Air-Sea Battle: Do the Footnotes Matter?


Over the past several months there has been a lot of earnest discussion of the potential risks and rewards of the Pentagon’s concept called Air-Sea Battle (ASB).  Many national security thinkers, pundits, and both active and retired officers have weighed in with what they think ASB means for our future.

Despite all of the writing and discussion, very little of it engages directly with a search for source literature on the subject.  The debate over “concept” versus “strategy” devolves into something akin to a theological discussion.  Maybe we should start asking for footnotes in these discussions to get back to the basics of what ASB is and is not.

The debate about ASB is important to ongoing national security discussions.  It runs in parallel to so many other issues today, from the proper sizing of the constituent components of the Department of Defense to the methods for pursuing the rebalance to the Pacific.  With that in mind, and with the purpose of helping the discussion acknowledge some foundational material, your correspondent offers the following recommended reading.

A New Air Sea Battle Concept: Integrated Strike Forces by Commander James Stavridis.  This is ADM Stavridis’ paper written in 1992 when he was a Commander at the National War College.  It appears to be the point of origin for both the phrase “Air Sea Battle” and the idea of greater integration between naval forces and air forces.

Air-Sea Battle: Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial Challenges, The Air-Sea Battle Office.  In May 2013 the Air-Sea Battle Office released this document, an unclassified synopsis of the classified “Air-Sea Battle Concept, v 9.0” and “Air-Sea Battle Master Implementation Plan (FY13).”  This is an official Department of Defense document which tells us “what” ASB “is.”

Air-Sea Battle: A Point of Departure Operational Concept, Jan Van Tol, et al, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.  The 3 year old CSBA report was one of the very first think tank engagements with ASB.  We know it is a vital part of the literature because its cover appears in Doctrine Man cartoons mocking ASB.

These documents should be read in full and for understanding (yes, even CSBA’s 100 pages), not just the executive summary or skimmed for pull quotes and sound bites.


BJ Armstrong is an active duty Naval Aviator currently serving in the Pentagon. He is the 2013 Naval History & Heritage Command Samuel Eliot Morison Scholar and a research student with the Department of War Studies, King’s College, London where he is studying naval irregular warfare in the Age of Sail.  His book 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era is available from the Naval Institute Press. He is a contributor at War on the Rocks. 


Image: U.S. Air Force