HONOLULU — Out near Guam, America's newest battle strategy is starting to take shape.
Navy EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets are operating with Air Force aircraft as both services develop the so-called Air-Sea Battle concept, which will guide efforts to prepare air and naval forces for a new era of potential combat — particularly in the western Pacific.
The controversial strategy seeks to increase cooperation between the two services to protect allies and partner nations as well as ensure freedom of access to key areas of international air, sea, space and cyberspace, according to senior leaders of both services.
"We will learn how to integrate naval forces into airfield defense, and we will train our Air Force aircrews to defend ships at sea," former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said in a co-authored 2012 paper.
The battle concept is particularly aimed at what the military calls "anti-access" and "area-denial." The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments called Air-Sea Battle means to prevent China from forcing the U.S. military out of an area of the Pacific that extends to Guam and New Guinea.
Military officials have said that Air-Sea Battle is not designed for specific areas of the world.
Some Air-Sea Battle elements are being incorporated into the Air Force exercise Cope North 2013 at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, the Air Force said. The annual exercise started Monday and runs through Friday.
"We are in initial stages of working on that joint warfighter integration with the Air Force and the Navy, and Cope North is providing a little bit of a foundation, a platform to start trying to work in some of those tactics (and) objectives, but we're still in the beginning phase," said 1st Lt. AnnMarie Annicelli, a spokeswoman for Pacific Air Forces.
The command, headquartered at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, has overall planning control for the exercise, Annicelli said.
About 1,000 participants from the United States, 450 from Japan and 300 from Australia are taking part in the exercise, which includes humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training, air combat and air-to-ground weapons training, and "large force employment" practice.
The Cope North drills are aimed at preparing the air forces of the three countries to fight together if a military crisis erupts, the Associated Press reported.
"The training is not against a specific country, like China," the AP quoted Japan Air Self-Defense Force Lt. Gen. Masayuki Hironaka as saying. "However, I think (the fact) that our alliance with the U.S. and Australia is healthy is a strong message."
Australia is participating in Cope North for the second time, and South Korea sent observers for the humanitarian assistance portion, the Air Force said.
Pacific Air Forces said that in terms of examples of the "rebalance" of forces to the Pacific, "Cope North provides a visual illustration of not only the kind of engagement PACAF has nurtured over the last 50 years, but also how now, through expanding our engagements from bilateral to multilateral participation with treaty partners and allies, PACAF is embracing this new era."
Air-Sea Battle seeks to overcome challenges posed to area access from ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines, fighter aircraft, electronic warfare and mines.
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said western Pacific geography, with its vast distances, places a premium on range and endurance and requires an integrated air and maritime approach.