. Similarly, a balanced ASBC, that includes a naval economy of force (relative to World War II), along with concomitant of air and land component forces, will create a complicated problem for mounting a successful defense at any one place; just like the PAC-10 doctrine similarly achieved at the Marcus, Gilbert, and Marshall Islands and elsewhere in World War II. In recent, yet more modern times, fleet defense may have been sufficient with only carrier-based aircraft. But at present, both the smaller number of available carriers, an inability to replenish weaponry while underway in the current submarine and destroyer forces, not to mention the basic prudence of joint capability, means that combined arms by way of only one service is no longer a prerogative that the United States can afford to ignore. Similar to the PAC-10 doctrine of yore, the modern ASBC doctrine of the near-future must be able to more effectively balance all joint forces. Needless to say, even if service prerogative still dominates, using carrier aviation alone will diminish strike potential in fleet defense. Dissimilar to the PAC-10 doctrine of yore, the modern ASBC doctrine of the near future must effectively raise its doctrine above that of the fleet and into the joint realm. This means finding effective ways to use Air Force assets and Army assets in roles of fleet defense and sea control just like disparate forces from various carriers in PAC-10 effectively formed a coherent and formidable task force.

Learning Large LessonsAs a guide for the ASBC, the interoperability between air forces (of all types) and land forces (of both traditional and amphibious focus) have benefited from the development of joint doctrine from the combined capabilities and tactics of the Air Land Battle Concept (ALBC). Despite some cynical “easy war” views of ASBC, the ALBC provides a useful scorecard for joint action. The latter has proven unquestionably effective in both mission success and preserving lives in battle from Operation DESERT STORM to the current fight in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM; but its equal in terms of joint combined effect does not yet exist to the same fidelity in the maritime and littoral environments. Our ability to project power, achieve strategic effect by joint combined arms, and experiment with doctrine costs relatively little compared to operational failure. Instead of playing politics — actual joint thinking costs nothing. After all, history and pragmatic thinking proves the obvious, you can’t finish without access.

Need a new idea? Try an old one. Take a look at Pacific Fleet Tactical Orders and Doctrine (PAC-10), and you might see the future of a balanced Air Sea Battle Concept doctrine.

Major Rich Ganske is a U.S. Air Force officer, B-2 pilot, and weapons officer.  He is currently assigned to the U.S. Army Command and General Staff Officers Course at Fort Leavenworth.  These comments do not reflect the views of the U.S. Air Force or the Department of Defense.  You can follow him on Twitter at @richganske and he blogs via Medium at The Bridge and Whispers to a Wall.  Tip of the hat to “Sugar” for the reference to an old idea (or book).