Inside the Ring: Air Force Chief on air-sea battle

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Outgoing Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz says the Air Force and Navy are developing “a range of initiatives” designed to counter high-technology anti-access and area-denial weaponry as part of the new Air Sea Battle Concept.

The “anti-access, area-denial” threat is Pentagon code for China’s asymmetric military capabilities that include anti-ship ballistic missiles, cyberwarfare capabilities, anti-satellite weapons, and more-conventional submarines, warships and stealth aircraft.

Gen. Schwartz said implementing the actual concept, which grew out of war games conducted in the past several years that showed U.S. forces gradually losing future conflicts to China, will be up to his expected successor, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III.

Gen. Schwartz said the future of the concept also likely will be outlined in a Pentagon report sent to Congress on Tuesday about the U.S. defense posture in the Pacific.

“U.S. policy calls for rebalancing defense, diplomatic and economic resources toward the Asia-Pacific region,” Pentagon official George Little said in a statement on the report.

“The report supports the department’s approach to enhancing the U.S. defense posture in the Asia-Pacific and highlights some of [the] key steps that will need to be taken in the future to achieve that goal.”

The report has not been made public.

Gen. Schwartz said battle concept, which remains shrouded in secrecy to avoid upsetting the Chinese, is not just about weapons systems.

“I would argue there’s a range of initiatives out there that clearly apply to Air-Sea Battle. Those things essentially are intended to address the improving anti-access, area-denial capabilities that are proliferating out there, whether they be improvements in aircraft sensors, whether they be capabilities associated with the new Joint Strike Fighter,” Gen. Schwartz said.

“The tanker has application in this respect. Clearly, there are weapons programs underway and improvements that apply.”

Reports on Air Sea Battle have said that at least 100 proposals for weapons systems and other initiatives are being discussed in the Pentagon’s Air Sea Battle Office, opened in November.

The concept is not simply “some wholesale effort to underwrite [weapons] programs,” Gen. Schwartz said.

“This will be a tightly focused effort where the two services who really are responsible for projecting American power and maintaining our access to the global commons can amplify each other’s capabilities for best effect, not looking for credit, not looking for bumper stickers,” Gen. Schwartz said.

“We’re looking for tactics, techniques, procedures and equipment that underwrites that to sustain our ability to challenge others who wish us not to assert ourselves in certain geographic areas around the world.”

Pro-China advocates in government already are working against implementing the battle concept, according to defense officials.

They include policy officials who are trying to prevent budgeteers from creating a separate, dedicated budget for Air Sea Battle Concept programs for new weapons and other initiatives.

Opponents include Army officers who see Air Sea Battle as a threat to Army force structure and budgets, and they are actively lobbying Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to oppose the Air Force-Navy concept.

Other opponents include so-called “benign China” theorists in the policy and intelligence communities who for years have sought to play down China’s threatening military buildup as legitimate and defensive and not posing a threat to the United States or its interests. Many of these officials also are former Army officers.

Additionally, because the new Air Sea Battle Office is in the Pentagon and not at the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, the powerful command that influences budgets and weapons system developments has not been as active in the debate on Air Sea Battle as it should, defense officials said.

One significant problem encountered by Air Sea Battle officials is that under the original agreement between the Navy and Air Force, all the most sensitive special-access programs involving cutting-edge weaponry, technology and capabilities, as well as ultra-secret intelligence on foreign targets, were to be shared among services.

However, program directors are said to be reluctant to cooperate with Air Sea Battle officials.

Ultimately, defense officials are hoping Congress will rescue the much-needed battle concept from its bureaucratic enemies, the officials said.

Large-scale defense cuts by the Obama administration and the threat of a further $600 billion sequestration cut Jan. 2 have made it difficult for Congress to focus on Air Sea Battle and its role in countering China’s weaponry.

Gen. Schwartz signed a memorandum with his Navy counterpart in 2009 to launch the initiative that was the culmination of a 15-year debate on how to respond to China’s military buildup.

“My hunch is that [Gen. Welsh] will certainly continue the partnership that we’ve established with the Navy,” he said.

Asked if the Navy and Air Force are ready to move ahead with implementing the Air Sea Battle Concept, Gen. Schwartz said: “I think we are. I think we’re doing it today, without a doubt. Without a doubt.”

One centerpiece for the Air Force is a new long-range bomber that Gen. Schwartz said will be fielded in the 2020s.

“We succeeded in persuading the [defense] secretary that this is a capability the country must have, that being able to place targets at risk wherever they may be is an American strong suit, largely performed by the United States Air Force, and that extending a sense of vulnerability on others is a tool of statecraft and one we should not concede,” he said.

North Korean power struggle

U.S. intelligence agencies continue to closely monitor North Korea amid signs of a power struggle in the reclusive communist state.

Particularly alarming are reports from Asia that the recent replacement of North Korea’s chief of the general staff, Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, was followed by intermilitary violence. South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that a gun-battle broke out after Gen. Ri was removed and the fighting left 20 to 30 troops dead, and Gen. Ri’s disappearance from public view raised questions about whether he was killed or injured in the battle.

Additionally, intelligence reports say that the North Korean military was ordered on heightened alert status shortly before Gen. Ri’s ouster July 15.

The general was a powerful figure in the regime who was viewed as both a key advocate of Pyongyang’s belligerent stance and as close to new leader Kim Jong-un. Gen. Ri is believed to have been behind the North’s sinking of a South Korean patrol boat and the artillery shelling of a South Korean island in 2010. Both incidents brought the peninsula to the brink of war.

Shortly after the ouster, Mr. Kim named himself “marshal,” a move apparently designed to rein in the military.

The appointment of a new chief of staff, Vice Marshal Hyon Yong-chol was announced July 18, and initial indications are that the general has the same power rank at Marshal Ri.

Analysts view the move as part of power consolidation efforts of Mr. Kim’s uncle and aunt, Jang Sung-taek and Choi Ryong-hae.

Intelligence agencies are now watching to see if the entrenched generals and their supporters in the military will launch a counterattack.

North Korea-iran axis

North Korea and Iran are increasing strategic cooperation for both ballistic missile and nuclear weapons, according to Japan’s Kyodo news agency.

Quoting diplomatic sources, the news service reported Wednesday that Iranian and North Korean officials agreed on the increased cooperation during a visit by an Iranian delegation to Pyongyang in April that included senior members of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

The agreement signals that the two rogue states are strengthening relations and military/strategic cooperation under newly installed leader Kim Jong-un. Both nations are under pressure from the international community because of nuclear programs that started under international controls but later spun off into weapons programs.

The report also stated that Iranian missile technicians visited North Korea during the same period and took part in Pyongyang’s April 13 long-range missile test that failed several minutes into its flight.

Another group of Iranian officials visited North Korea last week, and the delegation was headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Seyyed Abbas Araghch.

The closer Iranian-North Korean cooperation is a setback for the Obama administration policy of seeking to stem arms proliferation.

A U.S. official said Mr. Kim seems to be working overtime by North Korean standards to show he is his own man.

“It’s still too early to tell, but Mr. Kim’s recent sacking of a senior old-guard military leader may be another signal he’s prepared to challenge vested interests in pursuit of building his own political identity,” he said.

“Kim will face a real test if he gets serious about shifting resources from the military toward mending North Korea’s broken economy. Any significant changes in the [army] would probably emerge when the military begins its important winter training cycle later this year.”

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. ...

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