National Security

Breaking the Kill Chain

How to keep America in the game when our enemies are trying to shut us out.

Our military services and national security leaders are consumed right now with reductions to defense budgets. Whether from years of continuing resolutions, sequestration, or just less funding in general, our military will have to adjust to getting fewer dollars to protect our nation's security interests. At the same time, the world continues to present challenges to U.S. interests, including instability in North Africa and the Middle East, regular provocations from Iran and North Korea, and territorial disputes between China and its neighbors. Our military will need an affordable and effective approach to counter coercion and assure access to places where conflict is most likely and consequential.

The caps established in 2011 by the Budget Control Act place defense spending at the same level as the early 2000s. This level of funding was sufficient to organize, train, and equip a force able to defeat Saddam Hussein's military, deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan, and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan. But our fiscal situation is different today. Personnel and infrastructure maintenance costs have risen by double-digit percentages since 2003 as our services took on new missions, such as defending allies from ballistic missiles and countering piracy and illicit trafficking. Meanwhile, our competitors are more capable than a decade ago thanks to proliferation of weapons and other military technology. Less funding will compel us to reprioritize our efforts and make some hard choices with respect to the size and shape of our forces. This does not mean we will be unable to address our nation's security needs, but we will need to focus our investments and operations on our most important interests.

The Defense Strategic Guidance issued in January 2012 assessed our security environment and fiscal circumstances following the first set of BCA-imposed budget reductions. Although we are reevaluating that strategy in light of potential additional cuts imposed by sequestration, one of the most significant challenges the strategy identified remains a concern: the dedicated effort by some nations and groups to prevent access to parts of the "global commons" -- those areas of the air, sea, cyberspace, and space that no one "owns," but upon which we all depend. These "anti-access" strategies employ military capabilities, geography, diplomatic pressure, and international law to impede the free use of ungoverned spaces. The Air-Sea Battle concept -- which disrupts the so-called "kill chains" of our potential adversaries -- is our services' approach to negate these efforts.

A new form of coercion

Nations seeking to intimidate their neighbors are turning to anti-access strategies because they are cost-effective. Merely threatening to close key maritime crossroads such as the Strait of Hormuz or demonstrating the ability to cut off a country from cyberspace or international airspace can be an effective tool for regional and international coercion. Similarly, these capabilities can be applied to prevent or slow U.S. or allied assistance from arriving in time to stop or repel an attack -- providing an aggressor much greater leverage over neighbors who depend on allies for security.

Three well-known developments made this shift in our competitors' strategy possible. One, the world economy has become more interconnected, so impediments at air or maritime chokepoints have a much faster global impact. Two, technological advances in sensing and precision have spurred the development of more lethal air defenses and anti-ship cruise missiles; cheaper, more integrated surveillance systems; and new weapons, such as anti-ship ballistic missiles. Improvements in automation have made these systems easier to use while proliferation has put them in the hands of a range of potential new adversaries. And three, the American way of projecting force changed from placing bases and garrisons close to potential battlefields to a more expeditionary strategy whereby a smaller overseas presence is supported by forces that can surge into the area from hundreds or thousands of miles away.

In history there are numerous examples of anti-access capabilities and strategies. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox," used aircraft, gun emplacements, and mines during World War II to disrupt access to France during the D-Day landings at Normandy. Mines were used in the Arabian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq "tanker war" of the 1980s to hinder the passage of both countries' oil. Serbian forces and Saddam Hussein each employed Cold War-era air defenses in an attempt to deter intervention by NATO and a U.S.-led coalition respectively. Anti-access strategies have always been employed to increase the cost of intervention beyond an acceptable level and show potential victims of aggression that help is not likely to come. Today, however, anti-access capabilities have much greater range and lethality. And they are typically employed as part of an overall strategy in peacetime alongside legal, diplomatic, and geographic means to deny access even before a conflict occurs.

Anti-access strategies also undermine our ability to stabilize crises. Suppose an aggressor threatens to attack a country within range of its anti-access military capabilities. If we cannot reliably defeat the aggressor's array of cruise and ballistic missiles, submarines, aircraft, etc. and project power, U.S. forces will be less able to move into the area to interdict attacks, reassure our allies, and defuse potential hostilities.

The Air-Sea Battle concept

The Air-Sea Battle concept, approved by the secretary of defense in 2011, is designed to assure access, defeat anti-access capabilities, and provide more options to national leaders and military commanders. Air-Sea Battle is one of the operational concepts nested within the overarching Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) -- the Joint Force's approach to defeating threats to access. Air-Sea Battle is not focused on one specific adversary, since the anti-access capabilities it is intended to defeat are proliferating and, with automation, becoming easier to use. U.S. forces need a credible means to assure access when needed to help deter aggression by a range of potential adversaries, to assure allies, and to provide escalation control and crisis stability.

