Anti-Access/Area Denial: Terms You Should Know

Published: August 27, 2013

BudgetDEFENSEInnovationNational Defense Authorization Act

The Pentagon is working on a new operational concept called AirSea Battle (ASB). A central tenet of this concept is developing training, techniques, and technology that will enable U.S. forces to operate in contested environments where adversaries have implemented "Anti-Access/Area Denial" (A2/AD) measures. ASB will be important to the evolution of the DoD's operations globally, including the implementation of joint electronic warfare, information sharing, and cyber security capabilities.

If you are in the business of providing technology solutions to the Department of Defense and you haven’t yet come across the term “Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD)” be assured that you will soon.  A strategy being developed to counter A2/AD capabilities is currently making its way through the Pentagon and once the concepts are fully mature I expect they will help shape DoD IT investments in the decade to come.  For those not familiar with the term, A2/AD is part of a new operational concept called AirSea Battle (ASB).  It is defined as follows: “A2/AD capabilities are those which challenge and threaten the ability of U.S. and allied forces to both get to the fight and to fight effectively once there.”  Basically, A2/AD capabilities impede military operations in contested areas.
Why the focus on A2/AD?  For one thing, the technological prowess of global powers able to militarily compete with the United States on at least a regional basis is growing.  Think China and Russia in particular.  The rapid development of their electronic warfare capabilities has the Pentagon concerned about the possibility that U.S. forces could be denied access to areas of operations like Korea.  Secondly, U.S. armed forces depend more heavily than ever on networks at both the strategic and tactical levels to project power.  If access to network capabilities is denied, it would severely hamper the ability of U.S. forces to operate effectively.  Such an outcome is unacceptable, especially at a time when the U.S. is realigning forces in a “pivot to Asia” that relies heavily on satellite communications, sea power, and air forces.
In a tight market characterized by falling spending, the Pentagon’s focus on A2/AD means that vendors will need to remain focused on providing DoD customers with the latest electronic warfare, information sharing, and cyber security capabilities.  These should all remain areas of investment for the DoD despite declining budgets.  In addition, there is the legislative angle to consider.  A2/AD has crept into the draft National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2014.  One reference comes in connection with the DoD providing an assessment of Russia’s A2/AD capabilities (timely in light of events in Syria).  The second reference revises language from the 2013 NDAA calling for the DoD to develop an inventory of all tactical data link systems.  This revised language directs the DoD to also provide assessments of the vulnerabilities of TDL systems in A2/AD environments.
Earlier this year, FIA published a report in which we noted that Sec. 934 of the 2013 NDAA directs the DoD to carry out an inventory of TDL systems to determine whether the upgrade, new deployment, or replacement of the system should be competed and/or the data link should be converted to an open architecture or other standard that would enable such a competition.  Knowing the potential importance of TDLs to the nascent ASB operational concept strongly suggests that vendors who provide such solutions should keep an eye on how the DoD’s inventory of TDL’s evolves.
Barring the outbreak of a new war in the Middle East, budget conditions at the DoD are expected to tighten over the next decade.  In this environment it is important to understand the strategic developments that may drive spending on IT and other kinds of technology.  The requirements supporting the evolution of the new ASB strategy and congressionally mandated technology investments are excellent spending signposts in this time of heightened uncertainty.