The Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) just released by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff describes those capabilities deemed essential for the joint force to ensure it can enter and maintain access anywhere and in any domain.

“No matter how formidable our forces, if we are unable to bring our capabilities to bear in any of these domains, we may not be able to complete the mission or meet our nation’s needs,” Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said Jan 17 in his Chairman’s Corner blog. “Our adversaries know this as well.”

The JOAC was released the same day Pentagon officials said they would focus science and technology investment to increase capabilities to counter those emerging anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategies by state and non-state adversaries (Defense Daily, Jan 17).

At a Precision Strike Association meeting earlier this week, Al Shaffer, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, pointed to cyber efforts by China and Iran, saying without pacing such threats, U.S. power projection would be more difficult.

The fact that even cash-poor nations can find access denial technology on the open marketplace should drive the United States to find more innovative solutions, Air Force Maj. Gen. Craig Franklin, the vice director of the Joint Staff, noted at the same meeting.

The JOAC responds to one of the primary missions for U.S. forces, to “project power despite anti-access/area denial challenges” listed in the Strategic Defense Guidance released earlier this month by the Obama White House (Defense Daily, Jan. 9).

The guidance said the United States must maintain the ability to project power and operate successfully where access and freedom to operate are challenged by proliferating and sophisticated weapons and technology.

“This will include implementing the Joint Operational Access Concept, sustaining our undersea capabilities, developing a new stealth bomber, improving missile defenses, and continuing efforts to enhance the resiliency and effectiveness of critical space-based capabilities,” the guidance states.

A2/AD is not new, but it is a defining characteristic of today’s operational environment. Confronting this challenge will require more integration–across all domains and at all echelons–than ever before.

In his foreword to the JOAC, Dempsey said three major trends are pushing adversaries–states and non-states–to adopt A2AD options:  the growth of anti-access and area-denial capabilities around the globe, the changing U.S. overseas defense posture, and the emergence of space and cyberspace as contested domains. 

The central phrase for the joint forces to counter the A2AD strategy is “cross-domain synergy,” meaning to establish superiority in “some combination of domains that will provide the freedom of action required by the mission.” 

As the document states, much of the work was first found in the Joint Operating Environment document developed under the Joint Forces Command, and with capabilities initially described by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Capstone Concept of Joint Operations.

Also, the JOAC looks to more cross-domain integration and lower levels than ever before, to be able to exploit fleeting opportunities. 

The strategic challenge is clear: the Joint Force must maintain the freedom of action to accomplish any assigned mission. 

The JOAC also envisions a greater degree and more flexible integration of space and cyberspace operations into the traditional battle space of land, sea and air than ever before. 

The synergy Dempsey describes is for the joint forces to be complementary, with the whole becoming more than the sum of its parts, not simply adding capabilities in different domains. 

The JOAC capabilities for A2AD fall under the separate joint functions. For instance, under command and control, the joint force must have “the capability for effective command and control in degraded or austere communications environment.” 

Under the protection function, the joint force must have the capability “to protect friendly space forces while disrupting enemy space operations,” and the capability to “conduct cyber defense in the context of opposed access.” 

In the engagement function, forces must have the capability to provide training, supplies, equipment, and other assistance to regional partners to improve their access capabilities. 

The JOAC document acknowledges risks in this A2AD approach–for example, the forces may fail to achieve synergy. Additional risks are that the concept could be unsupportable economically or logistically due to restrained defense budgets.