Think tank’s paper
Although the Pentagon has struggled to talk publicly about Air-Sea Battle, CSBA has not been similarly restrained. In 2010, it published a 125-page paper outlining how the concept could be used to fight a war with China.
The paper contains less detail than the classified Pentagon version. Shortly after its publication, U.S. allies in Asia, frustrated by the Pentagon’s silence on the subject, began looking to CSBA for answers.
“We started to get a parade of senior people, particularly from Japan, though also Taiwan and to a lesser extent China, saying, ‘So, this is what Air-Sea Battle is,’ ” Krepinevich said this year at an event at another think tank.
Soon, U.S. officials began to hear complaints.
“The PLA went nuts,” said a U.S. official who recently returned from Beijing.
Told that Air-Sea Battle was not aimed at China, one PLA general replied that the CSBA report mentioned the PLA 190 times, the official said. (The actual count is closer to 400.)
Inside the Pentagon, the Army and Marine Corps have mounted offensives against the concept, which could lead to less spending on ground combat.
An internal assessment, prepared for the Marine Corps commandant and obtained by The Washington Post, warns that “an Air-Sea Battle-focused Navy and Air Force would be preposterously expensive to build in peace time” and would result in “incalculable human and economic destruction” if ever used in a major war with China.
The concept, however, aligns with Obama’s broader effort to shift the U.S. military’s focus toward Asia and provides a framework for preserving some of the Pentagon’s most sophisticated weapons programs, many of which have strong backing in Congress.
Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) inserted language into the 2012 Defense Authorization bill requiring the Pentagon to issue a report this year detailing its plans for implementing the concept. The legislation orders the Pentagon to explain what weapons systems it will need to carry out Air-Sea Battle, its timeline for implementing the concept and an estimate of the costs associated with it.
Lieberman and Cornyn’s staff turned to an unsurprising source when drafting the questions.
“We asked CSBA for help,” one of the staffers said. “In a lot of ways, they created it.”
Julie Tate contributed to this report.