The AirSea Battle (ASB) concept – designed to allow the US military to defeat the anti-access/area-denial threats posed by the advanced weapons of China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other countries – has been under a vicious attack by the anti-defense Left ever since its inception – as has been every crucial and successful battle concept, strategy, and defense program in modern US history. As usual, anti-defense Leftists claim that ASB is too provocative, will trigger a nuclear war, will be “ineffective”, etc. In short, the standard claims of the anti-defense Left about every crucial defense program in modern history.
So it is also with AirSea Battle.
In a recent article in the so-called “National Interest” magazine, two anti-defense leftists, Thomas X. Hammes and Richard Hooker (sic!), have attacked ASB on totally spurious grounds. This article will refute their lies.
1. Firstly, Hammes and Hooker falsely claim that ASB is both “provocative” and “ineffective” and “could escalate the conflict uncontrollably.”
That is completely false. We’ll deal with the question of ASB’s effectiveness in a few minutes. As for ASB supposedly being “provocative” and a potential escalator of the conflict, let’s not forget that ASB would be activated against China ONLY if Beijing were to commit aggression against the US or its treaty allies – or against US troops in Asia (and one is essentially homonymous with the other, because thousands of US troops are stationed in Japan and South Korea, with others rotating through the Philippines and USN warships destined for Singapore).
If China does attack the US, or its troops deployed in Asia and its treaty allies, it is hard to claim that the conflict could be significantly escalated any further – for China would’ve already have killed thousands of US troops – deaths the US public would demand be quickly avenged, just like it demanded a speedy payback for Pearl Harbor.
And honestly, from a purely moral standpoint, if China does attack the US, its troops serving abroad, or America’s treaty allies – none of whom pose a threat to Beijing – it deserves whatever it gets.
I’ll repeat: China has nothing to fear from AirSea Battle (or from the US or its allies at all) if it does not start shooting wars in Asia. If, however, it does commit aggression against anyone, it SHOULD fear strikes on its soil – and a credible threat of such strikes is the ONLY thing that can deter Asia, as I’ll explain later.
2. Secondly, Hammes and Hooker falsely claim that:
“When you bomb China it becomes a passion over politics issue, making it harder to get China to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Bombing makes it so much harder to return to the status quo before the conflict. You are not going to have a decisive win with China without going nuclear, so you need to engage them and walk them back from the edge.”
All of that is balderdash, too. Firstly, the US CAN defeat China decisively without going nuclear if it applies AirSea Battle (as I’ll explain below). Secondly, it would be utterly unacceptable, and very dangerous, to try to restore the “status quo.”
By the way, what exactly is the current status quo? Unclear and unresolved sovereignty over numerous islands in the Pacific, large chunks of that ocean, and large deposits of natural resources therein; East Asian countries squabbling amongst each other; and China arming itself to the teeth and fielding a military rivaling the US in conventional (if not nuclear) weapons – as well as fielding some weapon types the US doesn’t even have.
That is ABSOLUTELY not the status quo the US should seek to restore. Restoring it would only lead to more wars, death, and destruction.
What the US needs is to defeat China so thoroughly that the Chinese will have no doubts that they will have been defeated, just like the Germans and the Japanese had no such doubts in 1945. When Allied troops entered their capitals in 1945, they had no doubt whatsoever they had been thoroughly trounced. It is time the Chinese learned what does that feel like. Only then will a durable peace be built.
For a durable peace is impossible without a complete victory. If you achieve it, you will usher in a Pax Britannica/Americana. If you fight only half-heartedly and achieve mixed results – if you don’t fight for a complete victory – you will eventually invite more war.
3. As for “negotiating a peaceful settlement with China” and “walking them back from the edge” – don’t make me laugh. The Chinese are not interested in any negotiated, peaceful settlement over the territorial disputes in Asia nor over America’s role in that region. They seek nothing short of total control of the Western Pacific (with its rich natural resources) and America’s total expulsion from Asia – exactly as the Japanese did in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s absolutely crucial to understand the potential America is dealing with here. China isn’t interested in limited gains; like Japan in WW2, it seeks total control of the Western Pacific (and payback to Japan for WW2) and America’s total expulsion from the region (just like Japan did). China is not interested in dividing the Western Pacific nor in compromises.