Some examples of where Air-Sea Battle may apply include the Arabian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, where a favorable location provides Iran the ability to threaten the production and passage of almost 20 percent of the world's oil. If Iran can demonstrate or credibly assert that it can prevent or slow a U.S. response to its aggression, it is more able to coerce its neighbors or the international community. In the eastern Mediterranean, the government of Syria has deployed an array of modern anti-air missile systems to raise the costs of outside intervention in its ongoing civil war. And in the Pacific, North Korea has already demonstrated its willingness to employ anti-access capabilities with the sinking in 2010 of the South Korean ship, Cheonan.

Air-Sea Battle is not a military strategy; it isn't about countering an invasion; it isn't a plan for U.S. forces to conduct an assault. Air-Sea Battle is a concept for defeating threats to access and enabling follow-on operations, which could include military activities as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster response. For example, in the last several years, improved integration between naval and air forces helped us respond to floods in Pakistan and to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Normally, operational concepts are developed by commanders to carry out a specific set of actions in their area of responsibility. In contrast, the military services are using JOAC and Air-Sea Battle to guide their efforts to organize, train, and equip forces provided to operational commanders. Further, we are integrating these concepts into the tactics and procedures we develop to operate with our allies. This is similar to the effort in the 1980s to implement the "Air-Land" Battle concept and associated NATO concepts to defeat Soviet aggression in Central Europe. That effort resulted in programs such as the JSTARS radar aircraft that we still use to track targets on land. And while Air-Land Battle was focused on a singular threat and region, the idea of using a specific operational concept to guide investment is the same approach we are taking with Air-Sea Battle.

Breaking the "kill chain"

Air-Sea Battle defeats threats to access by, first, disrupting an adversary's command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems; second, destroying adversary weapons launchers (including aircraft, ships, and missile sites); and finally, defeating the weapons an adversary launches.

This approach exploits the fact that, to attack our forces, an adversary must complete a sequence of actions, commonly referred to as a "kill chain." For example, surveillance systems locate U.S. forces, communications networks relay targeting information to weapons launchers, weapons are launched, and then they must hone in on U.S. forces. Each of these steps is vulnerable to interdiction or disruption, and because each step must work, our forces can focus on the weakest links in the chain, not each and every one. For example, strikes against installations deep inland are not necessarily required in Air-Sea Battle because adversary C4ISR may be vulnerable to disruption, weapons can be deceived or interdicted, and adversary ships and aircraft can be destroyed.

U.S. forces need not employ "symmetrical" approaches to counter each threat -- shooting missiles down with missiles, sinking submarines with other submarines, etc. Instead, as described in the JOAC and Air-Sea Battle, we will operate across domains. For example, we will defeat missiles with electronic warfare, disrupt surveillance systems with electromagnetic or cyberattacks, and defeat air threats with submarines. This is "networked, integrated attack" and it will require a force that is designed for -- and that regularly practices -- these kinds of operations.

Building a truly "joint" force

Conducting operations across domains requires rapid and tight coordination between air, ground, and naval forces -- a level of integration well beyond today's efforts to merely pre-plan and deconflict actions between services. This integration can't be achieved effectively and efficiently on an ad hoc basis. Forces must be "pre-integrated" -- before the fight begins. This compels us to work more closely as we develop and prepare our forces.

Today, for example, instructors from the Navy's "Top Gun" school routinely train with their counterparts at the Air Force Weapons School. As part of Air-Sea Battle we are pursuing this type of inter-service cooperation between all the services, as well as within each branch of each service. Just as in tactical aviation, we are expanding our doctrine integration to include additional areas of collaboration -- such as Army air-defense forces and Marine reconnaissance units. With the doctrine, procedures, investment, and training included in Air-Sea Battle's initiatives, we are moving from cooperation toward integration across domains. To foster integration we are directing an intensified approach to building common procedures, complementary budgets, combined exercises, and joint war games.

An essential prerequisite for cross-domain operations is communication and data links that connect sensors, decision-makers, and shooters armed with kinetic, electromagnetic, and cyber weapons. Our investments, guided by the Air-Sea Battle concept, are building increasingly robust networks able to communicate between each service's platforms, even in a contested electromagnetic environment. Part of this effort is focused on the systems and procedures for Joint Tactical Networking to connect today's aircraft and ships with new 5th generation aircraft, such as the F-35 and F-22.

