Category Archives: Middle East

Analysis related to USCENTCOM.

A2AD Since ’73

Wreckage of a Destroyed Israeli Plane (Wikimedia Commons)
Wreckage From a Destroyed Israeli Plane (Wikimedia Commons)

The threat posed by Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2AD) capabilities is at the core of the the U.S. Navy and Air Force’s Air Sea Battle (ASB) operational concept.  However, A2AD weapons are not new,  in particular playing an important role in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

A2AD and the ASB Concept

The ASB operational concept defines A2AD capabilities as “those which challenge and threaten the ability of U.S. and allied forces to both get to the fight and to fight effectively once there.”  One of the main capabilities that ASB has been established to counteract and mitigate against is the “new generation of cruise, ballistic, air-to-air, and surface-to-air missiles with improved range, accuracy, and lethality” that are increasingly available to states around the world.  Figuring out ways to operate in a world in which missiles are easy to acquire and operate is extremely important to the U.S. military, since A2AD weapons “make U.S. power projection increasingly risky, and in some cases prohibitive,” threatening the very foundation upon which the ability of the U.S. military’s ability to operate at will across the globe rests upon.

Missile Warfare in the Middle East

Using A2AD weapons, particularly surface-to-air missiles (SAM), surface-to-surface missiles (SSM), and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), to conduct a form of asymmetric warfare is not a new idea.   In particular, the use of missiles to counteract an enemy’s superiority in the air or on the ground was very much a part of Soviet doctrine by the 1960s.  To protect against the U.S. air campaign during the Vietnam War, Soviet missiles and personnel were extensively used by North Vietnam.  Perhaps the best example of A2AD in action, however, was the Soviet-enabled missile campaign waged by Egypt against the Israeli military during the 1973 Yom Kippur War (also known as the Ramadan War or October War).

The use of missiles formed an essential part of the plans of Egypt and Syria to win back the territories lost so precipitously during the 1967 Six Day War.  In his book the Arab-Israel Wars, historian and former Israeli President Chaim Herzog noted that:

“the Egyptians had meanwhile studied and absorbed the lessons of the Six Day War: with the Russians, they concluded they could answer the problem of the Israeli Air Force over the battlefield by the creation of a very dense “wall” of missiles along the canal, denser even that that used in North Vietnam.  The problem posed by Israeli armour was to be answered by the creation of a large concentration of anti-tank weapons at every level, from the RPG shoulder-operated missile at platoon level up to the Sagger missiles with a range of some 3000 yards and the BRDM armoured missile-carrying vehicles at battalion and brigade level.”

As part of Operation Caucasus, the Soviet Union “deployed an overstrength division” of air defense forces, with eighteen battalions each composed of SAM batteries, Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA), and teams equipped with Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS).  Although technically identified as instructors, the Soviet troops actually “were dressed in Egyptian uniforms and provided full crewing for the deployed SAM systems.” Using lessons learned in Vietnam, the air defense forces along the Suez Canal were capable of  “relocating frequently and setting up ambushes for Israeli aircraft using multiple mutually supporting batteries.”  Syria also procured Soviet SAM batteries to support their part of the planned surprise attack.  In Herzog’s words, the overwhelming array of SAMs and AAA “would provide an effective umbrella over the planned area of operations along the Suez Canal” and “to a very considerable degree neutralize the effects of Israeli air superiority over the immediate field of battle.”

Destroyed Israeli Tank in the Sinai (Wikimedia Commons)
Destroyed Israeli Tank in the Sinai (Wikimedia Commons)

The Egyptians pursued a similar effort in their efforts to combat Israel’s ground forces.  Per Herzog, Israel’s “armoured philosophy” emphasizing “massive, rapidly deployed, armoured counterattack” would be faced by an Egyptian Army that had crossed the Suez Canal “equipped to the saturation point in anti-tank weapons and missiles in order to wear down the Israeli armour.” The Arab leaders were not just concerned with achieving missile dominance inside the expected battlefield along the canal, however, but also that Eyptian and Syrian aircraft could not match their Israeli counterparts “outside the range of missile surface-to-air defence systems.”  Therefore, the Soviets also provided surface-to-surface FROG and SCUD missiles capable of directly striking at Israel itself, with the hope that they could deter against Israel’s ability to attack their own capitals.

Egypt and Syria’s employment of A2AD weapons had a significant tactical impact on the war.  Estimates of the losses of Israeli aircraft vary.  Herzog stated that 102 Israeli planes were shot down (50 during the first three days), with half shot down by missiles and the other half shot down by AAA.  According to other articles, “Israeli public claims are that 303 aircraft were lost in combat,” crediting SAMs with shooting down 40 and “between four and 12 to Arab fighters.”  This means that although most Israeli aircraft may have been shot down by AAA, the “missile wall” can be credited with “denying the use of high and medium altitude airspace, driving aircraft down into the envelope of high-density AAA.”

