Topic & Content
Published in 2013, this book is an examination of the concepts of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) warfare both on a theoretical level and through historical surveys. Author Sam Tangredi specifically focuses on A2/AD as it applies to potential U.S. conflicts and through the lens of naval warfare. The book is organized as follows:
I’ve added short chapter descriptions in parentheses.
- Ch. 1 – A Tale of Two Wars (5 fundamental elements of A2/AD and their application during the Second Persian Invasion of Greece in 480 BC and the Gulf War in 1991.)
- Ch. 2 – Developing the Modern Concept of Anti-Access (History of the terms Anti-Access and Area Denial and the development of the modern definitions.)
- Ch. 3 – The Anti-Access Campaign and Its Defeat (The role of deterrence in A2/AD, sequence of events in an A2 campaign, and the sequence of events in a counter-A2 campaign.)
- Ch. 4 – Three Anti-Access Victories (English defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Allied failure in the Dardanelles in WWI, and the Battle of Britain in WWII.)
- Ch. 5 – Three Anti-Access Defeats (Nazi Germany’s defense of Fortress Europe, Imperial Japan’s Pacific War strategy, Argentina’s attempts to hold on to the Falklands/Malvinas.)
- Ch. 6 – East Asia: Most Formidable Challenge (Hypothetical study of a potential conflict with the People’s Republic of China over their invasion of Taiwan.)
- Ch. 7 – Southwest Asia: Asymmetrical Tactics and Economic Threats (Hypothetical study of a potential conflict with Iran.)
- Ch. 8 – Northeast Asia: Cognitive Anti-Access and Threats of Nuclear War (Hypothetical study of a potential conflict with North Korea.)
- Ch. 9 – Central Eurasia: Russia and the Near Abroad (Hypothetical study of a potential conflict with Russia in central Eurasia.)
- Ch. 10 – Breaking Great Walls: Issues of Modern Counter-Anti-Access Strategies (Conclusion and final lessons learned about the issues involving A2 and counter-A2.)
The first five chapters lay down a theoretical foundation of the concepts of A2/AD and provide historical instances of anti-access and counter-anti-access warfare from ancient to modern times. He provides three instances of successful anti-access warfare and three of unsuccessful anti-access warfare. The book then shifts into a hypothetical examination of potential future conflicts between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Tangredi outlines likely components of the opponents’ anti-access approach and how the U.S. might overcome them. The final chapter reiterates some important tenants of anti-access warfare and outlines some current issues that could affect the conduct of anti-access and counter-anti-access states.
Tangredi argues that while the terms Anti-Access and Area Denial are relatively modern, they have been practiced throughout history. This book illustrates the history of these strategies, identifies key elements of the concepts, and assesses the relative success or failure of such strategies as they relate to U.S. and allied policies and objectives. Finally, Tangredi suggests future solutions for conflicts involving anti-access strategies.
Sam Tangredi is a retired U.S. Navy Captain, surface warfare officer, and naval strategist. He was the director of San Diego operations for the consulting firm Strategic Insights and currently holds the Leidos Chair of Future Warfare Studies, as well as being a professor of National, Naval and Maritime Strategy in the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College.
Anyone who’s read the late Wayne Hughes’s book, Fleet Tactics, will be familiar with the writing style. The writing in this book is simple and easy to digest (at least for a theoretical study). Being a book on naval theory/strategy, comparisons with Hughes’s Fleet Tactics are almost inevitable. The difference here is that Tangredi’s Anti-Access Warfare is far more focused on one particular strategy of modern naval warfare and addresses more hypothetical scenarios than the former.
Tangredi makes a lot of good points about the likelihood of strategically inferior powers using an anti-access strategy against a strategically superior opponent. Specifically, he points out that an inferior power using an anti-access strategy is attempting to keep the superior power out and prevent it from operating within its region; it’s not trying to conquer it. The superior power therefore has the task of “breaking down the wall” that is the anti-access defense…piece by piece. In a modern conflict, it would essentially be a war of attrition using precision-guided weapons as the superior power attempts to breach the anti-access wall (be it surface-to-air missile sites, ballistic missiles, radars, communication bunkers, nuclear missile silos, satellites, etc.). One of the anti-access strategies of the inferior power is to attrite the willpower of the superior power down, either by way of extrinsic events or by making operations within the anti-access state too costly.
Tangredi spends the first three chapters outlining the elements that make up an anti-access and counter-anti-access strategy. He then uses these elements as a framework for his analysis of every conflict or potential conflict that he examines throughout the remainder of the book. As a result, his logic is easy to follow, and he comes to clear conclusions…at least as far as clear conclusions can be made.
Furthermore, Tangredi is also careful about how he applies his logic since the anti-access strategy only applies in certain circumstances, and not every conflict that would feature or has featured anti-access strategies has played out the same way. For example, the British strategy against Nazi Germany and the Imperial Japanese strategy against the United States were both anti-access in practice, but the specific techniques and technologies they used, not to mention their logic, were different. Similarly, the hypothetical conflicts that Tangredi posits between the U.S. and China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia would all be somewhat different in their execution but all would feature anti-access elements.
I don’t have many criticisms of this book, but Tangredi’s examination of the historical instances could’ve been a bit more detailed. They certainly weren’t bad, but I sometimes found myself wishing for a more detailed analysis of how the anti-access strategies succeeded or failed. If the reader isn’t familiar with those events, then they may get a little lost.
Those expecting a detailed breakdown of naval tactics and operations related to anti-access/counter-anti-access warfare will be sorely disappointed. Tangredi intentionally chooses to keep the discussion on the strategic and grand strategic levels with only a modicum of space devoted to operational concerns. Still, I did occasionally find myself wishing for a more detailed analysis from the operational perspective in relation to the topic under discussion.
The final chapter has Tangredi bringing up some really good ideas for consideration, such as further development of technologies related to cyberspace and anti-satellite weapons, to the possibility of basing forces at sea rather than in regional countries near to the conflict. However, his coverage of these ideas is only cursory given that they come at the end of the book. It would be nice if there was more discussion on them.
Truth be told, I think the book itself would benefit from being longer and having a chapter dedicated to how the anti-access and counter-anti-access strategies could evolve in the future (rather than trying to address them in the concluding chapter).
Evaluation (Does the content support the thesis?)
All in all, Sam Tangredi’s Anti-Access Warfare was a very enjoyable read. The author breaks down the concepts in an easily digestible fashion for the layperson and then goes through the hypothetical scenarios in a very logical way. The writing is detailed, but not too laden with jargon. While the book stays focused on the strategic sphere, it has enough concrete examples to ground it within reality and prevent it from becoming a pompous discussion on the abstract philosophical tenants of warfare. Worth a read if you’re curious about how a possible conflict between the U.S. and “certain nations” might play out in the 21st century.
I have to get this book.