A2/AD: Have the Chinese studied the Our Civil War??

I’m not fond of applying doctrine from one period of history against that of another. To describe a military function of the Civil War, we should first use the terms and conventions used in that era. We might explain those standards in a modern view-point. But we should be clear, such abstracts the functions from their historical context. After all, Henry Heth didn’t conduct a “movement to contact” on July 1, 1863, but rather an unauthorized “offensive patrol.” Likewise John Buford’s division was not a “security” force, but rather an “advanced-guard.” Words have meaning, right?

That said, I’ve seen a few articles of late from those who dabble with doctrine. The chatter in that community of late is the Chinese strategy of Anti-Access/Area Denial – shortened in our acronym hungry military to a Star Warsesque “A2/AD.” What the heck is that???? From the official Marine Corps website:

Over the past two decades, the development and proliferation of advanced weapons, targeting perceived U.S. vulnerabilities, have the potential to create an A2/AD environment that increasingly challenges U.S. military access to and freedom of action within potentially contested areas.

Um… yea, but what does that mean in plain English?

As the USMC article states, as the world stood in awe of the United States’ military feats during the 1991 Gulf War, potential adversaries looked for countermeasures. Clearly anyone with a need to counter American military force would first look to disrupt the deployment of combat power into a theater. In other words block the carriers, airlift, and sealift. Oh, and destroy or disable any pre-positioned equipment stocks that happen to be around. Such would, of course, prevent any buildup of forces akin to 1991… or 2003. The aim would be to make entry into the theater so costly as to deter operations.

The Chinese evolved a strategy to do just that – deny American access to sea-lanes and air corridors with a mix of low and high tech weapons (getting the most attention is a “carrier killer” missile). Or perhaps more accurately, those who do a lot of analysis of Chinese behavior define this as an A2/AD strategy.

But enough of that modern doctrine stuff. What does this have to do with the Civil War you ask? Well, discussing this Chinese stuff with a friend (retired Navy officer who makes a fair living off this analysis stuff), he drew the parallel between the A2/AD strategy and how the Confederates countered Federal efforts along the coast. The general premise offered – the Confederate ironclad-based strategy for littoral control aimed to disrupt Federal access into the waterways of the Confederacy. Yes, put the CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads, or the CSS Albemarle on the Roanoke, or the CSS Tennessee at Mobile Bay, and that’s anti-access and area denial of sorts.

But before we start expecting the Chinese to show up at sequi events, put this all in perspective. Just about any coastal defense looks a lot like A2/AD. Think about the defenses of New Orleans developed well before the Civil War. Those also aimed to deny access to a potential enemy. Ditto for the defenses of Charleston, or New York. And we can go back to scores of examples from the 18th century or earlier.

Strategy, you see, tends to work off timeless principles. That’s why Sun Tzu and Clausewitz still sell a lot of books, even today, without many book signings. (Tactics, on the other hand, is an ever evolving art form.) Another ready example of such comes from the American counter to A2/AD – AirSea Battle (or ASB if you want to sound like some cool doctrine-analyst-type). Sounds a lot like a new coat of paint on that earlier Air-Land Battle from my generation of warfighters. Even hints at the same strategy which defeated the Confederate ironclads mentioned above – at least when you start laying it out on a table. But I’ll save that ASB discussion for a good ripping another day, perhaps. And if so on XBrad’s blog were it would sell better!

I don’t think anyone is deriving A2/AD based on lessons from the American Civil War. But I don’t doubt that someone in uniform over in China is reading up on our “war of the rebellion.” Such would only be natural as military professionals study their trade. As T. R. Fehrenbach wrote, “German plumbers, American plumbers, use the same manuals and look into the same kind of water.”

In the days following World War II, many historians made a connection between German staff tours of Civil War battlefields and the early war success of the Wehrmacht (and you still see it in public interpretation from time to time). Certainly German officers made their rounds. But Gettysburg and Brices Cross Roads were not the inspiration for Blitzkrieg. We should avoid the same pitfall with regard to the Chinese and the Confederate ironclads. The Chinese have a military history of their own sufficient to draw the lessons needed.

One response to “A2/AD: Have the Chinese studied the Our Civil War??

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