Two recent tests advanced our efforts to promote Joint Tactical Networking. In the first, an Air Force F-22 provided updated targeting information to a Navy submarine-launched Tomahawk missile. Similarly, in September 2012 an Army Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) ashore successfully guided a U.S. Navy SM-6 surface-to-air missile to intercept an incoming cruise missile, demonstrating the ability to extend the range of an Aegis-equipped ship to well beyond the horizon and over land. These examples show how integrating capabilities from multiple services and domains combine to provide greater range and more options for commanders.

We cannot forget, however, that the enemy gets a vote. Electromagnetic jammers and decoys are becoming less expensive and easier to obtain, and they can emit more complex signals. Our communication networks will need to be resilient and redundant. We are investing together in new waveforms that are resistant to jamming while also building systems that can back up traditional satellite communications. Through the FY 2013 Air-Sea Battle Implementation Master Plan, our services will continue to pursue communication network improvements through technology development, war games, and the operational alignment of our Air and Maritime Operations Centers around the world.

By improving our integration, we improve our combined capability to assure access without expensive new investments. A more efficient and effective force will provide a starting point for evaluating how and where we should address potential reductions in future defense budgets.

Keeping up the momentum

We continue to implement the Air-Sea Battle concept in three main ways: compelling institutional change, fostering conceptual alignment, and promoting programmatic collaboration.

Compelling institutional change. The Air-Sea Battle concept establishes a "new normal" for integration between services so they are able to conduct successful cross-domain operations. This approach will require breaking down traditional service and community paradigms. Each of our services and each of the communities (e.g., fighters, bombers, submarines, surface ships, satellites, cyber operators, patrol aircraft, etc.) within our services have decades of established tactics, procedures, and traditions that may not align with each other. We will have to eliminate some of these differences to become a more integrated force able to operate across domains. For example, fighter aircraft may be used as surveillance platforms to support submarines attacking air defenses, or submarines may operate remotely-piloted aircraft to support Marine special forces attacking a radar.

This change will take sustained effort. We established a joint Air-Sea Battle Office (ASBO) with representatives from each service to lead day-to-day implementation of the concept. The ASBO sponsors war games and simulations, assists with service-level doctrinal changes, and advises on budget decisions. Most recently, in December, the ASBO hosted 150 personnel from all four services for the 2012 Air-Sea Battle Implementation Working Group. Representatives from U.S. Central and Pacific Commands, as well as their supporting components, played prominent roles during the discussions. The working group made significant progress in solidifying the habitual relationships Air-Sea Battle will require between the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Fostering conceptual alignment. The ASBO promotes incorporation of Air-Sea Battle concept elements in service concepts and assures the Air-Sea Battle effort stays consistent with and supports the overarching Joint Operational Access Concept. For example, Air-Sea Battle was incorporated into each of the services' war games during 2012. The Marine Corps' Expeditionary Warrior (March), Army's Unified Quest (June), Navy's Global (August), and Air Force's Unified Engagement (December) included objectives that explored Air-Sea Battle as a way to meet anti-access challenges. The Air-Sea Battle focus increased with each successive game, culminating with Unified Engagement 12, a "table-top" wargame including about 300 participants from a dozen nations. This was the first Air-Sea Battle war game to include participation by our treaty allies. Allied participation will remain a priority going forward, with the intent of influencing multinational military concepts, tactics, and doctrine.

Promoting programmatic collaboration. The ASBO assesses service programs and budgets and recommends specific solutions to address Joint Force shortfalls against anti-access challenges. To most efficiently deliver solutions, the ASBO's specific programmatic recommendations are coordinated between the services. Starting with the FY 2010 budget, application of the Air-Sea Battle concept has resulted in tangible investments to deliver the integrated, cross-domain capabilities required to defeat modern threats to access. Over the past two years these investments included the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile; Navy electronic warfare systems, such as Ship Signals Exploitation Equipment; and new data links for our fighters.

As part of its assessments, the ASBO is identifying redundancies across the services that can be eliminated. These efforts will be important as our resources become more constrained. For example, in the FY 2013 budget our services proposed reductions in Global Hawk unmanned vehicles, Air Force strike fighters, and Navy surface combatants. We will use the Air-Sea Battle concept to help integrate our force further and maintain our capability in the face of smaller budgets.

