Tag Archives: A2AD

Strategy and Ship Design – History’s Lessons For Future Warship Concepts

Future Surface Combatant Topic Week

By Harry Halem

Introduction

The development of the Future Surface Combatant (FSC) family of warships has widespread implications. These ships will form the backbone of the Navy’s surface force, and add sorely needed numbers to the fleet in general. They may also signal a reorganization of the Navy from its current strike group system to a more amorphous model. Additionally, the FSC’s projected service life indicates that it will encounter and employ technologies that today are only in the developmental stages. Creating requirements for this ship is obviously important.

However, proper assessment of the above factors in the FSC’s development is impossible without a broader conception of America strategy, the Navy’s role in that strategy, and the place of surface combatants within the Navy. New technologies may change the way wars are fought at the tactical and operational level, but policymakers and naval officers must organize those developments under a broader umbrella to understand their true application and effects.

History demonstrates the need to understand strategy, and a service’s role in that strategy, when modernizing a military force. In particular, a comparison of Britain’s largely successful naval modernization before the First World War can be compared to the less successful naval modernization and construction attempts in the U.S. from 1991 to the present. Comparing the underlying clarity of strategy in both modernization attempts offers major lessons to the modern policymaker that should be applied to the FSC’s development.

These lessons should reveal the primacy of sea control in orienting warship and fleet design. The FSC trio of ships should be designed to embody the surface Navy’s distributed lethality concept of operational warfighting against advanced A2/AD threats. These ships will take on specialized roles: the large combatant as an arsenal ship with numerous VLS cells to provide fires; the small surface combatant as an ISR-laden scout to probe the A2/AD envelope, hunt submarines, and retarget missiles; and the unmanned ship as a highly stealthy deception platform employing electronic warfare systems to lure and jam adversary assets. Together, these ships will provide a lasting sea control capability against an ever more challenging threat environment. 

Strategy and Fleet Design

In particular, one can employ the idea of a “strategic concept” to connect national strategy with a service’s strategy and force structure. Samuel Huntington coined the term in a 1954 Proceedings essay entitled “National Policy and the Transoceanic Navy.” One can define a strategic concept as the way a specific service’s capabilities and missions fit into an overall national security strategy.

Huntington’s essay tracks the U.S. Navy’s development, contrasting the pre-1880s coastal and frigate Navy with the post-Spanish American War Mahanian Navy. In the former case, America’s primary objectives were located on land, giving the Navy the role of denying foreign powers access to the American coastline, protecting American international trade, and harassing enemy commerce and light warships during conflict. The Navy was subordinate to the Army, as most threats came from land, not sea. The Spanish-American War changed the U.S.’ strategic position, and changed the Navy’s role to defending American interests in the Atlantic and Pacific against European and Asian powers. Consequently, the Navy became the U.S.’ strategically important service. These differing strategic concepts created different fleets. The pre-1880s strategic concept necessitated a coastal navy with a handful of long-range frigates for blue ocean missions, while the post-Spanish American War concept required a battlefleet that could gain command of the seas.

Huntington’s argument specifically addresses the U.S. Navy’s strategic concept in the Cold War. A change in the international balance of power from multipolarity between states with land and naval power to bipolarity between a Eurasian land faction and an insular naval faction required a redefinition of the Navy’s strategic concept.

The present international balance of power has shifted from its 1991 state, and continues to shift as America’s adversaries expand their militaries. China approaches qualitative parity and quantitative superiority in the Pacific, while Russia and Iran can use long-range missiles and, in Russia’s case, a large submarine fleet coupled with a small but modernizing surface force. Each can challenge American sea control in their respective regions. For the first time since the Second World War, the U.S. faces adversaries in two hemispheres that are capable of not only denying it sea control, but also establishing sea control themselves. In the face of such a dramatic shift in the balance of power, understanding American strategy and the Navy’s role in that strategy is a prerequisite for sound fleet design.

The Scheme and Ship Design – Britain before World War I

This can best be shown by illustration of a situation in which a Navy had a clear strategic concept. The pre-First World War Royal Navy, dominated by Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill, had a strong conception of Britain’s strategy and its own strategic concept. This enabled the success of “the scheme,” Fisher’s modernization program. Remarkably, this success occurred during a period when Britain’s government only loosely understood the implications of the policy choices, as Aaron Friedberg and Donald Kagan articulate.

Establishing the Royal Navy’s strategic concept during the pre-war period requires a brief review of British grand strategy from 1905 onward. Germany was slowly recognized as the primary threat to British power, particularly after the Russo-Japanese War. Britain’s desire to retain a free hand led to a reliance on its naval power, rather than a land army, to deter Germany. In the event that deterrence failed, Britain would use naval power to degrade the German economy through blockade while it mobilized resources to support its continental coalition partners.

This dictated a strategic concept for the Royal Navy that held sea control as its central objective. The concentration of a battle squadron in the North Sea would most effectively achieve this goal. Hunting down enemy raiding squadrons and protecting British and allied commerce was another a major component of the sea control objective. In addition, the Navy was expected to influence the land war through the aforementioned blockade of the Central Powers, impossible if Germany could operate freely at sea. Tangential to this were limited power projection attempts, including the Cuxhaven Raid and the much larger Gallipoli Campaign.

Fisher’s “scheme” is a reflection of this strategic concept, as demonstrated by its main components, the dreadnought battleship and the battlecruiser. The dreadnought fulfilled the need to deny Germany naval parity. The role of the dreadnought is not remarkable – a capital ship is inherently designed to destroy other capital ships. However, by leveraging technology, namely long-range gunnery advances and new propulsion techniques, Fisher and the Royal Navy were able to make all non-dreadnought battleships obsolete, forcing Germany to devote even more resources to its Navy in the pre-war period, or, as eventually occurred, surrender naval superiority to Britain.

HMS Dreadnought in 1906. (Wikimedia Commons)

The dreadnought’s development has strategic aspects, but the invention of the battlecruiser indicates the clear link between strategy and effective fleet design. Conceived by Fisher as “cruiser-killers,” the ships were armed with dreadnought-style guns, but eschewed the armor of a battleship for additional speed. As conceived, the battlecruiser could outrun anything powerful enough to destroy it, and catch anything lightly armed enough to fall prey to its heavy guns. When used in their intended role, such as at the Falklands, the ships excelled. Even the battlecruiser’s notable failures, such as at Jutland and Dogger Bank, had more to do with tactical handling than the inherent concept of the ship class.

After Fisher departed the admiralty in 1910, the new First Lord, Winston Churchill, continued the scheme’s progress, frequently taking advice from Fisher on fleet design and expansion issues. This continuity of thought up until the Great War began gave the scheme remarkable staying power. Indeed, the Fisher-Churchill fleet served Britain through both world wars. The Revenge and Queen Elizabeth-class battleships are two notable examples of this fact. The ships remained useful not only because of the quality of their construction, but also because they were designed with a specific role that remained strategically relevant for Britain over the entirety of their service lives.

Post-Cold War Strategic Malaise and Fleet Development

The same cannot be said of the U.S. Navy’s development projects since 1991. While America’s national security strategy shifted throughout the Cold War, the underlying political and strategic situation remained consistent, facilitating remarkable continuity in the Navy’s role. The 1982 Maritime Strategy and successive strategic documents were the clearest articulations of this approach, which one could term a strategic concept, to borrow from Huntington. In the event of a conflict, the Navy would use the Mediterranean as a staging ground for strikes against advancing Soviet forces while protecting allied convoys from submarines. Russia would need to divert attention from the central front, while the U.S. and its allies would gain operational flexibility. A 600-ship Navy of supercarriers; large and small surface combatants; attack and ballistic missiles submarines; and amphibious ships, emerged from this approach.

