The Measure of a Superpower: A Two Major Regional Contingency Military for the 21st Century

Section III: Evolving Threats and Their Implications for the Two-MRC Standard

In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the victory over Saddam Hussein’s forces in Operation Desert Storm, it seemed as though the United States could take a more relaxed stance toward both the number of potential enemies the nation faced and their ability to harm the homeland, friends, and allies or other national interests. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell commented in a 1991 congressional hearing, “I am running out of demons. I am running out of enemies. I am down to Castro and Kim Il Sung.” [69]

Until the 2001 QDR replaced threat-based force planning with an approach based on portfolios of capabilities, the DOD continued to measure the adequacy of its force structure in terms of the ability to defeat the most likely threats. Since the two regions of primary concern were Southwest Asia (a resurgent Iraq) and Northeast Asia (an aggressive North Korea), it made sense to measure U.S. forces against the threats posed by their militaries. The 1991 Persian Gulf War provided something of a baseline for defining the threat against which to define the characteristics of an MRC-capable force. Representative Les Aspin, then-Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, proposed using the Iraq military as it existed during the 1991 Desert Storm campaign as the baseline regional threat. Logically, a “Desert Storm Equivalent,” as he termed it, would be an appropriate MRC-capable force to address such a threat. [70]

The BUR developed a canonical MRC threat that was largely based on the 1991 experience. The adversary was judged to be capable of fielding military forces in the following ranges:

  • 400,000–750,000 total personnel under arms;
  • 2,000–4,000 tanks;
  • 3,000–5,000 armored fighting vehicles;
  • 2,000–3,000 artillery pieces;
  • 500–1,000 combat aircraft;
  • 100–200 naval vessels, primarily patrol craft armed with surface-to-surface missiles, and up to 50 submarines; and
  • 100–1,000 Scud-class ballistic missiles, some possibly with nuclear, chemical, or biological warheads. [71]

The BUR went further, defining a set of “illustrative planning scenarios” to test the adequacy of the proposed force structure to deal with prospective future threats. The two employed for planning and assessment purposes were aggression by a remilitarized Iraq against Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and aggression by North Korea against the Republic of Korea. Both of these provided a test case of common features expected in future MRCs—a well-armed regional power initiating aggression thousands of miles from the United States with a short-warning, armor-heavy, combined-arms offensive against the outnumbered forces of a neighboring state. The resurgent Iraq and Korean scenarios also allowed for the assessment of the impact of critical parameters—such as warning time, the threat, terrain, weather, duration of hostilities, and combat intensity—on the adequacy of the two-MRC force structure. [72] Curiously, no evidence indicates that differences in the size and composition between Iraqi and North Korean forces or in regional critical parameters influenced the BUR force.

The Southwest and Northeast Asia constructs developed to support the BUR’s force structure analysis became enshrined in U.S. defense planning, including subsequent QDRs, National Military Strategies, and DOD annual reports to Congress. Although defense officials quickly pointed out that the BUR’s scenarios were not the equivalent of war plans, it was not long before those plans entrenched the canonical two-MTW focus, assuming overlapping scenarios, the four phases of conflict, and variations based on which theater was the first MTW.

In many respects the focus on MRCs involving these two regions was a reasonable approach. Until 2001, these two regions appeared to hold the greatest risk of major conflict. In 1994, the Clinton Administration found itself facing concurrent crises in both regions. As tensions were rising between North Korea and the international community over North Korea’s nuclear program and, specifically, its threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Saddam Hussein began to move forces from central Iraq toward the border with Kuwait. The Pentagon began moving the lead elements of its designated two-MRC force to both regions, including a significant number of tactical fighters and a number of naval combatants. Both situations were rapidly resolved. This experience caused then-Secretary of Defense William Perry to observe:

[D]eterrence worked because the United States had a ready force and was prepared to use it….

The United States strategy to maintain a force that can fight two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts is designed to prevent just this type of adventurism. [73]

In the aftermath of the 1991 Persian Gulf War and NATO’s intervention in the Balkans, it became an article of faith in U.S. defense planning that no adversary would directly confront the United States and its allies if the U.S.-led coalition was able to execute its preferred operational plan. However, inherent in the U.S. approach to an MRC were a number of strategic and operational requirements against which an adversary could operate. In an MRC, the goal was to defeat the aggressor’s forces, “win decisively [which could include holding an enemy’s territory and even regime change], quickly, and with minimum casualties.” [74] Given that the United States was unlikely to start a conflict with large forward-deployed forces, an MRC would need to be conducted in stages, what the BUR termed phases: halt, buildup, degradation of enemy capabilities, and decisive counteroffensive.

