Sustaining U.S. Leadership in the Asia-Pacific Region

Why a Strategy of Direct Defense Against Antiaccess and Area Denial Threats Is Desirable and Feasible

by David Ochmanek

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Trends in the capabilities of conventional military forces have, from the perspective of the United States, been moving in an unfavorable direction over the past decade or more. While the United States has been occupied with recent military operations, other potential adversaries have been advancing their own military capabilities. The proliferation of advanced antiaccess and area denial capabilities is a source of particular concern. A debate over the appropriate set of responses — strategic, operational, and technical — has begun. This perspective is intended to contribute to this debate by examining a potentially effective and feasible overall military approach to the challenge — direct defense — describing the general sorts of operational concepts and supporting capabilities that can enable that approach. Direct defense is predicated on the belief that the most credible way to assure partners and deter aggression is to confront potential aggressors with the prospect of failure should they seek to advance their objectives through force of arms. While many other steps can be taken to reduce the risks of conflict between the United States and potential adversaries (e.g., enhancements to allied self-defense capabilities and improved mechanisms for dispute resolution and crisis management), clarity about the U.S. commitment to direct defense and a visible investment in the requisite capabilities are essential. The ideas offered here suggest the main elements of a way forward for U.S. and allied defense planners.

This research was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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