Hudson Institute

Archipelagic Defense 2.0

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

View PDF

This study presents an operational concept for the United States and its Coalition partners.1 Its purpose is deterring overt Chinese aggression in the Western Pacific Theater of Operations (WPTO)—with an emphasis on the archipelago often referred to as the First Island Chain—and defeating aggression should deterrence fail. Hence the concept’s name: Archipelagic Defense. This work expands, updates, and refines the version originally set forth in 2017, thus the title Archipelagic Defense 2.0. While the study focuses principally on the United States, it does so within the context of a Coalition of states whose core also includes Australia and Japan. Moreover, the Archipelagic Defense concept calls for expanding the Coalition to other like-minded states in the Indo-Pacific region. Thus, this study will also have relevance for defense policymakers and military leaders in countries throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

Based on this study’s assessment, the objective stated above can best be supported by a military posture whose planning efforts: 

  • Improve the Coalition’s understanding of how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) views the competition—including its revisionist objectives and strategy for achieving them. 
  • Reflect the dynamic and open-ended nature of the competition, enhancing Coalition strategic planning through persistent analyses (e.g., through net assessments of the military balance) that incorporate scenarios, war games, and joint/combined field exercises designed to identify existing and potential sources of alliance and Coalition strengths and weaknesses. 
  • Assess the mobilization balance—the extent to which mobilization activities confer a pronounced Chinese advantage (or weakness) at points along the mobilization process. 
  • Undertake an assessment of economic warfare operations, to include a Coalition blockade of China, as well as a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) counter-blockade of Coalition states, to include efforts to severe the Coalition’s sea lines of communication.
  • Create a strong strategic narrative to address the social dimension of strategy. 

Depending upon their resources and level of technical competence, alliance and Coalition militaries implementing Archipelagic Defense should:

  • Augment Coalition defenses by shifting, over time, the US military from a predominantly expeditionary posture to a forward-deployed (and eventually a forward-based) posture. 
  • Reduce reliance on (and the vulnerability of) large and vulnerable land bases and major surface warships through more highly distributed forward-operating forces; greater reliance on systems capable of conducting long-range scouting and strike operations in contested environments; and a mix of active and passive base defenses, to include “striking the archer,” hardening bases, and preferential air and missile defenses. 
  • Form a highly mobile operational reserve—with emphasis on air, cyber, long-range strike, and maritime forces—capable of concentrating military power rapidly to threatened sectors along the First and Second Island Chains. 
  • Emphasize capabilities directly related to air, sea, and information denial operations, which according to the PLA are domains it must dominate in order to undertake offensive campaigns. 
  • Improve the US battle network’s robustness through exploring (and, where appropriate, adopting) alternative satellite- and terrestrial-based architectures, and establishing a world-class competence in operating under mission-type orders and commander’s intent. 
  • Create or augment ground forces capable of conducting cross-domain missions, to include air and missile defense, coastal defense, and extended-range precision strikes. 
  • Field or augment advanced irregular warfare ground forces—especially in the Philippines and Taiwan—armed with state-of-the-art communications and precision-guided rockets, artillery, mortars, and missiles (G-RAMM), and supported in wartime by Coalition advisors with access to remote extended-range fires. 
  • Deny China the ability to exploit its strategic depth by holding key strategic military and economic assets in its interior at risk.
  • Foster greater alliance and Coalition partner cooperation and interoperability, to include frequent, rigorous, and realistic joint and combined training. 

Archipelagic Defense is not a panacea for all forms of Chinese aggression, any more than NATO’s conventional deterrent addressed the challenges once posed by Moscow’s wars of national liberation and nuclear buildup. Nor are the initiatives presented in this study comprehensive. The dynamic character of the military competition in the Western Pacific in particular, and the Indo-Pacific in general, guarantee that Archipelagic Defense 2.0, like its predecessor, will need to be further modified over time.

View PDF