The complexities of modern warfare offer a bewildering array of threats, countered by an increasing and sometimes disparate list of countermeasures. Military commanders seeking to thwart an enemy's moves may not be aware of the full range of options, leaving gaps in their defenses even when an effective counter may be available elsewhere.
Helping commanders fill those gaps with assets they may not otherwise know they had is one of the prime missions of a new, very small, yet potentially very influential office in the Pentagon, the Air-Sea Battle Office (ASBO).
Although created on Aug. 12, the Pentagon officially announced the office's creation with a Nov. 9 press release. The small group, with a core of about 12 to 15 officers, is drawn from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
Its charter is to examine the full range of threats to the United States, from more traditional air, sea and land-based threats to space and the cyber environment. ASBO is also, according to defense officials, about assuring the ability to move into contested areas and clear them of a threat - also known as anti-access, area denial capabilities.
"It's about access and freedom of action and making sure you have enough of what you need to get after your goals and protect and preserve your vital assets," one defense official said Wednesday at a press background briefing.
The Pentagon stressed that the office is "not about a specific actor, not about a specific regime." Officials resisted efforts by reporters to link the effort to China's rising capabilities.
"We're talking about taking our current state to a higher level," said one defense official.
"Air-Sea Battle represents change," the official said. "Three dimensions of change - institutional, conceptional and material."
Broadly, a Pentagon official agreed, the concept is a highly classified clearinghouse, set up to consider a wide range of current and potential threats. ASBO is charged with gaining familiarity with a vast number of capabilities and potential responses already available in the military, and matching them with threats.
"This is not about telling the combatant commanders to do their job," a defense official stressed. "It's about maintaining a military advantage to operate in the global commons."
A key priority for the office, a defense official said, is "to develop air and naval forces that are integrated."
The Army, for the time being, is not a significant player in the ASBO construct, although one officer is assigned to the group. Officials stressed that the office will evolve and mature, and will not be tied to a specific doctrine or set of responses.
"There is a nearly limitless number of things we can look at to challenge integration," one defense official said.
A report on the group's efforts will be issued, defense officials said, but "the report is not the end state."
Pentagon officials stressed the group has top-level support and will establish "an enduring relationship."
"They're actually very serious about this," an official said.