A challenge we can't ignore

Some will argue the United States can afford to retrench and "reset" following more than a decade of war, with decreasing resources and without an existential threat such as the Soviet Union. We don't have that luxury. Anti-access threats erode confidence in the freedom of the global commons that underpins our global economy. Nations are fielding and directly threatening their neighbors with anti-access systems. And potential aggressors are using these capabilities to assert that they can slow or prevent a U.S. response in order to undermine confidence in U.S. security guarantees.

The United States must sustain its capability to assure access when needed to counter these trends. Our services will continue to increase the integration of our training and improve our coordination in developing doctrine, operating concepts, new capabilities, and investment plans. We will need, however, the support of our partners in Congress and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to ensure this integration is implemented in our budgets and strategies. Through our combined efforts, Air-Sea Battle will assure continued U.S. freedom of action and with it our ability to deter aggression, maintain regional stability, dampen crisis, and assure our allies and partners.

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National Security

Why America Still Needs Aircraft Carriers

The critics are wrong: Flattops are the platform of the future, not the past.

When Adm. Jonathan Greenert assumed office in September 2011 as the 30th chief of U.S. naval operations (CNO), he issued "Sailing Directions" that included three tenets to guide how the U.S. Navy would organize, train, and equip its future force: "Warfighting First," "Operate Forward," and "Be Ready." Combined, they provide the lens through which we should view important operational and budgetary decisions facing our service in both the near and long term.

Since Day One of Greenert's tenure -- faced with the prospect of diminishing defense budgets -- the U.S. Navy has been grappling with the challenge of maintaining sufficient core warfighting capacity and capability, both of which ensure the Navy remains "forward" or capable of strategically influencing global events while maintaining its readiness to respond on demand.  For the aviation arm of the Navy, executing the "Operate Forward" tenet is central to who we are as a force and to supporting the defense strategic guidance outlined by the White House in 2012.

To sustain global leadership, we must have enough ships to maintain an enduring and capable naval presence in those areas of significant interest to the United States. To be effective, our capability must be credible -- and fully appreciated by any potential adversary. As we deal with declining budgets, there will be pressure to pursue a strategy suggested by some critics (who are mostly focused on near-term cost and perceived vulnerability) to eliminate some big-deck, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (CVNs) and convert the "savings" into some quantity of smaller surface combatants and L-class amphibious ships. In theory, this strategy would increase the presence density of U.S. naval forces and meet the capacity demands outlined in current defense strategic guidance. But let's examine this emerging strategy a bit more closely.

Numbers alone do not guarantee attainment of the goals of naval presence, which include, as J.J. Widen has noted, assistance, cooperation, assurance, influence, persuasion, deterrence, compellence, and coercion. The Navy must, as Greenert's "Sailing Directions" states, provide "offshore options to deter, influence and win in an era of uncertainty." Devolving the qualitative value of naval presence afforded by a CVN and her embarked air wing into the quantitative value of a larger number of smaller surface combatants neglects the fundamental purpose of naval presence: deter, influence, and win in an uncertain environment.

There are a number of navies around the globe that can sustain a force consisting of smaller surface combatants, but none that can equal the global presence of the U.S. Navy. What clearly distinguishes the U.S. Navy from the rest of the world is its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and extremely effective (and becoming more so) embarked carrier air wing (CVW). But the strength of the U.S. Navy derives from more than just hardware. It derives from the adaptability and flexibility of this combat-proven team that throughout the past 70 years has evolved to overcome potential adversary capabilities. Time and again, the innovative and evolutionary character of naval aviation has proven its value to deter -- or substantively and decisively contribute -- to major conflicts around the globe, protect commerce and free trade, and ultimately contribute to the security of the United States.

Smaller fleets around the globe are relatively limited in what they can accomplish, both at sea and ashore. Naval gunfire is traditionally effective on shore and the revolution in precision strike weapons, such as the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM), has increased the range, precision, and explosive yield of its kinetic effects. However, these are principally kinetic effects, limited to what we call the "right side of the kill chain." An aircraft carrier and its embarked air wing, meanwhile, have the capability to operate across the full spectrum of warfare, including the electromagnetic spectrum and the non-kinetic or "left side of the kill chain."

Additionally, an air wing operating from a nuclear-powered aircraft is capable of transcending the air-land boundary with high-end effects (precision strikes), mid-level effects (non-kinetic shows of force), and lower-end but strategically significant effects (security cooperation or humanitarian assistance/disaster relief). In the end, the CVN/CVW combination is the only maritime force anywhere in the world capable of delivering effects along the entire spectrum -- from assistance to coercion -- with the ability to rapidly transition into large-scale major combat operations if required. Emerging and re-emerging navies around the world understand this.  That's why countries aspiring to extend their influence are building aircraft carriers.