The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 created a new strategic environment within which the Navy had difficulty articulating its purpose. The Navy published two operational and strategic documents during the 1990s: …From the Sea in 1992 and Forward…From the Sea in 1994. Both rest on the assumption of absolute sea control, and indicated a shift in focus to littoral operations. One can derive the Zumwalt-class destroyer and LCS from this focus. The former was designed in part to replace the battleship in the naval gunfire support role while using stealth technology to avoid detection by enemy shore installations. The latter was intended to counter low- and medium-level littoral threats like diesel-electric submarines, mines, and, fast-attack craft.

The Navy’s post-Cold War missions did support this role. During the Gulf War, the Navy used 288 Tomahawk missiles to strike Iraqi ground targets, while the embarked MAGTF in the Persian Gulf combined with the First Marine Division’s frontal assault on Iraqi positions in Kuwait pinned Saddam’s forces in place for Schwarzkopf’s turning movement. The Navy played a critical facilitating role in the opening stages of the war in Afghanistan, providing air support for Special Forces and CIA operatives. During Iraq, the Navy played a similar role. However, the 700,000-strong ground force deployment during the Gulf War overshadowed the Navy’s strike role, while the counterinsurgency campaigns of the early 21st century further diminished the Navy’s public visibility.

Moreover, …From the Sea and Forward…From the Sea were based on assumptions that no longer hold true. The Navy can no longer assume universal sea control. This is most apparent in the Asia-Pacific. In 1991, the PLAN was unsuited for missions beyond China’s immediate coastline. It possessed no aircraft carriers, and had only one SSBN, precluding steady nuclear deterrence patrols. So pronounced was China’s naval inferiority that, during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, an American aircraft carrier and amphibious assault ship were able to sail through the Taiwan Straits without fear of retaliation. The U.S. had achieved absolute naval supremacy in the Pacific, preventing China from isolating American regional allies, and constricting Chinese freedom of movement in wartime.

Today, the PLAN surface combatant fleet outnumbers the U.S. Navy’s, while the PLAN has nearly achieved numerical parity with the U.S. attack submarine force. It currently operates one ex-Soviet STOBAR carrier, will operate two STOBAR carriers by 2020, and will field an 85,000-ton CATOBAR carrier by 2022. Moreover, the PLA employs long-range anti-ship missiles like the DF-21 to create an anti-access bubble in the South and East China Seas, within which its surface fleet can operate relatively unopposed. Littoral operations and power projection are made less feasible in an environment where long-range missiles force American warships to remain hundreds of miles away from hostile coastlines.

Regarding recent U.S. Navy surface combatant programs, the Zumwalt-class destroyer incorporates a number of technological advances. It is one of the world’s first stealth ships, has the potential to use energy weapons due to increased power generation, and was designed to use terminally guided artillery shells that were eventually cancelled due to cost. The program ran over budget, was cut from 32 ships to just three, and has experienced multiple mechanical issues during testing. The Littoral Combat Ship has fared slightly better, but still has budgetary and mechanical issues. Additionally, survivability and lethality concerns have compelled a potential “frigate” spinoff class, indicating the initial design’s weaknesses in the emerging strategic environment.

PEARL HARBOR (Sep. 4, 2016) Littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) returns to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam after experiencing an engineering casualty while transiting to the Western Pacific. Coronado departed Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Aug. 26 to continue its independent deployment to the Western Pacific. Prior to departing Pearl Harbor the ship participated in the Rim of the Pacific 2016 exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katarzyna Kobiljak/Released)

Both the Zumwalt and LCS were built to field advancing technologies that, according to the transformation doctrine of the early 21st century, would revolutionize warfare. Transformation proponents may have been overzealous in predicting the initial operability of their technologies, but the general assertion that networked computing, combined with precision weapons, stealth, unmanned systems, and other weapons developments would indelibly change tactics and operations is being proven correct today. Indeed, the LCS and Zumwalt may been seen as test projects for the advances that will dominate warfare in the foreseeable future: automation, stealth technology, modularity, unmanned systems, and networking.

However, the transformation-RMA concept of warfighting did not translate into a coherent strategy that directed force structure, particularly in the context of the Navy. This was likely a historical accident. September 11th forced the Bush Administration, and the military as a whole, to entirely reorient its paradigm of war against a non-state enemy. The RMA, in contrast, was intended to revolutionize conventional warfare. Such a shift in threat perception did not translate well to naval development, and is in part responsible for the difficulties that the Zumwalt and LCS experienced.

Now, just as the military had adapted to the counterinsurgency framework of the early 21st century, it must return to a more traditional situation, albeit with persistent non-state threats. This strategic complexity and confusion can help explain the Zumwalt’s and LCS’ developmental difficulties. The Zumwalt may be an advanced ship, but its exact role is amorphous. The LCS’ modular nature appears to offer planners a greater breadth of employment options, but in reality decreases the overall lethality of the surface fleet.

An important lesson for the FSC’s development is that a solid conception of strategy, and from it the role each ship must play in an envisioned fleet, is paramount for effective acquisition and development. Therefore, a discussion of America’s national security strategy, and the Navy’s role in that strategy, is required.

American Strategy and the Navy’s Role

U.S. strategy is derived from the balance of power it currently faces internationally. Three sorts of threats undermine America’s international status. First, major state challengers like China and Russia threaten to undermine U.S. interests in the Pacific and Europe. China combines an expanding Navy with economic initiatives including the NDB, AIIB, and New Silk Road to create an independent Asian power bloc. Russia manufactures instability in Eastern Europe while using its foothold in Syria to wrap around the U.S. flank, and threaten the Balkans and Southern NATO. Second, medium challengers use traditional and non-traditional means to threaten American interests. Iran and North Korea fall into this group, with the former’s use of Shia militias in Iraq and Syria to increase its influence and the latter’s nuclear bullying, where both are designed to decrease American prestige and influence. Third, non-state actors, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, create pervasive instability in strategically important regions, while consistently attempting to strike American and allied citizens. These threats do not exist in isolation – multiple hostile actors operate within the same theater, as is the case in the Middle East.

The Navy’s role in responding to these threats returns to the Mahanian concept of “command of the seas.” The U.S. today faces a naval threat similar in effect to the great power fleets of the early 20th century. However, this threat is not expressed through battle squadrons intended for decisive fleet actions, but through an anti-access area denial (A2/AD) network. Each threat creates this network differently. As previously stated, China uses a more traditional fleet to establish sea control within the wider A2/AD bubble its long-range missiles create. On the lower end of the spectrum, Iran’s focus is on denying the U.S. sea control, rather than achieving its own regional command of the seas. Rather than investing in surface combatants and attack submarines, it uses missiles, fast-attack craft, and midget submarines for sea denial. Ironically, this bears greatest similarity to the situation …From the Sea and Forward…From the Sea initially envisioned, albeit with the added and pervasive element of advanced long-range missiles. Russian capabilities are more similar to Chinese ones, but Russia’s less advanced and smaller navy cannot achieve meaningful sea control in the same way that the PLAN can.

Regardless of the differences, RMA predictions enable all these A2/AD networks. America’s adversaries use long-range missiles and ISR architectures based on networked computing to counter the U.S. network of global super bases and forward deployed assets. A decade ago, the U.S. could reliably assume that, in the event of conflict, it could shuttle soldiers, aircraft, and other equipment to any point in the world without obstruction. Moreover, force deployments were relatively small – the Iraq War’s peak troop strength of 168,000 is dwarfed by Korea’s 325,000 troops, and Vietnam’s 500,000-plus-soldier commitment. Today, great power conflict is viable, creating the potential for larger force deployments, all while sea control is no longer guaranteed.