So China is seeking total, imperialistic objectives, and is prepared to use any means to achieve them. By Hammes’ and Hooker’s admission, China is even likely to attack US satellites and cybernetworks (not just US bases and troops in Asia) with space and cyber weapons.
When one side seeks total objectives and uses total war means to achieve them, while the other side seeks only limited objectives and utilizes only limited means to accomplish them, the latter side will inevitably lose. For nothing can stop a nation (or another entity) which is totally determined (and prepared to do anything) to get what its wants. It’s that simple.
To defeat a China that seeks imperialistic hegemony and control over all of the Western Pacific and is prepared to do anything to achieve it, the US must likewise be prepared to do anything to deny China those aims – or be prepared to lose.
4. Hammes and Hooker also falsely claim that
“Air-Sea Battle is ineffective against China’s dense and capable air defense network” and “also cast doubts on whether the US military could locate and destroy China’s mobile missile-launch systems. China has an abundance of man-made caves and hidden facilities.”
Those are such blatant lies that it’s mindboggling anyone has even attempted them. Have they even READ the AirSea Battle concept? Obviously not. Had they read it, they wouldn’t have written such garbage.
One of the key tenets – if not THE central tenet – of AirSea Battle is developing very stealthy, very capable, long-ranged strike weapons (most notably, a new very stealthy long-range bomber) that will allow the US Air Force to evade even the most advanced air and missile defense systems in the world – including those fielded or planned for purchase by China.
What’s more, both the Pentagon and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, where the ASB concept was born, have long advocated the development of such systems – especially that all-important stealthy bomber. The Air Force’s nuclear deterrence guru, Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak, has just spoken yet again on the need for that stealthy bomber.
As for dealing with its man-made caves, hidden facilities, and tunnels – they can easily be destroyed by USAF bombs such as the Daisy Cutter (now retired, but it could be produced again), the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, and the new, smaller, lighter bomb with the same effect, but less size and cost, of the MOP. All of these can be carried by the B-52, the B-2, and the next generation bomber.
Those bombs easily destroyed Taleban caves in Afghanistan; in fact, Daisy Cutter bombs cause small earthquakes when detonated. They’d destroy Chinese caves, bunkers, and tunnels just as easily.
5. Hammes and Hooker also falsely claim that ASB
“is provocative in that China’s Second Artillery Corps controls its land-based ballistic missiles and nuclear arsenal. Attacking these facilities, while China has not or cannot attack comparable US facilities, could escalate the conflict uncontrollably.”
Like their other claims, these are blatant lies – and they’re illogical. If the US can bomb Chinese missile fields and nuclear weapon storages, but China cannot attack comparable US facilities, there is no risk of “escalating the conflict uncontrollably”, because the US would then be able to deal China a blow that Beijing couldn’t respond to in kind.
6. All of which brings us to the central reason why ASB is NOT provocative, does NOT invite the risk of nuclear war, and is the ONLY battle concept whose implementation can deter China from wrongdoing – and defeat it should it commit aggression anyway.
China has nothing to fear from the US, its allies, or the ASB concept if it behaves peacefully. If, however, it commits aggression against anyone, it has every reason to fear ASB. Chinese leaders probably understand that – and if they don’t, it’s high time they did.
The ONLY way the US can deter China – or any other potential aggressor, for that matter – from attacking others is to promise (and have the means) to unleash lethal, massive strikes against that potential aggressor’s territory and his military and economic assets in case of aggression on his part. Nothing else will deter those who prey upon their neighbors.
This is, indeed, the promise and the principle on which ALL deterrence strategies are based: that the aggressor will pay a huge price for his actions, disproportionate to the gains he might achieve by perpetrating aggression. Only that can deter China.
7. The so-called “Offshore Control” strategy, which Hammes and Hooker promote as their “alternative” strategy to ASB, is a recipe for America’s total defeat in a future war with China. Under their “strategy”, the US would have to completely swear off any strikes on China and only fight a purely defensive war in the Western Pacific’s islands.
US troops would thus be fighting with both of their hands tied behind their backs. It would be both practically suicidal and morally repugnant to ask them to fight that way – yet it is PRECISELY what Hammes and Hooker advocate.