As the Department of Defense considers future force design, it must recognize that in many scenarios, the United States can deploy a CVN/CVW combination in place of a large onshore footprint, while taking full advantage of international air and sea space, without requiring over flight or basing rights. Affordability -- the central tenet in big-deck carrier critics' arguments -- fails to consider the cost-avoidance value of these marvels of power, efficiency, and adaptability.  Seen this way, the dollar cost of the carrier is a bargain and the political advantages are overwhelming, especially for a war-weary nation looking to avoid protracted commitments in foreign lands.

But the United States is also struggling to repair its fiscal house, and the aircraft carrier is expensive -- being arguably the most complicated and technologically advanced weapon system in the history of warfare. But if one views that investment through the lens of a 50-year service life (which, by the way, is how long our CVNs are designed to last) that includes warfighting upgrades, modernization, and upkeep, carriers promise a pretty good return. Consider the legendary 51-year history of the recently retired USS Enterprise (CVN 65). Designed in and for a different age, "Big E" was combat-ready and credible in her first deployment during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, just as she was combat-ready and credible during her final deployment in support of operations in Afghanistan in 2012.

Today, the U.S. Navy is building the Ford class of aircraft carriers. Many recent articles quote values ranging from $13-15 billion as the cost to build the first ship of the class, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). Those figures, however, include not only the cost of building the first of ship, but also all of the design and development costs for the entire Ford class -- a class of ship that will be in service for the next 94 years. Factoring the design and development cost of the entire class into the price of the first ship is like saying the first iPhone cost $150 million or the first Toyota Prius cost more than $1 billion. When the design and development costs are removed from the inflated "shock value" cost of the CVN 78, it is only 18 percent more expensive than the most recent ship built in our current Nimitz carrier class. Moreover, the design and development investment in the Ford class will deliver a product that is more capable and has lower life cycle costs ($4 billion less) than its predecessors, and which will continue paying dividends for nearly a century.

Even in light of that return-on-investment timeline, affordability remains a key consideration and the Navy is leveraging the learning on CVN 78 to further reduce costs on the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79). In real terms, CVN 79 will cost more than $1 billion less to build than CVN 78, and will require fewer man-hours to build than the last carrier in the current class. In the end, the Navy is building one Ford class carrier every 5 years, which represents about 0.4 percent of the defense budget during that time frame. If we take a long strategic view and keep the USS Enterprise in mind, that is pretty good return on investment.

Finally, some critics have questioned whether an aircraft carrier can remain relevant in tomorrow's threat environment. The answer to that question lies not only with the aircraft carrier, but also with her embarked air wing. The USS Midway (CV 41) was commissioned in 1945, with an air wing consisting of Corsairs and Avengers. During her final combat cruise in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, her air wing was comprised of Intruders, Hornets, Prowlers, and Hawkeyes. Likewise, the air wing complement on Ford class carriers at the end of their service life, we postulate, will be radically different than the air wing CVN 78 will carry at the time of her commissioning.

Unlike other classes of ships, the aircraft carrier does not need to be retired when its primary weapons system becomes obsolete. Similarly, defensive systems are more easily upgraded aboard an aircraft carrier than any other ship. The USS Midway's 1945 five-inch guns, for example, had been replaced by the Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile system as well as Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWS) capable of defending the carrier against Anti Ship Missiles (ASM), aircraft, and littoral warfare threats by 1991. Likewise, by the time she retires in 2065, the Ford's Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, Rolling Airframe Missile, and CIWS will likely be replaced by entirely new defensive systems that we can't even imagine today -- and her two nuclear reactors and unprecedented electrical power will provide plenty of "juice" to integrate the directed energy weapons of the future. Greenert has used the USS Enterprise as a prime example in his "Payloads Over Platforms" theme for the future design of our Navy, and it is a testament to the aircraft carrier's proven track record of strategic adaptability. This record of strategic adaptability is proof-positive that we ought never to cede battlespace to any potential adversary.

For more than 70 years, the unmatched range, speed, endurance, and flexibility of the U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier strike force has presented the United States with global freedom of action while operating -- even when contested -- in international waters and air domains. Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and their embarked air wings enable the United States to act as a key guarantor of peace and stability around the world. Having the ability to operate without a "permission slip" for basing and over-flight access, while generating the range of effects necessary to deter potential adversaries, is more than just a symbol of power. It is the essence of power.

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