Ships must therefore be designed to combat the great power adversaries that field these A2/AD networks, rather than to focus on projecting power against land targets, or counter the low-tech littoral assets of rogue regimes. The Zumwalt and LCS will have a role in this new fleet architecture, but some of their original missions such as naval gunfire support and littoral dominance will have less relevance.

Nuclear weapons also complicate the Navy’s role. Russia, China, and North Korea are nuclear states, while Iran can obtain nuclear capabilities. Inland strikes against logistics and communications facilities could prompt a nuclear response and other forms of escalation. Using the Navy to blockade hostile nations and shifting its focus from power projection to sea control has military and political benefits, as it gives the U.S. greater control over a conflict’s escalation.

In modern conflict, applying decisive firepower is less dependent upon concentrating forces than before. Thus, although the Navy’s task will be more similar to the traditional role of a great power sea service than it has been since World War II, it will not need to seek out an enemy battlefleet in force in the traditional manner. Instead, its targets will be networked manned and unmanned air forces, ships, submarines, and land-based installations spread out over vast distances. The U.S. disposition is similar to this. The Navy can retain the CSG/ESG structure for certain operations, but the distributed lethality concept indicates the beginning of a concerted effort to network spread-out American warships.

The Role of Surface Combatants and the FSC

From an operational and strategic standpoint, one can identify many similarities between the A2/AD-network competition the U.S. will face in the near future and the First World War’s western front. Networking allows a broader distribution of forces, and decreases the need for, and effectiveness of, excessive target hardening. Nevertheless, one can envision a large-scale Sino-American conflict developing into a war of attrition in which China attempts to create an envelope within which it can establish uncontested sea control, and subdue American regional bases. Concurrently, the U.S. will use submarines and its own long-range missiles to punch through China’s A2/AD network, much like infiltration tactics and maneuver warfare schemes were used to break trench lines a century ago.

In this new environment, surface combatants can no longer be purely defensive ships as they are today. The Arleigh Burkes’ and Ticonderogas’ air defense capabilities will remain important, but surface combatants must have the means to strike enemy targets offensively, and not simply to protect American capital ships. Submarines will be the primary tool used to penetrate and degrade A2/AD networks, but surface combatants provide heavier capabilities in higher volumes than undersea assets in more domains. In addition to their strike role, surface combatants must be able to detect and destroy enemy submarines. The Pacific’s geography, combined with Russo-Chinese force structure, makes this an imperative. Outside of wartime, the FSC will also conduct presence missions in contested Asian and European maritime regions. Ideally, older ships like the Arleigh Burke could provide shore strike capabilities, while amphibious ships equipped with land-attack missiles would support naval landings. This overall structure would free up the FSC for greater sea control specialization.

The Navy’s overarching operational goal will clearly be to break down an A2/AD network. While submarines can avoid detection and hit critical nodes in this network, the FSC would best be used to provide sustained salvo fire against exposed targets, while delivering overwhelming firepower when a more significant target presents itself. In peacetime, the FSC’s components may operate independently while conducting presence or deterrence missions. However, during wartime, the best way to take advantage of networking and distributed lethality is to consistently use all three FSCs in tandem. Much as the Grand Fleet served as a blockade force and battlefleet in its station at Scapa Flow, these FSC SAGs would blockade China’s maritime space in the Asia-Pacific, while also forming the core of America’s Pacific battlefleet. Each FSC would have a specific role in fulfilling this strategy.

The large FSC would form the backbone of the SAG’s striking power. Much like the projected Arsenal Ship concept of the early 1990s, this ship must be maximized for its offensive firepower, using a low freeboard and long-range missiles to avoid retaliation. As envisioned, this ship would operate in two ways. First, it would receive targeting information from other assets deployed closer to enemy positions, launching strikes against those targets – like an advanced battleship relying on spotting aircraft to direct its ordinance. Second, the large FSC would launch its missiles and “hand off” retargeting control to other ships and aircraft more proximate to the target, serving as the SAG’s “quiver.” Considering its mission, the large FSC could be larger than a contemporary destroyer, and even approach the cruiser size of 15,000 tons.

The Navy should also consider nuclear propulsion for this FSC. This would enable the Navy to more quickly field directed energy weapons and railguns, likely for point defense against missiles, and would compliment the ship’s armament of long-range missiles by allowing for more launch cells to be allocated for offensive strike weapons rather than defensive anti-air munitions. Nuclear power will also provide critical advantages in endurance and logistics, allowing a smaller number of large FSC’s to service multiple SAGs. Underway VLS replenishment is critical for this ship, and for the Navy as a whole, if this SAG structure is to be used.

While the large FSC provides the bulk of the striking power, the small FSC serves as the envisioned SAG’s targeting ship,and ASW platform. Rather than fielding its own long-range missiles, the small surface combatant, which should be sized at no more than 5,000 tons (i.e. no larger than a small destroyer), would use unmanned vehicles to detect and target enemy A2/AD nodes. Several catapults, deploying Predator/Global Hawk style drones, would extend this ship’s ISR range. Rotary facilities are critical, as are point-defense anti-aircraft missiles. However, the small surface combatant should rely on its larger cousin for most air, surface, and land striking power. In return, the small surface combatant could use the extra space for a full ASW suite, augmented by UUVs to increase detection range. Short-range anti-ship missiles, similar to those envisioned on the fast frigate model LCS, would be the ship’s sole offensive armament. Networking’s most powerful effect will be seen here – independently or otherwise, the small surface combatant should rely on its larger cousin for long-range strike support while it scouts and penetrates the A2/AD bubble. The retargeting capability resident within the Block IV Tomahawk missile and LRASM would allow the small surface combatants closer to the target to redirect missiles launched from a stand-off position by the larger FSC.

Finally, the unmanned surface combatant should be used to jam and deceive enemy assets, while also supplementing the small FSC’s detection capabilities. Stealth is imperative for this ship, as it will operate closer to the enemy during combat than any other surface ship. While the large surface combatant provides firepower, and the small surface combatant detects threats, the unmanned surface combatant conducts electronic warfare schemes that misdirect and confuse enemies attempting to strike back at the SAG. This unmanned ship should be as small as possible, ideally no more than 1,200 tons.

Room for integration exists between the FSC-based SAG and the contemporary fleet. Arleigh Burkes can serve as makeshift arsenal ships, or as dedicated anti-air platforms, freeing up the large FSC for anti-ship missions. Regardless, the emphasis must be on networked integration, not only between the SAGs ships, but with the fleet more broadly, and with other armed services.

As described, the FSC would best be suited for interstate conflict, rather than for power projection against rogue regimes and non-state actors. This is a conscious choice – the Navy could use older ships and aircraft (or allied assets) in those contexts, freeing up advanced platforms for the most sophisticated threats. If constructed in this way, the FSC family of warships would help the Navy fulfill its future sea control mission requirements, while operating independently or as part of a strike group.

Conclusion

Military modernization requires an understanding of strategy. Absent this, new weapons and platforms become imperfect tools to use against growing threats. With it, new assets multiply the fighting effectiveness of the service in question, while reinforcing a nation’s objectives. Therefore, the most important lesson history provides for the FSC’s development is the primacy of strategy. Without an understanding of America’s strategy and the Navy’s role in achieving America’s goals tactical, operational, and technological discussions are groundless.

