Anti-Access Warfare: Countering A2/AD Strategies

  • Published
Anti-Access Warfare: Countering A2/AD Strategies by Sam J. Tangredi. Naval Institute Press, 2013, 320 pp.

In Anti-Access Warfare, Sam Tangredi analyzes why this strategy is favored by certain countries, how they intend to implement it, and what the United States could do to mitigate or, better yet, deter the threats posed. He begins where he ends, looking at history and pointing out that antiaccess (A2) strategies are nothing new, having been successfully employed more than 2,000 years ago. Indeed, Greece was saved from the peril of Persian invasion in 480 BC by the fact that Xerxes, the Persian king, could not consolidate his costly victory at Thermopylae due to the subsequent loss at sea in the pivotal Battle of Salamis, which effectively denied Xerxes the maritime logistical support required to keep his massive land force supplied. The tyranny of distance meant that waterborne resupply was essential for his deployed force, but the Greek triumph over Persian naval forces meant that adequate resupply of his massive army was a virtual impossibility. Hence, Xerxes postponed and later cancelled his anticipated invasion of the Peloponnese. Early on, Themistocles, the Greek admiral who would dismantle the Persian fleet, realized that sea power could be wielded with great effect to defeat forces on land. Despite the fact that Greek naval forces were considerably smaller than the enemy's, he adroitly leveraged geography, better training, and better intelligence to defeat the Persian fleet. This, in itself, is no great revelation. But Tangredi goes further, admirably highlighting five fundamental considerations by which to assess a given A2 / area denial (AD) threat and its prospects for success:

1. A perception of strategic superiority by the attacking force

2. The primacy of geography with regard to time and attrition

3. The predominance of the maritime domain as conflict space

4. The criticality of information, intelligence, and deception

5. The impact of events outside the conflict area

The importance of the perception of strategic superiority stems from the actions it generates (or deters). A perception of weakness often compels a channeling of effort into A2 measures rather than reflexively trying to counter the stronger side. That said, if the strategically superior force is vigilant about ensuring continued access to a region, it can deter inclinations to preemptively strike in hopes of presenting the stronger power with a fait accompli situation it would be loath to attempt to reverse. As for the primacy of geography, the weaker opponent, lacking true power-projection capabilities and having more circumscribed objectives and narrower interests, naturally attempts to minimize the capabilities gap. This adversary capitalizes on its proximity to the conflict area in terms of response time and readily available, albeit less sophisticated, resources. Tangredi spends considerable time emphasizing that even if the conflict is fought primarily in the air or on the ground, as was the case in Iraq in 1991, the maritime domain (including the air above and depths below) is central to success. The preponderance of assets brought to the fight will get there via oceanic movement, and sustainment will come largely from the sea. This maritime force obliges the other side to prepare and maintain opposing forces, operating offshore without concern for basing rights; furthermore, this power--particularly aircraft carriers--is more secure because it is mobile (as opposed to fixed landing strips in other countries). The author also stresses the importance of joint doctrine, interoperability, and collaboration in force-structure acquisition, specifically examining the synergy of the forces pitted against one another. Finally, he addresses the determinative power of unrelated events in regions outside the area of conflict and their impact on success or failure of the A2 strategy. For example, in the case of Xerxes and the Greeks, the latter's control of the sea lines of communication, coupled with perceived instability within the Persian Empire itself, compelled Xerxes to call off his planned invasion. Lacking command of the sea, Xerxes felt he could not attack without unacceptable cost and risk to higher priorities within his empire.

Tangredi dabs the historical palette, detailing three A2 victories followed by three defeats that are both illustrative and interesting, employing them as a springboard to discuss contemporary problems posed by China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. In this reviewer's opinion, the North Korean and Russian scenarios stretched his framework a bit too much. He concludes with several recommendations, challenging critics who might debase his historical approach as antiquated and chafing under what he sees as a prevalent, technology-driven, and dogmatic approach to addressing the A2 threat.

Tangredi is to be commended for his straight-talking, no-nonsense prose and his unapologetically provocative style. He delivers a real body blow to advocates of "transformation" who take things too far, and he correctly exclaims, "What has beaten counter anti-access efforts is not weapons or technological advancements or innovative tactics. Rather, it has been a wavering of the out-of-area state's commitment to the operation owing to a concern for extrinsic events" (p. 234).

Taking a page from the Battle of Britain, the author also does a splendid job of reminding readers that technology is rarely a decisive factor in the A2 struggle between foes. Radar gave the British a key advantage, but the Germans misunderstood its importance to the overall A2 network. In fact, a more debilitating factor for the Germans was their continued faith in the cryptologic technology that had already failed them. The effective dissemination of signals intelligence to commanders in the field and the skillful use of double agents by the British represented operational brilliance rather than advances in technology. Recall that the Germans, with the notable exception of nuclear weapons, made the most stunning advances in military technology during that war.

Although one can fathom a nautical bias within Tangredi's writing, it isn't distracting enough to wave folks off from this timely work. Crystallizing many choices that will have to be made in coming years, Anti-Access Warfare represents a valuable contribution to the A2/AD literature.

Lt Col John H. Modinger, PhD, USAF
USAF Academy

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."