Contrary to their blatant lies, the US stands no chance whatsoever of “denying China access to the seas inside the First Island Chain”, let alone “dominating the Second Island Chain”, if Chinese mainland – and all the military bases and weapons plants on it – are left untouched. China will, in such a scenario, be able to continually launch hails of ballistic and cruise missiles at US bases and warships within the First and Second Island Chain – and China can produce literally hundreds of such missiles every year. China can also affordably build large numbers of ultra-quiet submarines, naval mines, and fighters to control the sea and the airspace inside the First and Second Island Chain – and the US would have to expend a large amount of its own fighters and ASW and demining assets to counter these.
A defensive war against China would be an exhausting, bloody, uber-costly war of attrition for the US, whereby dwindling numbers of US and allied defensive systems would have to counter an ever-growing Chinese arsenal of cheaper, offensive weapons. This is what Hammes’ and Hooker’s pseudo-strategy would lead to. It is both militarily suicidal and morally repugnant.
By contrast, AirSea Battle aims to destroy China’s military bases and weapon plants – and thus its offensive war-waging capability – ASAP, so that China cannot exhaust US defenses with too many missiles and aircraft.
8. Moreover, it is Hammes’ and Hooker’s pseudo-strategy, not ASB, that has zero deterrence value. Does anyone really think Beijing will be deterred by a US promise of leaving the Chinese mainland alone and telling China, “we’ll only be on defense against you in the Pacific islands; don’t worry, your mainland is safe” ?
Of course not. Such a statement would only embolden Beijing.
Meanwhile, a firm promise of devastating strikes on the Chinese mainland is the ONLY way Beijing can be deterred from committing aggression in the first place – thus defeating China without a fight, which, according to ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, is “the acme of generalship.”
Last, but not least, history teaches that those who wage war with total means win, while those who try to play solely on defense lose.
Virtually no war in history (except the 480 BC Greek war against the Persians) has been war by playing solely on defense. Victory has almost always required going on offense.
This is not surprising: when you play solely on defense: you cede the initiative and the control of the war’s tempo to the enemy. While not 100% impossible, victory is EXTREMELY hard to achieve when the enemy has the initiative and controls the war’s tempo. What’s more, when you play on defense, the enemy chooses where and when he’ll fight you (because he’ll decide where and when to attack you).
The only chance you have of winning purely defensive wars is if 1) your military is MUCH stronger than the enemy’s, and 2) your positions are fortified from all sides. Even then, victory is not guaranteed.
And that won’t work in the Pacific, anyway, because 1) China’s military is already almost as strong as the US military, and 2) there is zero chance of turning the Pacific Islands into impregnable fortresses – China will always have more than enough offensive weapons to overwhelm their defenses. Especially given that defensive systems cost several times more than offensive ones.
As stated, the Civil War and WW2 were won by carrying out massive, successful offenses against the enemy. As retired Army officer and historian Bevin Alexander observes, the key reason why the Confederacy lost the Civil War was its failure to successfully attack the North.
President Jefferson Davis wanted to play solely on defense. He believed that if the South won a series of battles on its home front, European powers would recognize the Confederacy and intervene against the Union. That never happened, despite King Cotton’s power; and after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, it was out of question.
General Robert Lee attempted two offensives against the Union, in 1862 and 1863, but they both failed, because Lee sought a decisive battle against the much stronger Union Army, a battle the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia didn’t have the strength for.
By contrast, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson sought to destroy the Union’s industrial centers, railroad hubs, farmlands, and population centers, so that the Union would learn – to borrow words from Jackson – “what it would cost them to keep the South in the Union at a bayonet’s point.”
While the US should not attack Chinese population centers, it must destroy China’s warfighting capability and industrial centers, so that China learns what it will cost them to grab the Western Pacific, and subjugate its nations, at a bayonet’s point.
Hammes and Hooker still object, however, on the grounds that no president has ever authorized the bombing of China, not even during the Korean Wars, so obtaining such authorization is unlikely, they say. But that is pure speculation – and a truly commonsense President knowledgeable about military affairs WOULD authorize the bombing of China IF that country perpetrates aggression against the US or its allies. Not to do so would mean accepting such Chinese aggression.