Harry Halem is an undergraduate at the University of St Andrews studying International Relations and Philosophy. He welcomes your comments at hh66@st-andrews.ac.uk

Featured Image: USS Zumwalt (Eric Kaufman)

Challenges to Access: Past, Present, and Future

By Bob Poling

Anyone who has followed the development of the Air-Sea Battle Concept (ASBC) turned Joint Access for Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAMGC) and the closely associated term, A2/AD, knows this amalgamation of terminologies, ideas, and concepts has generated a significant amount of confusion and discontent across the defense establishment. On October 3, while participating in a Maritime Security Dialogue at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson continued this trend when he voiced his displeasure with the term A2/AD. “To some, A2/AD is a code-word, suggesting an impenetrable ‘keep-out zone’ that forces can enter only at extreme peril to themselves. To others, A2/AD refers to a family of technologies. To still others, a strategy.  In sum, A2/AD is a term bandied about freely, with no precise definition, that sends a variety of vague or conflicting signals, depending on the context in which it is either transmitted or received.”1 Admiral Richardson went on to say, “To ensure clarity in our thinking and precision in our communications, the Navy will avoid using the term A2/AD as a stand-alone acronym that can mean many things to different people or almost anything to anyone.”2 The author personally doesn’t agree with the decision to eliminate A2/AD from the Navy’s lexicon, and stated opposition in a CIMSEC debate post in November.

However, what was striking about CNO’s address were the four reasons he offered for banning A2/AD, three of those are particularly germane and will set the initial course for this column. In his remarks, Admiral Richardson stated the following:

“First, ‘A2AD’ is not a new phenomenon. The history of military contests is all about adversaries seeking to one-up each other by identifying their foes at longer ranges and attacking them with ever more destructive weapons. As technologies change, tactics change to react to and leverage them. It is only relatively recently in our conversation about warfighting that we have discussed these trends as something new.  But history has much to teach us about maintaining perspective on these developments and on charting the path forward to address them. Think Nelson at the Nile and at Copenhagen, Farragut at Mobile Bay, Nimitz, and Lockwood in the Pacific…this is nothing new. Indeed, controlling the seas and projecting power – even in contested areas – is why our nation invests in and relies upon a naval force in the first place.”

The second reason is that the term ‘denial,’ as in ‘anti-access/area denial’ is too often taken as a fait accompli, when it is, more accurately, an aspiration. Often, I get into A2AD discussions accompanied by maps with red arcs extending off the coastlines of countries like China or Iran. The images imply that any military force that enters the red area faces certain defeat – it’s a ‘no-go’ zone! But the reality is much more complex. Achieving a successful engagement requires completion of a complex chain of events, each link of which is vulnerable and can be interrupted. Those arcs represent danger, to be sure, and the Navy is going to be very thoughtful and well prepared as we address them, but the threats are not insurmountable.

Third and related, A2/AD is inherently oriented to the defense. It can contribute to a mindset that starts with how to operate from beyond the red arcs – an ‘outside-in’ approach. The reality is that we can fight from within these defended areas and if needed, we will. Inside-out, as well as outside-in, from above and from below – we will fight from every direction. The examples above show that this has been done before.”3

Admiral Richardson’s remarks are poignant and zero in on the complexities associated with this topic and are worthy of further analysis. 

First, CNO recognizes that history has much to teach the Navy about the A2/AD conundrum. However, Admiral Richardson assumes that those studying contemporary A2/AD issues are well-grounded in history. Nelson, Farragut, Nimitz and Lockwood all had to contend with A2/AD problems, but these references are perhaps not the best ones. The study of history doesn’t always yield viable solutions to contemporary problems, especially when the wrong examples are pulled from history. Moreover, it seems likely that only consummate navalists would truly appreciate CNO’s references to Nelson, Farragut, and Admiral Lockwood. There are better examples in history that are relevant to the study of A2/AD and this column will bring those to light. 

The sophistication and capabilities of A2/AD networks, at times, appear to intimidate those studying this topic, hence the fait accompli CNO mentioned. There is some legitimacy to this fait accompli mentality as the U.S. Navy hasn’t faced anything that looks likes these A2/AD networks since World War II. For instance, the Solomon Islands Campaign is a perfect example of the complexities CNO refers to in his second and third points. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) employed a wide array of capabilities against the U.S. Navy, and at times, were very effective at restricting or reducing the Navy’s freedom of maneuver and access. In fact, within the first 24 hours of landing on Guadalcanal, the Navy faced IJN fighter aircraft, bombers, and ships, all of which were superior in some way to the aircraft and ships the USN brought to the fight. The U.S. Navy suffered one of its worst defeats at sea, where four cruisers were lost, one Australian and three U.S., in the early morning hours following the landing.  In the end, the U.S. Navy would take Guadalcanal after six months of heavy fighting and use the island as a base of operations for counterattacks on the IJN. Well within the range of the IJN’s ships and aircraft, the counterattacks staged from Guadalcanal offer several examples of how to conduct a successful campaign from within the defensive arcs of an adversary.

In the articles that follow in this column, these complexities will be explored as well the means developed to counter them. For the most part, the column will focus on historical cases that are relevant to the points raised by CNO. The column will also examine emerging issues and occasionally look towards the future. While there is no clear-cut solution to countering the proliferation of A2/AD capabilities, there is no shortage of historical examples that will be examined which are connected to this topic.

Bob Poling is a retired Surface Warfare Officer who spent 24 years on active duty including tours in cruisers, destroyers, and as commanding officer of Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron TWO and Mission Commander of Southern Partnership Station 2013. From May 2011 to May 2015 Bob served on the faculty of the Air War College teaching in the Departments of Strategy and Warfighting. He was the Naval History and Heritage Command 2014-2015 Samuel Eliot Morison scholar and is pursuing his Ph.D. with the Department of Defence Studies, King’s College London where he is researching Air-Sea Battle concepts used to combat A2/AD challenges encountered during the Solomon Islands Campaign.

1. John Richardson, “Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson: Deconstructing A2AD,” Text, The National Interest, accessed December 23, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/chief-naval-operations-adm-john-richardson-deconstructing-17918.

2. Ibid.

3. Richardson, Deconstructing A2/AD.

Featured Image: MEDITERRANEAN SEA (June 28, 2016) – An E2-C Hawkeye assigned to the Screwtops of Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 123 undergoes pre-flight checks on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Bobby Baldock/Released)

Is A2/AD Still Useful As Doctrinal Language? A CIMSEC Debate

CNO Admiral John Richardson recently struck the term A2/AD from Navy lexicon. The debate that follows aims to ascertain the value of the term and understand the context of the CNO’s decision. Bob Poling takes the affirmative position that A2/AD is still a relevant term while Jon Askonas takes the negative. 

Affirmative: Dear CNO, A2/AD Still Matters…   

By Bob Poling

cno-john-richardson
CNO Richardson speaks at CSIS (CSIS)

On October 3, 2016, while participating in a Maritime Security Dialogue at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson announced that the Navy would strike A2/AD from its vocabulary. Admiral Richardson stated, “To some, A2/AD is a code-word, suggesting an impenetrable ‘keep-out zone’ that forces can enter only at extreme peril to themselves. To others, A2/AD refers to a family of technologies. To still others, a strategy. In sum, A2/AD is a term bandied about freely, with no precise definition, that sends a variety of vague or conflicting signals, depending on the context in which it is either transmitted or received.” Richardson went on to say, “To ensure clarity in our thinking and precision in our communications, the Navy will avoid using the term A2/AD as a stand-alone acronym that can mean many things to different people or almost anything to anyone.”

But A2/AD is not just Navy terminology. The acronym is used in any number of joint publications and is recognized as a part of joint doctrine. After all, there is perhaps no topic more “joint” than the study of countering A2/AD, and as such, the Navy should continue to use the same terminology being used by the rest of the services instead of abandoning doctrine.