One can argue that the lessons learned from employment of A2AD in 1973 can be overstated (after all, Israel eventually won the war, at great cost).  However, Herzog’s claim that it was “a war of great historic significance” is merited, as it “was the first war in which the various types of missiles – surface-to-surface, surface-to-air, air-to-surface, and sea-to-sea – were used on a major scale,” and that “the entire science of military strategy and technique has had to be re-evaluated in the light of” its lessons.  In particular, the Egyptians in 1973 executed what the Air-Sea Battle concept identifies as an important objective of A2AD, in which “an aggressor can slow deployment of U.S. and allied forces to a theater, prevent coalition operations from desired theater locations, or force friendly forces to operate from disadvantageous longer distances.”

Evolution of Air-Land Battle and the Influence of the 73 War

If the Army’s AirLand Battle doctrine of the 1970/1980s can be seen as an intellectual precursor to Air-Sea Battle in its emphasis on “degradation of rear echelon forces before they could engage allied forces,” then the link between the 1973 Yom Kippur War and Air-Sea Battle is clear.  General William DePuy was the first commander of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) upon its establishment in 1973.  In particular, “DePuy had taken an intense interest in the reform of tactics and training, in line with tactical lessons drawn from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.”  During the tenure of DePuy’s successor, General Donn Starry, TRADOC formulated AirLand Battle and laid the doctrinal framework for the modernization of the U.S. Army and inter-service, joint operations.

What is the Answer?

How and why Israel won the war in 1973 entails a much longer discussion possible in this particular blog post.  The solution to A2AD that the Navy and Air Force  have proposed through Air-Sea Battle “is to develop networked, integrated forces capable of attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat adversary forces.”  The reader can decide whether those are just buzzwords and whether the A2AD threat faced by the Israelis forty years ago was an easier challenge to  overcome than what could be faced by the U.S. military today and in the future  What is clear, however, is that the notion of A2AD is not new, and was very much an important part of Soviet-supported military operations during the Cold War.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

Prosperity or Instability? The Natural Gas Game in the Eastern Mediterranean

By Andrew Chisholm

The discovery of substantial natural gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean sea holds the potential to bring great prosperity to several countries in the region. But the overlap of the gas fields with long-standing disputes has upped regional tensions, threatening to de-stabilize the area’s politics. The outcome will, of course, depend on many factors.

Security in the tension-fraught Middle East often fills international headlines, from conflict in Syria to Iran’s alleged nuclear program, to Israel-Palestine and more. However, many players are now focusing on a less flashy issue that may be just as important – substantial natural gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean sea.

Some 35 trillion-cubic-feet (tcf) have been located, while estimates range up to 120tcf, dispersed in the Tamar and Leviathan fields, among others. To date, the key beneficiaries are Israel and Cyprus, who stand to gain through achieving significant energy security, as well as through exports. However, the predicted locations of some gas fields overlap several maritime boundaries causing disputes between Israel and Lebanon as well as Greek- and Turkish Cyprus, intensifying long-standing tensions. Whether the eventual exploitation of these deposits will strengthen or undermine regional stability depends on many factors.

Prospective gas fields and disputed maritime boundaries (The Economist)
Prospective gas fields and disputed maritime boundaries (The Economist)

The Israeli-Lebanese border dispute is complicated by the potential for action by Hamas, which has threatened to attack Israeli gas platforms. Israel’s navy is largely occupied with enforcing its blockade of Gaza, and may lack the capacity, and capability, to secure offshore platforms especially from unconventional threats. Meanwhile Turkey, which does recognize Greek-Cypriot boundary claims and possesses the region’s most powerful navy, has been increasingly active, scheduling major naval exercises and upping its general presence in the area.

The US and Russia are important players as well, and could play multiple roles. Russia’s Gazprom has indicated financial interest, and the Russian navy has held three major exercises in the Mediterranean since 2011. Its potential as a stabilizing force in the future, though, depends on the uncertain fate of its Syrian naval facility, without which Russia’s ability to deploy in the area would be severely restricted. The Americans have been involved in exploration from the beginning and have good relations with most actors in the region. However, its support for Greek-Cypriot claims (also supported by Russia) could cause problems with Turkey while the US navy’s attention is fixed on the Persian Gulf and increasingly on Asia-Pacific, presumably restricting America’s willingness to balance Mediterranean tensions.

Another key factor will be the evolving state of the Israel-Turkey relationship. Their recent re-starting of diplomatic ties certainly bodes well for regional stability, and the potential for energy cooperation may spur its development. However, its impact on maritime boundary disputes, and therefore resource extraction, remains to be seen. Closer ties might calm the Cypriot dispute, although those tensions could also pose challenges (Israel concluded a maritime boundary agreement with Greek Cyprus in 2010, which Turkey does not recognize on principle). In the former case, Turkey’s naval power could serve to fill any gaps left by Israel’s security forces, and an alliance of these key regional powers might negate the need for a balancing force from outside. On the other hand, it could equally prove de-stabilizing in the latter scenario, should Turkish-Israeli naval confrontations become a reality (which I believe is unlikely).

All things considered, the future of natural gas development the Eastern Mediterranean is clouded, and the risks may in fact equal the potential rewards. From the outside, we will simply have to watch and wait.

Andrew Chisholm is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. He recently graduated from the University of King’s College with a B.A., Combined Honours, in Political Science and History, and studied Conflict Resolution at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Andrew focuses his writing on contemporary Canadian foreign, defence, and security policy.