Kick the Door Down with AirSea Battle ... Then What?

By Murphy, Martin N. | Parameters, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Kick the Door Down with AirSea Battle ... Then What?


Murphy, Martin N., Parameters


Books Reviewed:

Beyond Air-Sea Battle: The Debate over US Military Strategy in Asia. By Aaron L. Friedberg

Fire on the Water: China, America and the Future of the Pacific By Robert Haddick

Anti-Access Warfare: Countering A2/AD Strategies By Sam J. Tangredi.

Power projection is a stated aim of our armed forces. It is the distillation of much of what our armed services exist to do. We vaunt our ability to intervene powerfully almost anywhere we choose to and win once we are there. Power on that scale is quintessentially American. Its roots, however, can be found in Antiquity. What, after all, were the Greeks doing at the gates of Troy but projecting power? Yet before the Industrial Revolution power could only be projected on a small scale. Afterwards power projection on a large scale became possible and flowered in response to the demands of Western imperialism. As Aaron Friedberg noted in an earlier book, from a military perspective "the most important product (of the Industrial Revolution) was a marked improvement in the ability of European states to project and maintain military power far from their own frontiers." (1) The United States is the inheritor of that experience.

AirSea Battle (ASB), now subsumed into the wider Joint Operational Access Concept, is the latest tool for projecting US power. To be accurate, ASB is an "anti-access" concept not necessarily an invasive one. It is designed to take down an enemy's defense ensuring the access we have enjoyed since 1945 to threaten invasion or destruction of critical infrastructure in pursuit of our national objectives continues. The US Navy proclaims Alfred Thayer Mahan to be its defining strategic thinker. However, in its pursuit of power projection it is acting not as his disciple but as the disciple of his near contemporary, Sir Julian Corbett, the architect of what became known subsequently as the "British Way of War." Corbett viewed what we would now call access operations as the acme of naval operations; the ability to project power around an opponent's periphery wounding, confusing and weakening him preparatory to landing the final and mortal blow; which may very well also arrive by sea as America was poised to do against Japan in the summer of 1945. Although Mahan and Corbett agreed broadly on most aspects of naval practice, they differed sharply on the benefit of amphibious operations. Mahan, who had a much more insightful view of the critical economic dimension of maritime power than Corbett, saw what we now call power projection as highly risky and a wasteful distraction from the Navy's primary purpose of sea command.

Given power projection's deep roots in history and military thought, most accounts of ASB, when they suggest it is a new response to a new problem are wrong, or at best only right in part. Troy may have failed to keep the Greeks at bay but as Sam J. Tangredi shows, anti-access strategies were practiced as far back as the wars between ancient Greece and Persia. However, in line with its supreme industrial power and expansionist ideology, the most relevant precursors are all American, starting perhaps most obviously with the determination to maintain access to the Pacific in the face of Japan's rise after World War I. That rise lead Marine colonel Pete Ellis to undertake his pioneering studies and analyses of island landing grounds and bases in the early 1920s. The second major criticism of ASB--that it includes attacks against the homeland of a nuclear adversary and therefore takes unprecedented escalatory risks--is also misplaced. It is the lineal descendent of Navy thinking going back to Admiral Forrest Sherman's post-World War II naval strategy, a strategic formulation that led to the Maritime Strategy of the 1980s which is still hailed as the most complete statement of offensive military intent ever laid down by this country's navy; one which by threatening the Soviet homeland and its nuclear deterrent anticipated the possibility of a nuclear exchange. …

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