CNO, ASB, and ALB

Information Dissemination’s remarkable 5th anniversary symposium on naval matters has got a lineup of guest bloggers second only to mine. Just this past week, he posted the remarks of the Chief of Naval Operations, ADM Jonathan Greenert, addressing the development of AirSea Battle, given to the Brookings Institution.

Unfortunately, for a piece described as “What is AirSea Battle” there’s not a declarative statement in there that answers the question. And that’s one of the problems the Navy is having selling the concept to the fleet and the public. Most folks see ASB as being historically inspired by the Army’s successful AirLand Battle doctrine. The problem is, ALB was the answer to a relatively specific question, “how do you fight and win in Western Europe if the balloon goes up, and the Warsaw Pact comes charging into Germany?” ALB carefully described both the conditions the Army expected to face, and then defined historical truths about warfare. It’s definition of the principles of war, and the integration of the “battlefield operating systems” provided a simple, easily understandable framework upon which to build the tactical discussion the rest of the manual provided. Fundamentally, it was a guide to commanders, usually brigade and higher, of how to integrate all their combat, support, and service capabilities across space and time, to leverage the greatest possible effect.  That’s a clarity of thought I haven’t seen demonstrated by the ASB folks.

Now, ALB wasn’t an instant success. In fact, it was an evolution of the previous stated Army doctrine, Active Defense. Almost as soon as Active Defense was published in 1976, the forces in the field began to complain that the doctrine could be improved. And in fact, the Army leadership eagerly sought out the thoughts of the commanders in the field to build a consensus of how the doctrine should be modified. The Army used its internal institutions such as the Command and General Staff School as think tanks to explore the historical foundations of doctrine, and then used input from the field forces to suit theory to practice.  Having received input from both sources, the doctrine writers at Ft. Leavenworth would then mark up a draft for circulation to the Army leadership, and the field forces. After reviewing and critiquing several drafts, eventually a consensus was reached, and the doctrine published. The iterative process meant both that the majority of field forces understood the doctrine, and more importantly, concurred with it. That concurrence was key. It’s not really a doctrine just because the head-shed prints it. It’s doctrine because at least 51% of the force buys into it.

ASB is largely being sold as the integration of airpower and seapower. ALB, on the other hand, took great pains to both integrate airpower and landpower, but more importantly, defined which areas should be dis-integrated.  While the dream of every land commander is to have a constant flow of Close Air Support overhead and at his beck and call, ALB recognized that shooting a $500,000 tank with a $40 million F-16 was rather silly. Airpower could be better used attacking more remunerative targets further back along the space of the battlefield. But rather than suggesting the Air Force go off to fight its own war on its own terms, ALB designed a structure where those deep targets were selected and serviced that directly supported the scheme of maneuver of a ground commander. The agreements with the Air Force ensured that airpower would retain enough independence to capitalize on its inherent flexibility, and yet still be integrated within the overall plan of battle. Bashing the tactical side of the Air Force is fairly popular here, and sometimes justified, but make no mistake, the Air Force poured enormous resources into supporting ALB. Two highly visible programs in support of ALB, the E-8 JSTARS and the TR-1 (modified U-2) aircraft were both tailored to providing the picture of the battlefield that ground commanders would need, both to fight their own immediate battles, and to nominate targets for the Air Force. Further, the Air Force put a lot of money into buying weapon systems that would directly support the ALB. Air Force buy-in to ALB also drove a lot of the decisions on basing and force structure in Europe. If the actual implementation of air operations in Desert Storm weren’t what everyone might have hoped, it was often a matter of technical limitations not previously known, rather than bad faith from the Air Force. As a practical matter, it had been impossible to truly exercise the deep operations of the Air Force in peacetime.

One hopes the Air Force and Navy can improve their sales pitch on ASB, as right now, that’s exactly what it sounds like- a sales pitch. It fails to clearly define the operational environment and goals that it supposedly is designed to operate in. It fails to provide clear guidance across the forces as to what end state is desired, and how to get there. The ASB Office, supposedly the clearinghouse for developing and disseminating the ASB doctrine, seems more a PR effort to sell buzzwords to the public than a doctrinal office to develop warfighting plans for the forces.