One long-time commentator on U.S. defense planning characterized the two-MRC strategy as a “High-Risk Military Strategy,” elaborating that “the two-war standard is reasonable, but the defense program is too thin and rests on too many optimistic assumptions.” [75] Among the many assumptions was that an MRC could be conducted rapidly and with minimal casualties. In addition, the U.S. strategy clearly depended on being able to execute a specific sequence of events.

U.S. national security strategy and defense planning recognized that the balance of forces in regions of interest would not remain static and that prospective adversaries would acquire advanced capabilities over time. The 1997 QDR pointed to the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons and their means of delivery, information warfare capabilities, advanced conventional weapons, stealth capabilities, unmanned aerial vehicles, and capabilities to access or deny access to space. [76] The 2004 National Military Strategy warned that “access to advanced weapons systems and innovative delivery systems could fundamentally change warfighting and dramatically increase an adversary’s ability to threaten the United States.” [77]

More recent analyses have made it clear that the United States is losing its monopoly on advanced military capabilities to states and non-state actors alike. This has already taken place in communications and even intelligence thanks to sources such as Google Earth. It is rapidly becoming the case with a wide range of advanced weapons and the training that goes with them. China is deploying a ship-killing, precision-guided ballistic missile. Iran has a mixed array of conventional aircraft, ships, and tanks along with sea-skimming cruise missiles, long-range ballistic missiles, advanced sea mines, and swarms of small boats. Many countries are deploying hundreds of surface-to-air missiles and other capabilities intended to deny the U.S. its long-held advantage in airpower. Hezbollah, Iran’s surrogate, now deploys a massive arsenal of rockets and missiles, anti-armor guided missiles and mines, and squad-level automatic weapons to complement traditional systems such as snipers and suicide bombers. The same proliferation will likely occur in man-portable anti-aircraft weapons, thereby challenging U.S. dominance in close air support. In 2011, Secretary Panetta warned that even as the United States was reducing its military capabilities, prospective adversaries were increasing theirs:

We are facing reductions at a time when we confront real threats in the world that continue to face this country. We are still facing the threat of terrorism and violent extremism. Places like Iran and North Korea continue to be a threat as they pursue nuclear weapons. Rising powers are rapidly modernizing their militaries and investing in capabilities to deny our forces freedom of movement in vital regions such as the Asia–Pacific area. We also face the prospect of cyber attacks that could inflict tremendous damage on our nation’s infrastructure while operating with relative anonymity and distance. This is very much the potential battlefield of the future. [78]

Moreover, it soon became evident that prospective regional U.S. adversaries had “gone to school” on the campaigns in the Middle East and Balkans. Secretary Perry was quite right that the ability to conduct two MRCs was a powerful deterrent. However, the strategy was based on a set of policies, operational concepts, technological advantages, and assumptions about adversary behavior that were subject to change. The National Defense Panel’s strategy of transforming the U.S. military was based on the belief that future adversaries would take steps to counter perceived U.S. operational and technological advantages:

We can assume that our enemies and future adversaries have learned from the Gulf War. They are unlikely to confront us conventionally with mass armor formations, air superiority forces, and deep-water naval fleets of their own, all areas of overwhelming U.S. strength today. Instead, they may find new ways to attack our interests, our forces, and our citizens. They will look for ways to match their strengths against our weaknesses. They will actively seek existing and new arenas in which to exploit our perceived vulnerabilities. Moreover, they will seek to combine these unconventional approaches in a synergistic way. [79]

The 1997 National Military Strategy was the first to encompass the range of tactics, techniques, technologies, and procedures under the heading of asymmetric threats: “Such means include unconventional or inexpensive approaches that circumvent our strengths, exploit our vulnerabilities, or confront us in ways we cannot match in kind.” [80] The 1997 QDR stressed the same point:

