14 June 2012

Focus on China? Or Just Seeking a Focus?

Is AirSea Battle's focus on China an approach with built-in belligerence? And if not China, what threat out there guides strategic developments of the military?

In spite of this, AirSea Battle and its most recent manifestation, the Joint Operating Access Concept, are controversial. Some critics see it as an attempt by the navy and the air force, after a decade of relative neglect, to grab the lion’s share of a shrinking defence budget—already being trimmed by about $480 billion over the next ten years.

Others fear that although the concept does not mention China by name, it is the only opponent with the range of capabilities the new thinking is designed to counter. (Significantly, the Chinese defence minister did not attend the Shangri-La get-together; see article.) And whereas the 1980s predecessor of AirSea Battle, AirLand Battle, was intended to meet the real threat of a thrust by Soviet forces into Western Europe, the threat from China to America and its regional allies is harder to define. In a speech last month at the Joint Warfighting Conference, General James Cartwright, vice-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff until last year, said of AirSea Battle: “To some, it’s becoming the Holy Grail…[but] it’s neither a doctrine nor a scenario.” Worst of all, said General Cartwright, “AirSea Battle is demonising China. That’s not in anybody’s interest.”

Nathan Freier, of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, argues in a recent paper that although conflict with China “might be the most lethal set of circumstances from a traditional military standpoint, it is also the least likely and the most speculative.” North Korea, Pakistan and Iran (with their actual or putative nuclear arsenals) and even Syria all represent more realistic A2/AD challenges, which might well require the insertion of the ground forces that AirSea Battle ignores.

Other critics, such as Noel Williams, an adviser on strategy to the marine corps, point to the risk of escalation—because of the dependence on deep strike against Chinese targets on land—and to the absence of ideas about what happens without ground forces once a strike is made.

By: Brant

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