Inside the Ring
AIR SEA BATTLE FIGHT
The Pentagon is engaged in a behind-the-scenes political fight over efforts to soften, or entirely block, a new military-approved program to bolster U.S. forces in Asia.
The program is called the Air Sea Battle concept and was developed in response to more than 100 war games since the 1990s that showed U.S. forces, mainly air and naval power, are not aligned to win a future war with China.
A senior defense official said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is reviewing the new strategy.
“We want to do this right,” the official said. “The concept is on track and is being refined to ensure that we are able to implement it wherever we need to - including in the Asia-Pacific region, where American force projection is essential to our alliances and interests.”
The official noted that the program is “the product of unprecedented collaboration by the services.”
But officials familiar with the classified details said it is designed to directly address the growing threat to the United States and allies in Asia posed by what the Pentagon calls China’s “anti-access” and “area denial” weapons - high-technology arms that China has been building in secret for the past several decades.
The Chinese weapons of concern are called “assassin’s mace” systems, which Beijing strategists calculate will allow its weaker forces to prevail over the U.S. military. They include anti-satellite weapons, cyberwarfare forces, ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines, sea mines, advanced fighters and unmanned aircraft. Nuclear arms and exotic electromagnetic pulse weapons also are included.
The U.S. response in the Air Sea Battle concept is said to be a comprehensive program to protect the “global commons” used by the United States and allies in Asia from Chinese military encroachment in places such as the South China Sea, western Pacific and areas of Northeast Asia.
The highly classified program, if approved in its current form, will call for new weapons and bases, along with non-military means. Plans for new weapons include a long-range bomber.
Other systems and elements of the program are not known.
Speculation has focused on a suite of exotic weapons and capabilities that will allow U.S. and allied forces to strike Chinese targets, especially mobile missile launchers and bases that Beijing plans to use for attacks on U.S. ships and aircraft carriers, regional military bases and satellites.
U.S. strike systems also will target infrastructure and key electrical nodes in China that are used by its cyberwarfare forces.
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