Indeed, U.S. dominance in the conventional military arena may encourage adversaries to use such asymmetric means to attack our forces and interests overseas and Americans at home. That is, they are likely to seek advantage over the United States by using unconventional approaches to circumvent or undermine our strengths while exploiting our vulnerabilities. Strategically, an aggressor may seek to avoid direct military confrontation with the United States, using instead means such as terrorism, NBC threats, information warfare, or environmental sabotage to achieve its goals. If, however, an adversary ultimately faces a conventional war with the United States, it could also employ asymmetric means to delay or deny U.S. access to critical facilities; disrupt our command, control, communications, and intelligence networks; deter allies and potential coalition partners from supporting U.S. intervention; or inflict higher than expected U.S. casualties in an attempt to weaken our national resolve. [81]

The Department of Defense made a similar point in its 2012 strategy report:

In order to credibly deter potential adversaries and to prevent them from achieving their objectives, the United States must maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged. In these areas, sophisticated adversaries will use asymmetric capabilities, to include electronic and cyber warfare, ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced air defenses, mining, and other methods, to complicate our operational calculus. States such as China and Iran will continue to pursue asymmetric means to counter our power projection capabilities, while the proliferation of sophisticated weapons and technology will extend to non-state actors as well. [82]

U.S. defense planners believe that an important feature of the future security environment will be something called “hybrid warfare.” This is the idea that states will use a variety of traditional and asymmetric tactics, techniques, and procedures, including the use of surrogates in the event of a military confrontation with the West. Advocates of this vision also argue that what were once considered lesser threats—terrorists, insurgents, and even criminal gangs—may now pose a greater danger due to their ability to access advanced weapons systems. [83]

According to the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review:

The term “hybrid” has recently been used to capture the seemingly increased complexity of war, the multiplicity of actors involved, and the blurring between traditional categories of conflict. While the existence of innovative adversaries is not new, today’s hybrid approaches demand that U.S. forces prepare for a range of conflicts. These may involve state adversaries that employ protracted forms of warfare, possibly using proxy forces to coerce and intimidate, or non-state actors using operational concepts and high-end capabilities traditionally associated with states.

We must also anticipate the employment of other novel methods. Future adversaries may use surrogates including terrorist and criminal networks, manipulate the information environment in increasingly sophisticated ways, impede access to energy resources and markets, and exploit perceived economic and diplomatic leverage in order to complicate our calculus. [84]

Examples of hybrid warfare include the Israeli–Hezbollah conflict in 2006 and the Israeli–Hamas conflict in 2009. These terrorist groups, backed by Syria and Iran, respectively, employed a blend of conventional and unconventional tactics and weapons systems to fight the Israeli military to a standstill. Although this conflict did not conform to many traditional elements of an MRC, it did suggest the possibility that the assumptions about the overwhelming potential of advanced Western military technology should be reconsidered. The 2006 conflict and parallel military operations against Hamas in Gaza suggested that some future theater conflicts might be more complex and challenging than had previously been considered:

Hezbollah and Hamas show that there is a “middle area” in the range of military operations between irregular warfare and state conflict. These state-sponsored hybrid adversaries create a qualitative challenge, despite their smaller size, because of their:

  • Training, discipline, organization, and command and control
  • Standoff weapons (ATGMs, MANPADS) [85]
  • Use of complex terrain (natural and/or urban) and fighting among the people. [86]

In reality, the hybrid threat is not new. Historically, most wars have demonstrated elements that are regular and irregular, symmetric and asymmetric. States have employed hybrid capabilities in a coordinated fashion since the 18th century. World War II saw numerous examples of hybrid strategies. The Vietnam War increasingly became a hybrid conflict involving a range of capabilities from North Vietnamese regulars equipped with main battle tanks to Viet Cong guerrillas with sapper charges and booby traps. Saddam Hussein attempted to conduct a form of hybrid warfare. He had plans in place before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom to employ the Fedayeen paramilitary forces and to conduct an insurgency. In fact, he had a defense consisting of at least five layers: the regular army, the Republican Guard, the Fedayeen, the secret police, and the insurgents. This was a natural way to exploit the variety of military formations and different security forces that he had created largely to ensure control over the Iraqi people.

Nor are hybrid threats really the type of challenge that some in the Obama Administration—and now the QDR—want to make it out to be. Only a few states and not many non-state actors can really manage a successful hybrid warfare campaign. Most of the world’s militaries cannot easily conduct even relatively simple conventional operations, much less a complex hybrid strategy. It is equally difficult to train irregular forces, much less terrorist groups, and to employ them effectively against high-end conventional capabilities. Hezbollah could not have organized itself for hybrid warfare if it had not exercised effectively total control over southern Lebanon for years with the full aid and assistance of the radical regimes in Iran and Syria.