In Line with Naval Tradition

With his prohibition on A2/AD, CNO has upheld the Navy’s reputation for ignoring doctrine. It is no secret that naval officers rail against doctrine and adhere to it grudgingly. Corbett warned naval strategists to not become enamored with maxims when studying war as it stifles good judgment. Roger W. Barnett in his book on the Navy’s strategic culture provides an accurate description of this anathema noting, “Navy strategists look upon written doctrine as maxims and are wholly uncomfortable with it. To the naval strategist, the combination of definitions and doctrine becomes rather toxic.” Admiral Richardson exemplifies Barnett’s views and if one watches the video of his remarks at CSIS, his disdain for A2/AD is clear. But A2/AD is not just jargon. It is a viable term that if used in the proper context can convey the fidelity CNO is looking for. Moreover, it is a term that the joint force is familiar with and continues to use. Admiral Richardson’s ban on A2/AD has in essence forced the Navy to turn its back on prescribed joint doctrine and terminology

Granted, blind adherence to doctrine is not necessarily a good thing. However, in this case adherence to the terminology laid forth in doctrine is useful, especially since all of the services are so vested in counter A2/AD. In Chapter One of Joint Publication One (JP-1), former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General George H. Decker’s stated, “Doctrine provides a military organization with a common philosophy, a common language, a common purpose and a utility of effort.” The Department of Defense’s position on doctrine is clearly articulated in subsequent paragraphs declaring, “the use of joint doctrine standardizes terminology, training, relationships, responsibilities and processes among all of the U.S. forces to free the joint force commanders (JFCs) and their staffs to focus on solving strategic, operational, and tactical problems.” Finally, Naval Doctrine Publication 1, Naval Warfare defines doctrine thus, “Doctrine is not an impediment to a commander’s exercise of imagination; rather, it is a framework of fundamental principles, practices, techniques, procedures, and terms that guides a commander, commanding officer, or officer-in-charge in employing force(s) to accomplish the mission. Doctrine provides the basis for mutual understanding within and among the Services and national policy makers. It ensures familiarity and efficiency in the execution of procedures and tactics.” Based on these definitions alone, including the Navy’s cut on doctrine, Admiral Richardson’s comments clearly contradict the expectations articulated for the joint force. Instead of fostering unity of effort and a common approach to A2/AD, CNO’s edict has the potential to drive a wedge between the Navy and the other services. 

Need for Inter-Forces Cooperation

Another problem with CNO Richardson’s proclamation is it contradicts the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), 1.0 which guides the joint force on how to approach A2/AD. “The JOAC describes in broad terms how joint forces will operate in response to emerging anti-access and area-denial security challenges” and,  “… envisions a greater degree of integration across domains and at lower echelons than ever before.” Likewise, the JOAC defines anti-access (A2) and area-denial (AD) for the joint force as follows, “Anti-access refers to those actions and capabilities, usually long-range, designed to prevent an opposing force from entering an operational area. Anti-access actions tend to target forces approaching by air and sea predominantly, but also can target the cyber, space, and other forces that support them. Area-denial refers to those actions and capabilities, usually of shorter range, designed not to keep an opposing force out, but to limit its freedom of action within the operational area. Area-denial capabilities target forces in all domains, including land forces.”

Granted these definitions may not be as concise as CNO may like, but they are the accepted joint definitions, and they do cover the spectrum of potential threats. As these definitions are not suitable for CNO then why not approach the A2/AD conundrum in the same fashion as the Navy approaches warfare? For example, the Navy’s approach to Air Defense is just as convoluted as CNO suggests A2/AD is. The Air and Missile Defense Commander (AMDC) is responsible for defending the force against air threats. But air threats can be a variety of things like ballistic missiles, aircraft and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM); all of which must be dealt with in a different fashion based on each one’s ranges and capabilities. To manage the variety of threats the AMDC publishes an OPTASK Air Defense plan which provides specific guidance that has been tailored based on the area of operations and the threats that are present, thus leveling the playing field and ensuring all the players are on the same page. The point is, this methodology represents how the Navy has successfully operated for decades. The inherent flexibility of this approach to warfare allows the Navy to adapt to ever changing environments and threats, regardless of the region. It should be no different where A2/AD is concerned.

Conclusion

Admiral Richardson’s decision to strike A2/AD from the Navy’s lexicon only sends conflicting signals to the rest of the Joint Force, our allies, and partners. On the surface, it looks as if the Navy is no longer a team player where A2/AD is concerned. Still, others are no doubt wondering why CNO has done this when none of the other services have gone this route. Arguably, the elimination of A2/AD from the Navy’s vocabulary is more likely to undermine the clarity of thinking and precise communication CNO desires. If I could whisper in CNO’s ear, I would recommend he demand more rigorous thinking and adherence to the JOAC’s vision of A2/AD instead of throwing out the term.

Negative: A2/AD is an Unoriginal and Unhelpful Term In Understanding Threats

By Jonathan D. Askonas

A2/AD, for the uninitiated, stands for “Anti-Access/Area Denial,” shorthand for a variety of technological and tactical changes supposedly creating new and unique military challenges for the United States to confront. What makes doctrinal language useful? It provides a name and set of concepts that help us think about a phenomenon in order to improve military performance. My contention is that A2/AD conceals and obscures more than it clarifies and is thus not useful doctrinal language.

What is an “Anti-Access/Area Denial” military system? In normal use, A2/AD refers to technologies and tactics which, through precision guidance, communications, and firepower, make the deployment and use of American forces riskier and more expensive. Which is to say, they are military systems. One of the beauties of A2/AD is that anything short of tactical scenarios the U.S. military is itching to engage (like a rerun of the 1991 Iraqi Turkey Shoot) becomes “A2/AD.” Anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs)? A2/AD. Small, swarm-tactic Iranian littoral boats? A2/AD. Integrated air defense systems (IADSs)? A2/AD. Diesel attack subs? A2/AD. Any modern military technology that enables a great power to project force past its own borders in ways which even marginally threaten the West’s ability to conduct combined arms operations can be subsumed in a sexy operational concept. But this overbroad idea has at least three fatal problems which doom it to the conceptual dustbin.

A2/AD Deceives Us Into Confusing the Tactical, Operational, and Strategic Levels of Warfare 

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While their role in an A2/AD strategy is up for a debate, substantial Chinese investment in new technologies, like this Type 039 Song Class diesel-electric submarine, is undeniable. (PRC Stock Photo)

The biggest problem with A2/AD is that it carelessly elides the distinguishing levels of war, smuggling all kinds of assumptions and non sequiturs into our thinking. When most people talk about A2/AD, they refer to technological capabilities which are capable of attacking/hampering Western capabilities (tactical) in ways which increase the risk of the West acting in specific areas (operational), to the end of limiting Western influence (strategic). But reality almost never lines up with this picture, even in the canonical examples of A2/AD. Take the South China Sea, where Chinese investment in ASBMs, diesel attack subs, and other hardware are supposedly part of a strategy of A2/AD designed to minimize American ability to intervene in the region. And yet, this picture falls apart on closer inspection. At the technological level, complex kill-chains create all kinds of vulnerabilities in China’s new (and relatively untested) weapons systems which, when it comes to operational considerations, render them unreliable, particularly as American forces adapt to them (the traditional response to operating in “denied” territory). And at the strategic level, A2/AD as a strategy is absurd. War is politics by other means – how are extra missiles by themselves supposed to force American carrier battle groups not to enforce freedom of the seas? China has not attempted to sink them in the past not because it lacked the capability but because it lacked the will. The ultimate anti-missile defense system is threat of unstoppable violence should the American people be attacked. A2/AD’s conceptual confusion about how technologies, tactics, operations and strategy interrelate undermines any utility the idea might have.