By the way, the US lost the Korean and Vietnam wars PRECISELY because it sought to play solely on defense and renounced any strikes on the enemy’s warfighting capability and base of operations. That is why the US lost – despite American troops’ unrivalled heroism and skill and despite the able leadership of Generals MacArthur and Ridgway.
In Vietnam, President Johnson completely prohibited the US military from destroying any strategically important targets, relegating it to bombing only secondary ones – thus wasting a lot of American aviators’ lives, aircraft, and munitions. He personally selected the targets to be bombed at White House luncheons – and these were the ONLY targets allowed to be attacked.
Johnson and the Left falsely claimed – like Hammes and Hooker do now – that striking important targets (like airfields and munition storage facilities) would provoke the USSR and China to retaliate with nuclear weapons. This blatant lie was exposed as such in 1972, when President Nixon bombed every important target in North Vietnam except the Red River dykes.
In Korea, General MacArthur wanted to strike Chinese industry to strip China of its ability to wage offensive war, and to ferry Chinese Nationalists from Taiwan to recapture the mainland, but President Truman rejected that. Consequently, China was lost to the Communists permanently and the Korean War became a bloody stalemate. By 1952, the American people were so sick and tired of it, they elected a President who pledged to end it.
And he did – by threatening to escalate against China and the rest of the Communist bloc with nuclear weapons if the Communists persisted in fighting. This, coupled with Stalin’s death, allowed an armistice to be signed.
But it was only an armistice. It restored the dangerous status quo – of the kind Hammes and Hooker want to keep – which, in time, allowed China and North Korea to become grave threats to US national security. Such are the results that purely defensive strategies produce.
As retired Air Force Colonel Thomas Snodgrass writes, purely defensive “limited war” strategies, such as the one proposed by Hammes and Hooker, have three fatal flaws that guarantee a US defeat:
“First, this kabuki dance of attacking non-vital targets conveys a message of indecision and weakness, and most certainly neither a message of strength nor that the situation will get worse for the enemy if the war continues. There is simply no incentive for the enemy to forego his efforts to obtain his strategic objective.
Second, and related to this first fallacy, is the fact that “kabuki bombing” does nothing to diminish the enemy’s capability to carry on the war, so there is no material progress toward ending the conflict. In other words, the enemy grows suspicious that the implied threat of a ratcheting up of the destructive force of the war will never occur in fact.
Third, indefinite escalation implies open-ended war and an ability to sustain casualties over a long period of time, presumably on the side utilizing this doctrine. This third fallacy is transparent in its failure when viewed from the underlying assumptions of the doctrine itself.
Thus, the ‘limited war’ doctrine is based upon three fundamental assumptions.
Assumption one is that there is some limit to the casualties and destruction the enemy is prepared to suffer. Assumption two is that the enemy has an implicit understanding that the adversary utilizing the ‘limited war’ doctrine is fully prepared to continue ratcheting up the war while sustaining casualties until the enemy has had enough. And assumption three is that the side pursuing the doctrine does in fact have the stomach (i.e., motivation) for an indefinitely prolonged war with mounting casualties.
Consequently, when any of these three assumptions is wrong, the ‘limited war’ doctrine will actually become a doctrine the enemy uses to defeat the advocate of the doctrine. Specifically, we understand this quite intuitively: when the U.S. engages in limited war against an enemy that does not value its soldiers’ lives with the same high regard as does the U.S., the outcome of the war suddenly becomes dependent on the American public’s will to sustain seemingly unending casualties. With this change in warfare focus, the decisive battlefield shifts from enemy targets to the U.S. homefront where the enemy’s principal weapon is the American news media.”
Thus, if Hammes’ “Offshore Control” strategy is ever adopted (God forbid), the US will inevitably lose the war, because mainland China will be completely off limits to American strikes. Thus, China will be left free to wage wars of aggression and attrite American and allied defenses – and to shift the key battlefield to the US itself, where its principal weapon will be the leftist US news media.
Hammes’ “Offshore Control” strategy is, in sum, a recipe for a total US defeat.
He and Hooker are showing that not only do they know nothing about China, they also don’t understand US politics and the American society (with its ever-smaller, and already very limited, tolerance for war casualties).
Any “strategies” offered by such people should be rejected completely. For, as Sun Tzu, who will have the last word here, said:
“If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will suffer a defeat.
If you know neither yourself nor the enemy, you will succumb in every battle.”