The Israeli experience in 2006 was due primarily to a loss of traditional war-waging skills as a consequence of the protracted stability operation that the Israeli military had conducted in the Palestinian territory and the failure to recognize the need for a more traditional joint combined arms fire and maneuver approach. Operation Cast Lead, the 2009 Israeli campaign against Hamas in Gaza, was much more successful because it relied on extensive battlefield ISR, employment of joint fire and maneuver, and intensive planning and preparation. [87]

A hybrid strategy is particularly effective when those employing it are on defense. In the event that Israel or the United States were to come to blows with Iran, the regime in Tehran would exploit its control of Hezbollah and other radical groups to unleash attacks on its enemies, but Iran cannot defeat Israel nor dominate the Persian Gulf by means of a hybrid strategy. Hybrid opponents are as much political challenges as a military problem. As one Israeli defense expert commented, “This hybrid-warfare system with its offensive and defensive capabilities achieves deterrence by holding Israeli civilians hostage and raising the cost of mounting an operation within the enemy territory.” [88] This is because Western security institutions, including those in the United States, have difficulty dealing with nontraditional actors and forms of conflict.

Thus, a hybrid adversary employs New Age technologies and Old World methods to attack elements of U.S. military strategy, particularly the desire for MRCs to be decisive, rapid, and low cost. As the 2010 Joint Operating Environment noted, the combination of lethal technology and the protracted and population-centric nature of contemporary conflicts makes today’s hybrid challenges particularly threatening. [89]

If the hybrid threat is primarily a political challenge to the U.S., the evolving A2/AD threat is intended to more directly counter critical U.S. operational and technological advantages that are central to this country’s preferred way of projecting power and conducting MRCs. According to the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), “anti-access refers to those actions and capabilities, usually long-range, designed to prevent an opposing force from entering an operational area. Area denial refers to those actions and capabilities, usually of shorter range, designed not to keep an opposing force out, but to limit its freedom of action within the operational area.“ [90] The NDP noted in 1997, “The cornerstone of America’s continued military preeminence is our ability to project combat power rapidly and virtually unimpeded to widespread areas of the globe.” [91] The 2010 Joint Operating Environment similarly warned that in the future, joint force commanders will need to grapple with threats to logistics and access:

Given the proliferation of sophisticated weapons in the world’s arms markets, potential enemies—even relatively small powers—will be able to possess and deploy an array of longer-range and more precise weapons. Such capabilities in the hands of America’s enemies will obviously threaten the projection of forces into a theater, as well as attack the logistical flow on which U.S. forces will depend. Thus, the projection of military power could become hostage to the ability to counter long-range systems even as U.S. forces begin to move into a theater of operations and against an opponent. The battle for access may prove not only the most important, but the most difficult. [92]

The 2010 JOAC made a similar point:

Increasingly capable future enemies will see the adoption of an anti-access/area-denial strategy against the United States as a favorable course of action for them. The ability to ensure operational access in the future is being challenged—and may well be the most difficult operational challenge U.S. forces will face over the coming decades. [93]

As the term suggests, A2/AD strategies are intended primarily to constrain these capabilities. Anti-access (A2) strategies include attacks against fixed forward bases, ports of debarkation, troop and logistics concentrations, naval formations, and command, control, and communication nodes. The proliferation of long-range strike systems, particularly ballistic and cruise missiles, could allow an aggressor to launch a surprise mass attack on these target sets. In addition, hostile A2 strategies include efforts to interdict sea-borne access by such means as sea mines, attack submarines, and fast attack boats. [94]

Area denial (AD) operations aim to prevent freedom of action in the more narrow confines of the area under an enemy’s direct control. Of particular concern to U.S. planners is the impact of AD strategies and capabilities on the Pentagon’s ability to achieve and exploit air dominance. Air dominance is essential to virtually every operation the U.S. military conducts. It is an essential component of the U.S. military’s “DNA.” Without air dominance, the U.S. military’s operational concepts will unravel. As Representative Randy Forbes (R–VA) recently observed:

That dominance is now at risk, however, as current defense cuts threaten to do what no enemy can: end U. S. control of the skies. If we weaken our air superiority, our country’s entire war-fighting strategy will be forced to change. We will no longer be able to operate anywhere on the globe without risk. [95]

The value of airpower dominance is not lost on America’s competitors and adversaries. Consequently, they are pursuing A2/AD capabilities and operational concepts intended to neutralize the U.S. advantage in the air. Their approaches include deployment of significant arsenals of more precise ballistic and cruise missiles to neutralize U.S. and allied airbases and related infrastructure, create sophisticated multilayered integrated air defense systems, and invest in electronic warfare and cyber capabilities to attack or neutralize U.S. ISR, command and control, and precision-strike capabilities. Fourth-generation fighters are proliferating, and several countries are developing fifth-generation combat aircraft. [96]

How might these A2/AD strategies and capabilities affect the ability of U.S. forces to project military power? The ability of U.S. forces to deter and defeat aggression is critically dependent, inter alia, on the Air Force’s ability to hold any target at risk across the air, land, and sea domains. According to the U.S. Air Force’s 2013 Posture Statement, an A2/AD environment not only “prescribes the type of assets that can employ and survive in theater,” but also restricts U.S. joint forces to “localized and temporary air dominance to achieve desired effects.” [97]

A number of major regional powers, most notably Iran and China, have been pursuing an A2/AD strategy. They are acquiring capabilities and developing forces and operational concepts designed to limit the ability of hostile forces, primarily U.S. forces, to rapidly project military power into theater and conduct early, high-intensity aerospace operations designed to halt aggression and create a favorable environment for the buildup of forces in theater and the initiation of counteroffensive operations.

Iran is a prospective adversary with a relatively weak conventional military attempting to bolster its defensive strength by acquiring a range of asymmetric capabilities that may enable it to pursue an A2/AD strategy. “Iran’s military doctrine remains designed to slow an invasion; target its adversaries’ economic, political, and military interests; and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities while avoiding any concessions that challenge its core interests.” [98] While seeking to invest in improved conventional forces Iran has paid particular attention to deploying an array of A2/AD capabilities, including a growing arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles, an array of surface-to-air missiles, a large number of light attack boats, a significant arsenal of sea mines, and a handful of advanced diesel-electric submarines. In addition, Iran maintains sizable irregular forces in several different organizations, in addition to its international brethren Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran’s A2/AD strategy is predicated on unique geostrategic factors that give it some hope that asymmetric means could effectively undermine the U.S. strategy of rapidly applying decisive force. [99] As longtime defense analyst Dr. Anthony Cordesman observed, the purpose of these investments is not to win an offensive campaign against its neighbors, but to deter the U.S. from large-scale military intervention in the Persian Gulf:

Iran has spent two decades building up capabilities for asymmetric and irregular warfare. The end result is still a mix of Iranian forces the US can counter relatively quickly with the large-scale use of its own forces. Still, no one wants this kind of war, and, Iran’s asymmetric warfare capabilities still give it a powerful capability to intimidate its neighbors. It is also a form of warfare that would be far harder for the US to defeat in a limited war of attrition or any other conflict where the US might not be able to act decisively, overwhelmingly, and disproportionately in striking Iranian forces and targets for political reasons or because of a lack of support from the Arab Gulf state. [100]

The People’s Republic of China represents a very different challenge. Beijing’s investment in A2/AD is part of a broad and deep program of military modernization:

The pace and scope of China’s military build-up already puts regional military balances at risk. China is likely to continue making large investments in high-end, asymmetric military capabilities, emphasizing electronic and cyber-warfare; counter-space operations; ballistic and cruise missiles; advanced integrated air defense systems; next generation torpedoes; advanced submarines; strategic nuclear strike from modern, sophisticated land and sea-based systems; and theater unmanned aerial vehicles for employment by the Chinese military and for global export. [101]

At its current pace of modernization, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could pose a formidable threat to U.S. interests and forces in the Western Pacific in a relatively short time. As a newly published independent assessment of the U.S. military posture in the Pacific region concluded, by 2020:

China’s official defense budget could total $500 billion. Regardless of the actual total, the PLA could have all of the trappings of a major modern military power, including one or two aircraft carriers, twice as many major modern surface combatants (e.g., medium-to-long-range air defenses, long-range anti-submarine cruise missiles, growing anti-submarine warfare capability) as today, a large submarine force, a credible sea-based nuclear deterrent, and a modern air force with 5th-generation (J-20) fighters and strike aircraft. Beyond hardware the most significant variables probably would be the degree of “informatization” (i.e., C4ISR) and credible joint warfare capabilities. China could increasingly invest in information warfare, space-based architecture, and naval forces that could add further complexity to an evolving regional security environment. [102]

The sheer scale of the PLA’s military modernization program could prove problematic to a U.S. Pacific Command commander seeking to conduct an MRC in the face of Chinese opposition. Several studies suggest that the theater air component commander could lose control of the air even if all U.S. and allied platforms and weapons perform perfectly. The PLA Air Force could absorb everything the U.S. could throw against it and still have additional combat assets available when the U.S. runs out of air-to-air munitions. These surviving assets would then destroy U.S. command and control (C2) aircraft and aerial refueling tankers, achieving the PLA’s A2 objective. [103]

While much of China’s military modernization is focused on developing a force structure capable of engaging in high-intensity, long-range, precision operations against regional adversaries, China also is clearly focusing on the possibility of conflict with the United States. In this context, Chinese military planners are looking to identify exploitable vulnerabilities. Ironically, one such vulnerability is the possibility that the United States might be involved in another MRC at the same time as it confronts China. Other vulnerabilities include inconsistent or weak allies and the American people’s low tolerance for casualties. [104]

In addition, the Chinese military recognize that the U.S. ability to execute its preferred MRC strategy depends heavily on a limited set of bases, facilities, and networks and that interdiction of them would almost certainly disrupt U.S. operations.

Authoritative Chinese military publications advocate a variety of specific military operations with potential effects. These can be grouped into attacks on the bases and platforms from which adversary combat aircraft would operate; attacks on adversary systems and facilities used to transport, supply, and repair and maintain forces in the theater; and attacks on adversary systems used to collect, process, and disseminate information for forces in the theater. [105]

The Department of Defense has identified a number of PLA investments that it believes are directly focused on restricting or controlling access to the land, sea, and air spaces along China’s periphery or on countering U.S. capabilities to strike Chinese targets. These capabilities include:

  • “Information blockade” operations including advanced electronic warfare systems, counterspace weapons, and computer network systems;
  • Medium-range ballistic missiles designed to target forces at sea, combined with overhead and over-the-horizon targeting systems to locate and track moving ships;
  • Conventional and nuclear-powered attack submarines capable of firing advanced cruise missiles;
  • Surface combatants with advanced long-range anti-air and anti-ship missiles;
  • Maritime strike aircraft armed with anti-ship cruise missiles to engage surface combatants;
  • Land-based medium bomber and tactical strike aircraft with air-to-surface precision weapons; and
  • Advanced surface-to-air missile systems, a large fleet of fourth-generation fighters, and, soon, the initial deployment of fifth-generation aircraft. [106]

Although China’s military modernization program is broad and deep, one should not forget that at present Beijing sees itself as “outgunned” by the United States. China is pursuing a classic competitive strategy designed to focus areas of Chinese strength against areas of U.S. weakness. As one authoritative Chinese text stated, “only by using its areas of strength to strike at the enemy’s weakness can the People’s Liberation Army achieve campaign victory in future wars against aggression.” [107]

When first promulgated, the two-MRC strategy was recognized as quite challenging. This challenge has been rendered even more complex by the changing geostrategic environment, the proliferation of advanced technologies, and the rise of new political entities that could pose a significant threat to U.S. national interests. Regional adversaries can deploy substantial conventional air, land, and sea forces. In addition, non-state actors with access to advanced military capabilities can complicate operations by U.S. forces in theater. However, once the U.S. can project and sustain significant conventional military power in theater, it will likely be able to defeat these adversaries.

Therefore, the greatest challenge to U.S. forces in the future will likely be states with significant A2/AD capabilities. As the JOAC warned,

The essential problem for future joint forces is to be able to project military force into an operational area and sustain it in the face of armed opposition when three trends apply:

  • Antiaccess and area-denial weapons and technologies are dramatically improving and proliferating.
  • U.S. overseas defense posture is changing.
  • Space and cyberspace are becoming increasingly important and contested domains.

Meeting that challenge increasingly will require defeating integrated antiaccess/area-denial systems of growing lethality and sophistication.