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New U.S. Defense Strategy Focuses on "Asymmetric" Enemy Threats

A Chinese DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile, shown in transit to a 2009 parade rehearsal in Beijing. A recently unveiled U.S. defense strategy is aimed partly at addressing "asymmetric" threats that incorporate ballistic missiles or other measures to limit the projection of U.S. force, according to a news report (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan). A Chinese DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile, shown in transit to a 2009 parade rehearsal in Beijing. A recently unveiled U.S. defense strategy is aimed partly at addressing "asymmetric" threats that incorporate ballistic missiles or other measures to limit the projection of U.S. force, according to a news report (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan).

A key focus of the Obama administration's new defense strategy is ensuring the military is prepared to deal with the threat posed by enemies that would use ballistic missiles or other "asymmetric means" to ward off U.S. forces that they might not be able to defeat, the New York Times reported on Monday (see GSN, Jan. 6).

The United States needs "the ability to operate in environments where adversaries try to deny us access," President Obama said last week in the public rollout of the policy document.

The capacity to overcome "anti-access, area-denial" efforts by other nations is, under the new plan, to be among the 10 leading charges for the U.S. armed forces.

"The United States must maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged," the strategy says.

"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," it adds.

The report singles out efforts by China and Iran in this realm.

China has missiles of varying ranges and attack submarines that could be used against naval vessels, as well as radar and ground-to-air missiles for targeting a foe's aircraft. Such systems could prevent U.S. aircraft carriers and other warships from sailing close to Chinese territory, making it harder to conduct regular, effective air assaults (see GSN, Jan. 4).

The Pentagon is intently examining opportunities for overcoming a foe's access-denial capabilities, said Vice Adm. Bruce Clingan, Navy deputy operations chief.

"Do you take out his ability to shoot? Do you take him out once he's shot? Do you deny him accuracy once the missile is airborne and then you create a greater 'miss distance?'" he said. "You have to work your way across the entire effect chain and how you're going to do those things to keep those missiles from threatening you."

Another threat was demonstrated in the latest drills of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's naval forces, where multiple, quick-moving boats worked on "swarming" an enemy vessel, the Times reported. The boats could carry powerful explosives, and it would take just one to inflict serious damage to a U.S. naval vessel.

"Iran's navy -- especially the naval arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards -- has invested in vessels and armaments that are well suited to asymmetric warfare, rather than the sort of ship-to-ship conflict that Iran would surely use," according to a recent analysis from Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

China and Russia have also helped Iran to deploy advanced mines, small submersibles, and movable cruise missiles that could be fired on ships, Singh said.

"Iran's capabilities are best suited for imposing high costs on those who might need to force their way through the Strait of Hormuz, and on those whom the Iranians perceive as being complicit in enabling foreign access," said Nathan Freier, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Iran has threatened to close off the strait, a major waterway for the transport of Middle Eastern oil, if it faces a broadened petroleum embargo now being considered by the European Union. The United Kingdom and United States have said they would not allow the strait to be closed to traffic (see GSN, Jan. 9).

A report on sustaining U.S. military activities in anti-access, area-denial situations is expected in the near future from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. The 65-page document is expected to lay out 30 capacities required for the military operate in such zones (Thom Shanker, New York Times, Jan. 9).

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