A2/AD Lends Itself To An Overly Cautious, Defensive, and Unhistorical Mindset

As the CNO himself pointed out, A2/AD encourages a cautious, defensive, and unhistorical mindset. To the first point, A2/AD, with its language of “area denial” lends itself to being construed as defensive in nature. For example, “A2AD capability is not offensive or aggressive in nature,”French General Denis Mercier and NATO supreme allied commander for transformation said last October. “It’s principally a defensive measure. So we have to consider it, we have to be aware of it, we have to include it in our planning but it’s not the threat as such.” Because it elides the levels of warfare, A2/AD transforms the defensive capabilities of the weapon (tactical) into a defensive intent on behalf of the enemy (strategic). And yet, as even the most greenhorn strategist knows, because warfare is a competitive activity, changes in relative advantage determine outcomes and shape the overall operational picture, regardless of whether the weapons themselves are offensive or defensive in nature. Moreover, in many cases, the weapon systems in question are not obviously solely defensive in nature, nor only capable of targeting American forces.

To the second point, that A2/AD is anachronistic, it seems peculiar that a concept as old as warfare has been highlighted as the next big new defense threat. The ability to make certain areas of the battlespace difficult or impossible for the enemy to access, thus shaping his choices, is one of the foundational mechanics of warfare. Conceptually, minefields, coastal defense guns, and U-Boats had (or sometimes had) identical functions to contemporary “A2/AD” weaponry. Because it highlights new technologies of area denial, A2/AD hampers rather than helps our ability to use military history and analogical thinking to come up with creative solutions to contemporary military challenges.

A2/AD traps Us Into a Rigid Conception of the Enemy and the Enemy’s Strategy

By fogging up the distinguishing levels of war and highlighting the ways great power rivals are working to defend against U.S. intervention, A2/AD lulls us into projecting our operational challenges onto the intentions of our enemies. In other words, A2/AD tricks us into thinking that, because it is the case that widespread ASBM deployment in the East China Sea or IADSs over Syria increase the relative risk of an American intervention, those actions were taken for that purpose. By tying an operational fact (ASBMs are a threat to American ships) to a strategic assumption (therefore, ASBMs are primarily intended to deny access to American ships), A2/AD hurts our ability to imagine what else the enemy might be up to. The same missiles which can sink an American carrier can also hold Taiwanese naval forces at risk; the same IADS that limits American intervention in Crimea can also target actively target Lithuanian or Estonian fastmovers. I don’t mean to suggest that these are likely possibilities, but they are possibilities, and ones which A2/AD belays. The problem is that the enemy gets a say, too. Just because we have an operational concept which says that Chinese investment in a blue water navy or Russian research into advanced air-to-air missiles are primarily aimed at limiting U.S. influence does not make it so. And, even if this is true today, there is nothing to suggest that the enemy might change his mind. By incorporating assumptions about enemy intent into its model, A2/AD lulls us into thinking we understand the enemy.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, A2/AD furthers a strategic culture that obsesses over the “next big thing” and neglects the fundamentals. To the extent that A2/AD is correct about the need to incorporate standoff weaponry into our tactical calculations, it is trivial; that is a well-understood part of operational art. And to the extent that A2/AD makes non-trivial claims about the enemy’s strategy or intent (or the nature of warfare), it is dangerously blithe, imprecise, and blinkered. Like the Revolution in Military Affairs, Full Spectrum Warfare, and NetWar before it, A2/AD will soon join the graveyard of Pentagon intellectual fads that preceded it. And well it should.

Bob Poling is a retired Surface Warfare Officer who spent 24 years on active duty including tours in cruisers, destroyers and as commanding officer of Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron TWO and Mission Commander of Southern Partnership Station 2013. From May 2011 to May 2015 Bob served on the faculty of the Air War College teaching in the Departments of Strategy and Warfighting. He was the Naval History and Heritage Command 2014-2015 Samuel Eliot Morison scholar and is pursuing his Ph.D. with the Department of Defence Studies, King’s College London where he is researching Air-Sea Battle concepts used to combat A2/AD challenges encountered during the Solomon Islands Campaign.

Jon Askonas is a 2nd year DPhil candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford, where he is a Beinecke Scholar and a Healy Scholar. He is interested in the relationship between knowledge production/transmission and decision-making in large organizations. He has a BS in International Politics (summa cum laude) from Georgetown University and a MPhil(Merit) from Oxford. He has worked at the Council on Foreign Relations and the US Embassy in Moscow.

The opinions and assertions contained herein are the private opinions of the authors and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Department of Defense, the United States Government, or the United States Navy, or any organization – they are the authors’ personal opinions.

Featured Image: U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser USS Princeton. U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jake Berenguer (Released)

Entering the Bear’s Lair: Russia’s A2/AD Bubble in the Baltic Sea

The following article originally featured on The National Interest and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here

By Bret Perry

On the cold, cloudy afternoon of March 18th, 2018, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and its Amphibious Readiness Group steamed through the Baltic Sea about 100 miles south of the Swedish island of Gotland, just west of Lithuania and Latvia. With its full squadron of three amphibious assault ships, including the USS Bataan Landing Helicopter Dock, and three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, this impressive US military presence in the Baltic Sea was unprecedented. In response to unusual Russian military activity near Estonia, including the presence of ‘little green men’ in the border town of Narva, the new White House administration was determined to send a message to Moscow.

Two US Marine Corps F-35Bs, flown by call sign Yukon and his wingman Zeus, surged off the deck of the USS Bataan to conduct a combat air patrol (CAP) to reinforce the NATO presence in the area. Banking south, Yukon heard the NATO E-3 Sentry Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) operator Showboat say through his thick Dutch accent, “Yukon, Showboat, you have a pop-up group of two Bogeys, Bullseye 207 degrees for 150 kilometers, 1,300 meters.”

“Copy, Showboat. Intercepting,” Yukon responded as he throttled his jet up to Mach 1.6. Another aggressive Russian flyby, he thought.

About four minutes later, Yukon and Zeus had positioned their aircraft about 250 feet behind the two Su-30SM Flanker-C bandits. But unlike previous intercepts of Russian fighter over Baltic Sea, the Su-30s were clearly armed with more than the typical, short range Archer (R-73) air-to-air missiles.

“Zeus, any idea what they’re carrying?” Yukon asked his wingman.

“Negative, but they’re not playing around today,” she responded.

“Copy. Take a closer look for me.”

“Roger,” Zeus responded. She slowly began to creep her aircraft closer to the Su-30 on the left.

“Showboat, Yukon, tally-ho on two Flanker-Cs. We think…” Yukon’s voice trailed off as he watched a disaster unfold in an instant.

As Zeus approached the bandits, one of the Su-30s tried to barrel-roll over her F-35B. But as Zeus held steady 100 feet from the Flankers, the Su-30 pilot misjudged the maneuver, and slammed the Russian jet into the right wing of Zeus’ F-35B. The wing snapped off, sending Zeus spinning, while the Su-30 pitched over into a nosedive.

“Eject! Eject! Eject!” Zeus yelled into the radio.

In response to the chaos, the remaining Su-30 banked right, and bugged out. When Yukon looked to his left, he felt relief and horror at what he saw.

He could see Zeus’ parachute. But… there was no sign of the Russian pilot.

Although the aforementioned vignette is fictional, it captures the increasingly worrisome military implications of Russia’s posture in Kaliningrad. The presence of Russian ground, naval, and air forces in Kaliningrad is not new, but Russia has essentially transformed the tiny area into a major “pop-up” Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) zone from what had been a Cold War-era Soviet outpost. Despite traditionally being associated with the Asia-Pacific or even the Persian Gulf, Russia’s deployments in Kaliningrad reflect the potential for the emergence of localized A2/AD zones in Europe. Not only is A2/AD now a critical component in European security dynamics, but it is also a global phenomenon that has truly ‘broken out’ of the Pacific’s First Island Chain. With NATO’s eyes on the defense of its Baltic members and a growing view that Poland is NATO’s new center of gravity in the East, a Kaliningrad A2/AD zone projects advanced ground, naval, and air threats, creating significant security challenges.

