The Pentagon is reviving this hard-hitting Cold War strategy to devastate any Chinese and Russian assaults

A b52 afghanistanA B-52 drops a load of bombs in Afghanistan.U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Ralph Hallmon/AP

  • The Pentagon's research and development arm is reportedly reviving the Cold War-era "Assault Breaker" warfighting concept to take on Russia and China.
  • The original Assault Breaker concept was developed in the 1970s to eliminate Soviet armor formations in the rear in should Soviet forces invade NATO countries.
  • Assault Breaker II aims to upgrade this warfighting strategy with new long-range weapons built to defeat anti-access defenses.

The Pentagon is preparing to dust off a Cold War-era warfighting concept and upgrade it with new weaponry to thwart a potential shock assault by rival powers.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon's research and development arm, is working to revive its decades-old "Assault Breaker" concept to help the US military achieve and maintain offensive superiority in the face of emerging threats from Russia and China, Aviation Week reported Monday.

The Soviet plan for achieving victory in Europe called for rapid breakthrough strikes on NATO's forward defenses, clearing a path for overwhelming waves of Soviet mobile armor formations.

The original Assault Breaker concept was developed in the late 1970s to combat the threat to NATO posed by the massive and overwhelming Soviet tanks and armored vehicles. Assault Breaker I "was a concept for attacking moving, rear echelon armor massed deep behind enemy lines," a Defense Science Board (DSB) study that came out last June explained.

While NATO forces clashed with front-line Soviet forces, Assault Breaker units would cripple enemy follow-on forces, specifically enemy armor, thus buying time for the allies to send reinforcements without risking escalation by using nuclear weapons.

The edges of the sword for this strategy are surveillance aircraft and long-range smart weapons, but emerging threats, specifically the proliferation of anti-access, area-denial capabilities like long-range missiles by US adversaries have made implementation more of a challenge.

Assault Breaker II "is an umbrella effort drawing on existing and emerging programs across the services to address known capability gaps, opportunities and threats," DARPA told Aviation Week. The agency will submit a budget request to Congress this month.

"In the same way that the original Assault Breaker program was a concept for stunting the enemy's advances early on during a conflict, [Assault Breaker II] is designed to respond within a few hours to give an adversary pause and allow more traditional forces to flow into the area of operations," last year's DSB study explained.

This time around, the plan involves 21st century precision weapons. The response, according to Popular Mechanics, would play out something like this:

Were Russia to invade NATO, destroying US military bases in Europe to prevent an immediate response, the US could deploy dozens of heavy, long-range bombers directed by modern surveillance aircraft to unleash as many as 20 Assault Breaker missiles, each of which could carry tens of smart submunitions capable of devastating advancing armor.

For China, the most likely battlefield would be at sea, but the concept could be implemented in much the same way.

The exact details of the weapons and systems to make the plan effective are classified, but seeing that almost all of the technology required has been in use for years, the Pentagon expects this strategy could be ready to go within a decade.

The reported plans to revive the Assault Breaker concept is in line with the National Defense Strategy, which identifies rivalry with Russia and China as the US's leading security concern.

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