The Pentagon lifted the veil of secrecy Wednesday on a new battle concept aimed at countering Chinese military efforts to deny access to areas near its territory and in cyberspace.
The Air Sea Battle concept is the start of what defense officials say is the early stage of a new Cold War-style military posture toward China.
The plan calls for preparing the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to defeat China’s “anti-access, area denial weapons,” including anti-satellite weapons, cyberweapons, submarines, stealth aircraft and long-range missiles that can hit aircraft carriers at sea.
Military officials from the three services told reporters during a background briefing that the concept is not directed at a single country. But they did not answer when asked what country other than China has developed advanced anti-access arms.
A senior Obama administration official was more blunt, saying the new concept is a significant milestone signaling a new Cold War-style approach to China.
“Air Sea Battle is to China what the maritime strategy was to the Soviet Union,” the official said.
During the Cold War, U.S. naval forces around the world used a strategy of global presence and shows of force to deter Moscow’s advances.
“It is a very forward-deployed, assertive strategy that says we will not sit back and be punished,” the senior official said. “We will initiate.”
The concept, according to defense officials, grew out of concerns that China’s new precision-strike weapons threaten freedom of navigation in strategic waterways and other global commons.
Defense officials familiar with the concept said among the ideas under consideration are:
• Building a new long-range bomber.
• Conducting joint submarine and stealth aircraft operations.
• New jointly operated, long-range unmanned strike aircraft with up to 1,000-mile ranges.
• Using Air Force forces to protect naval bases and deployed naval forces.
• Conducting joint Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force strikes inside China.
• Using Air Force aircraft to deploy sea mines.
• Joint Air Force and Navy attacks against Chinese anti-satellite missiles inside China.
• Increasing the mobility of satellites to make attacks more difficult.
• Launching joint Navy and Air Force cyber-attacks on Chinese anti-access forces.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said the new office “is a hard-won and significant operational milestone in meeting emerging threats to our global access.”
“This office will help guide meaningful integration of our air and naval combat capabilities, strengthening our military deterrent power, and maintaining U.S. advantage against the proliferation of advanced military technologies and capabilities,” Mr. Little said.
He noted that it is a Pentagon priority to rebalance joint forces to better deter and defeat aggression in “anti-access environments.”
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said during a visit to Asia that U.S. forces would be reoriented toward Asia as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down. The new focus will include “enhanced military capabilities,” he said without elaborating.
The military officials at the Pentagon on Wednesday did not discuss specifics of the new concept. One exception was an officer who said an example would be the use of Air Force A-10 ground attack jets to defend ships at sea from small-boat “swarm” attacks.
China in recent years has grown more assertive in waters near its shores, harassing Navy surveillance ships in the South China Sea and Yellow Sea.
China also has claimed large portions of the South China Sea as its territory. U.S. officials said the Chinese have asserted that it is “our driveway.”
The Pentagon also is concerned about China’s new DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile that can hit aircraft carriers at sea. Carriers are the key power-projection capability in Asia and would be used in defending Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
“The Air Sea Battle concept will guide the services as they work together to maintain a continued U.S. advantage against the global proliferation of advanced military technology and [anti-access/area denial] capabilities,” the Pentagon said in announcing the creation of a program office for the concept.
Although the office was set up in August, the background briefing Wednesday was the first time the Pentagon officially rolled out the concept.
The Army is expected to join the concept office in the future.
One defense official said the Army is involved in cyberwarfare initiatives that would be useful for countering anti-access weapons.
“Simply put, we’re talking about freedom of access in the global commons. Increasing ranges of precision fire threaten those global commons in new expanding ways,” said a military official speaking on condition of anonymity. “That, in a nutshell, is what’s different.”
Defense officials said some administration officials opposed the new concept over concerns it would upset China. That resulted in a compromise that required military and defense officials to play down the fact that China is the central focus of the new battle plan.
A second military official said the new concept also is aimed at shifting the current U.S. military emphasis on counterinsurgency to the anti-access threats.
The office was disclosed as President Obama sets off this week on trip to Asia designed to shore up alliances. He is set to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao in Hawaii on Saturday.
The concept grew out of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review that, in its early stages, had excluded any mention of China’s growing military might.
China was added to the review after intervention by Andrew Marshall, director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, and Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, at the time head of the Joint Forces Command.
China military specialist Richard Fisher said the new Air Sea Battle office is necessary but may be “late in the game.”
“A Pentagon office focused on China’s military challenges in Asia or beyond will be insufficient,” said Mr. Fisher, of the International Assessment and Strategy Center. “This challenge will require Cold War levels of strategic, political and economic policy integration well beyond the Pentagon’s writ.”
Said former State Department China specialist John Tkacik: “This new Air Sea Battle concept is evidence that Washington is finally facing up to the real threat that China has become an adversarial military, naval and nuclear power in Asia, and that the only way to balance China is to lend the weight of U.S. air and naval forces to our Asia-Pacific allies’ ground forces.”