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Range rings of Russian missile systems in Kaliningrad. (Avascent)

Achieving Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) and air dominance is a critical component in countering A2/AD zones. Although Russia’s defense industry faces challenges with upgrading the state’s fighter fleet, both the Russian Aerospace Forces and Russian Naval Aviation possess formidable 4G and 4.5G tactical aircraft capable of executing advanced air-to-air combat and challenging NATO’s air dominance. In Kaliningrad, two Naval Aviation fighter regiments maintain several squadrons of Su-27 fighters and Su-24 bombers out of two separate air bases. As Russian Naval Aviation purchases at least 50 new Su-30SMs by 2020, the forward deployment of these units to Kaliningrad would significantly sharpen Russia’s sword in the Baltic airspace. Specifically, Kaliningrad’s position provides Russian forces with the ability to scramble their tactical aircraft within close proximity to NATO forces while under the protection of extensive Russian air-defense systems.

15 minutes later, Yukon continued circling, waiting for the other Su-30SM to return and hamper the USS Bataan’s search and rescue efforts. Suddenly, he heard Showboat shout over the radio.

“Unidentified track, Bullseye 163 degrees for 380 kilometers, 2,300 meters, hot!”

Yukon saw the new contact marked by Showboat on his Tactical Situation Display (TSD) located on the front left of his F-35B’s cockpit. It was tagged as unknown, but moving rapidly across the screen at 4,500 mph towards Showboat. Yukon’s gut told him something was wrong, so he quickly switched his APG-81 radar onto “active” mode.

In a second, the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar on Yukon’s F-35B scanned the object and autonomously identified it as a Russian 40N6 missile. As the F-35B’s datalink automatically transferred its identification to Showboat’s AWACS and other forces in the area, he said, “Showboat, Yukon, Bullseye, 230 degrees for 340 kilometers, 5,000 meters, SAM launch! Break left! Break left!”  

But the 40N6 surface-to-air missile (SAM), flying at over 4,500 mph, was too fast.

Within 10 seconds, Yukon heard Showboat shout “Break…Mayday! Mayday! May…!” All what was left was static. On his TSD, the icon denoting Showboat’s AWACS was gone from his display.

Launched from an S-400 “Growler” SAM launcher near the small coastal town of Yantarny in Kaliningrad, the 40N6 missile is a long-range weapon with an active- and semi-active seeker designed to destroy high-value targets, such as AWACS, electronic warfare, and other special mission aircraft. In 2012, Russia began outfitting at least two battalions in Kaliningrad with its new S-400 SAM system. The S-400s joined Kaliningrad’s S-300 SAMs, also an important threat.

Moscow’s deployment of S-400 missiles to Kaliningrad was key in transforming the outpost into an effective A2/AD zone. With a maximum range of 250 miles (although the system most likely can only detect advanced stealth aircraft with much smaller radar cross-sections, such as the F-22, at closer ranges), Kaliningrad’s S-400s are capable of turning the airspace over much of the Baltic Sea, Latvia, Lithuania, and half of Poland (including the capital, Warsaw), into a no-fly zone at the flip of a switch. General Frank Gorenc, the commander of US Air Forces in Europe, explained that Moscow’s SAMs and other systems “creates areas that are very tough to get into.” Although an assortment of stealth aircraft, electronic warfare capabilities, and long-range strike weapons can neutralize the S-400, strikes in Kaliningrad carry strategic consequences due to the risk of Russian escalation, ultimately making the suppression of enemy air defenses a complex challenge.

Without Showboat, Yukon and the naval forces accompanying the 22nd MEU were in the dark without any early warning capability. Yukon’s F-35B acted as the eyes and ears of the fleet with its AESA radar. But as he was miles south of the MEU and the closest AWACS replacement was in Germany, the decision was made to have one of the escort destroyers turn on its radar’s “active” mode. This decision would give away the MEU’s precise location, but was necessary to establish a 360-degree view of the deteriorating situation.

The USS Truxtun powered on its SPY-1D radar and Mk 99 fire control system to restore awareness. Although the Truxtun could now detect targets over 100 miles away, Yukon’s F-35B continued to play a role with its powerful AESA radar.

But within a minute of firing up its radar, “Overlord,” Truxtun’s operations specialist announced “10 unidentified tracks, Bullseye 187 degrees for 280 kilometers, and closing fast.”

Yukon looked down on his TSD and saw the unidentified tracks appear near the top edge of the screen. They were moving quickly down the display at an angle towards the MEU, but not as fast as the S-400 missile’s earlier observed path. At the current pace, they would reach the fleet in about 410 seconds. Yukon banked his plane and burned towards the unknown contacts.

About a minute later, Yukon’s AESA radar picked up all ten of the contacts, identifying them as P-800 Oniks anti-ship cruise missiles. The F-35B’s computer immediately transmitted the data to the Truxtun and other NATO forces in the immediate area. Within less than a second, the Truxton’s AEGIS Combat System processed the threat information and autonomously launched 20 SM-2 SAMs towards the incoming Oniks missiles, targeting each Oniks with two SM-2s.

Yukon burned towards the Oniks missiles, prepared to intercept. But Overlord was wary of Yukon going “winchester,” or running out of missiles, especially if additional Russian aircraft emerged.

About 150 seconds later, the Truxton’s SM-2s reached the incoming Oniks missiles. Four of the missiles struck their targets, but debris from their impact knocked the Truxton’s remaining SAMs off course. Detecting its error, the Truxton’s AEGIS system automatically launched 12 new SM-2s towards the remaining Oniks missiles.

“Overlord” ordered Yukon to engage one of the Oniks even though they were nearly out of range. The nervousness in Overlord’s voice was unmistakable. Yukon acknowledged the command, responding with “Fox Three” as one of his AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) dropped out of the F-35B’s weapons bay, firing towards the Oniks.

90 seconds later, the Truxton’s second wave of SM-2s reached the remaining Oniks missiles. They knocked two Oniks missiles out of the sky, but four more remained. 10 seconds later, Yukon’s AMRAAM smashed into an Oniks, leaving three. The Truxton’s AEGIS Combat System immediately launched six of its RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missiles, which were tailored to counter supersonic maneuvering anti-ship missiles such as the Oniks.

Within 60 seconds, the RIM-162s found their targets. Two of the Oniks were hit, but a sudden last-minute maneuver by the last Russian missile kept it airborne.

10 seconds later, this final missile struck the Truxton’s bow at supersonic speeds, delivering a crippling blow to the American warship.

Responsible for launching the Oniks, the K-300P Bastion is one of the most advanced anti-ship cruise missile systems fielded. With a range of 186 miles, this system is capable of launching supersonic missiles that can fly as low as 15 feet and conduct evasive maneuvers to counter a target’s anti-missile defenses. Impressed by its capabilities, Russian and Indian engineers used the Bastion’s P-800 Oniks missiles to form the basis for the jointly-developed BrahMos, the world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation. Essentially, the Bastion not only lets its operators engage distant naval targets, but also allows them to launch advanced missiles capable of overwhelming sophisticated anti-air defenses systems.

Although Russia has not yet equipped its coastal missile regiment based in Kaliningrad with the advanced Bastion anti-ship missile system (the regiment in Kaliningrad is reportedly deployed with the less advanced SSC-1 ‘Sepal’ missiles), the aforementioned scenario is important as it still showcases how easily Russia can assemble the necessary elements in Kaliningrad to deny access to the Baltic Sea. Further, as Moscow already decided to deploy the Bastion to controversial areas, such as the Kuril Islands in the Pacific, and Crimea in the Black Sea, Kaliningrad forces could also soon be armed with the Bastion as Moscow continues to pursue A2/AD in Europe. Coastal missile forces aside, Kaliningrad’s three diesel-electric submarines, two destroyers, and assortment of smaller vessels provide Russian forces with enough maritime power to contest a NATO naval presence in the Baltic Sea. As commander of US Army Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, explained, Russia “could make it very difficult for any of us [US] to get up into the Baltic Sea if we needed to in a contingency.”

