Preparing for War With China
Japan Defense Perimeter 1941
For an operational concept that has never been published, the U.S. military’s AirSea Battle doctrine has elicited some fiery commentary. Or maybe it stokes controversy precisely because the armed forces haven’t made it official. Its details are subject to speculation. The chief source of information about it remains an unclassified, unofficial study published in 2010 by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The debate over AirSea Battle swirls mostly around technology and whether the doctrine is aimed at China. To answer the latter question first: Yes, it is about China. It has to be.
This is no prophecy of doom. From a political standpoint, war with China is neither inevitable nor all that likely. But military people plan against the most formidable capabilities they may encounter. And from an operational standpoint, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) presents the sternest “anti-access” challenge of any prospective antagonist. Either strategists, planners and warfighters prepare for the hardest case, or the United States must write off important regions or options.
The PLA thus represents the benchmark for U.S. military success in maritime Asia, by most accounts today’s crucible of great-power competition. Other potential opponents, notably the Iranian military, fall into what the Pentagon terms “lesser-included” challenges. If U.S. forces can pierce the toughest anti-access defenses out there—if they can crack the hardest nut—the softer defenses erected by weaker opponents will prove manageable.
That focus on anti-access is why AirSea Battle is about China—because it’s the gold standard, not because anyone expects, let alone wants, war in the Western Pacific.