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

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Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington Friday, Dec. 3, 2010, before the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing on the military Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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.

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About the Author

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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