About 25 minutes later, Yukon was about 50 miles north of Kaliningrad, flying low. Miles behind him, five other F-35Bs had taken off from the Bataan and were en route to join him.

It was time to strike back.

But Yukon and his fellow Marine aviators would not be leading the strike. That was the job for the Polish Air Force.

Committed to NATO, Poland activated contingency plans to scramble a squadron of F-16s to conduct a Strike/CAP tasking soon after Showboat’s F-35B went down. In response to heavy usage, Poland had just upgraded its F-16s to be some of the most advanced aircraft of that type anywhere. Equipped with AESA radars, a next-gen datalink pod, and advanced strike munitions, the Polish F-16s would deliver the punch against Russian forces in Kaliningrad.

Specifically, the Polish F-16s were equipped with AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) that could strike targets as far as 230 miles away. The Polish squadron was split into two, flying “nap-of-the-earth” to avoid Kaliningrad’s Growler SAMs. In support were Bataan’s F-35Bs, which would engage any Russian air threats with their AMRAAM missiles and jam their sensors and communications with their electronic warfare systems. Since Yukon was closer to Kaliningrad, he would provide the Polish pilots with targeting information via a secure next-gen datalink that wouldn’t give away their positions, unlike legacy Link-16 systems. At this point, his AESA radar was switched to passive mode, allowing the stealthy F-35B to fly undetected towards Kaliningrad.

When Yukon was 45 miles from the shore, still unseen by Russian radar operators, he powered on his advanced Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS). Since the miniaturized EOTS sensor was built into the F-35’s nose, he didn’t have to worry about the sensor eroding his aircraft’s stealth profile. On the screen Yukon steered towards the target into a “bump-up” position.

Yukon’s display showed several Growler SAM’s in their “slanted-E” revetments. He was about to confirm the target when he noticed something else—a skinny object standing up.

It was an Iskander “Stone” transporter erector launcher (TEL) in firing position.

The Iskander, also referred to as the SS-26, is a modern short-range ballistic missile system capable of launching missiles with conventional high-explosive fragmentation warheads, fuel-air explosives, bunker buster, and electromagnetic pulse payloads. Additionally, the Iskander’s maximum range of 310 miles makes it a potent system. But the Iskander’s most lethal trait is its ability to launch nuclear warheads with as much power as 50,000 tons of TNT.

In 2015, Russia began rotating its newest Iskander-M systems in Kaliningrad in response to NATO’s renewed commitment to Eastern European defense. Moscow may permanently deploy the missiles to Kaliningrad by the end of the decade. Also troubling, some NATO partners believe that Moscow is secretly stockpiling tactical nuclear warheads in Kaliningrad for use atop the Iskanders. The Kaliningrad deployments were a surprise as Moscow previously used threats to position these missiles in Kaliningrad as a bargaining tool to reduce NATO’s European missile defense deployments. Even though the Iskander is just a tactical missile system, its deployment in Kaliningrad has strategic implications for NATO attempts to “deflate” an A2/AD bubble there. With or without nuclear warheads, Kaliningrad’s Iskanders have the ability to strike an array of key NATO positions in the Baltics. Morever, the confusion whether an Iskander system is armed with conventional or nuclear payloads by itself could foul NATO’s crisis decision making.

40 minutes later, Yukon was just a couple miles away from “Banker,” a Dutch KC-10 Extender aerial refueling tanker aircraft. The joint USMC-Polish retaliatory strike had been called off as pressure from several NATO partners and other states forced the US to step back and resolve the crisis diplomatically. The Russian propaganda machine was in full swing, asserting that its Kaliningrad forces acted entirely in self-defense. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Vorshevsky claimed that Zeus deliberately crashed her F-35B into the Russian Su-30 and that Kaliningrad’s military commanders had no choice but to launch “a couple” Oniks missiles when the “trespassing” US forces turned on their fire control systems. Vorshevsky’s comments were retweeted and broadcasted around the world.

Waiting to refuel from the Dutch tanker, Yukon reflected on how close he’d come to attacking Russian forces. All he could think about was that he’d back up flying a CAP the next day and who knew what the Russians had in store tomorrow.

Again, this scenario is fictional and some liberties were taken for narrative purposes. As well, the reality of such a scenario unfolding would be even more complex, especially in the political domain. But the point that US forces will struggle to maneuver in new European A2/AD bubbles is unquestionable.

“Popping” Russia’s European A2/AD bubbles wherever they may be established is ultimately a tough challenge without easy answers for NATO. Purely surging an overwhelming amount of force into the bubble is simply not feasible due to resource constraints and the risk that Russia would respond with tactical nuclear weapons. However, by making its forces more survivable, the US and NATO allies can naturally degrade the potential effectiveness of Russia’s A2/AD zones and establish some credible level of conventional deterrence.

There are examples worth considering for inspiration, such as the US Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) capability. NIFC-CA is a US Navy concept using an array of advanced data links to transform a carrier air wing and carrier battle group into a larger network of distributed ‘sensors’ and ”shooters.” Created to counter the air-breathing threat elements of Chinese A2/AD in the Asia-Pacific, NIFCA-CA is a redundant, “networked-enhanced” system capable of functioning even if a handful of sensors are neutralized or jammed. Essentially in NIFC-CA, every aircraft and destroyer is linked directly to each other to make the force more survivable.

A NIFC-CA-like capability scaled for the European theater is a crucial step for defeating Russia’s European A2/AD bubbles through neutralizing air-breathers and broadly enabling more effective air operations. Simply, NATO cannot expect to conduct SEAD, CAS, or other types of air operations to ‘pop’ Russia’s A2/AD bubble without removing the air-breather threats. Although critics rightfully point to Russia’s advanced EW capabilities (as demonstrated in the Ukrainian conflict) as a key challenge, this only reinforces the need for NATO to invest in a more networked, resilient force.

The “NATO Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air” concept must be service agonistic (e.g., not just a Navy concept, but inclusive of Air Force assets as well) as conflict in the European theater will not solely revolve around the carrier air wing; the appropriate air, naval, and relevant ground platforms should be incorporated. Furthermore, this integrated fire control concept must include the systems of non-US NATO members. In Europe, the US has partners—some of which are positioned within Russia’s emerging A2/AD bubbles—with platforms already in place that can provide immediate support. Challenges associated with information assurance, interoperability, and 5G-to-4.5G communications make developing a ‘common datalink’ a difficult task, but one that is crucial to maximize the effectiveness of NATO’s air assets.

Whether it is turning an American US Air Force F-15C/D, USMC F-35B, or Polish F-16 C/D into sensors and shooters networked directly with each other, a ‘NATO IFC-CA’ would diminish the potency of Russia’s A2/AD zones. But ultimately, Russia’s new way of operating in Europe requires the US and NATO to increase their investments in the appropriate capabilities, hone joint multinational operations through regional exercises, and most importantly, assess how their current strategy, doctrine, and tactics match up against this evolving threat.

Bret Perry is an analyst at Avascent, an aerospace and defense consulting firm. The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily reflect those of any organization.

The author would like to thank August Cole, Dominik Kimla, Alex Chang, Steve Ganyard, Jacqueline Phan, and Cate Walsh for their advice and comments.

Featured Image: S-400 Triumf air defense systems from Russia (defencetalk.com)