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USCENTCOM has an opportunity to strengthen three critical pillars for the future of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Joint Force: People, Partners, and Innovation. Our success will extend our nation’s advantages over strategic competitors—geographically and temporally—for multiple instruments of national power. By transforming from a security guarantor to a security integrator, USCENTCOM will enable integrated deterrence, trans-regional campaigning, and modernization to create effects against multiple threats, across the competition continuum, and in concert with like-minded Allies and Partners.
At the same time, military strategic risk to our homeland, vital national interests, and to our Allies and Partners emanating from the Central Region has the potential to derail the National Defense Strategy (NDS). The challenges to maintain relationships with Partners in the face of eager strategic competitors and to enable sufficient Partner capacity against growing Iranian and Violent Extremist Organization (VEO) threats both present threats to NDS implementation.
This Theater Strategy organizes and focuses our efforts to make the Central Region a theater of opportunity, efficiency, and enduring advantage while managing risk. We will maximize the strengths of our people and our culture of innovation to demonstrate our commitment to our Partners. Partners are the U.S. strategic comparative advantage in the region, and our strategy focuses on retaining this critical advantage in the face of strategic competitors and regional threats. Layered Assurance is our Theory of Success for prevailing as the security partner of choice in the Central Region.
Layered Assurance applies integrated deterrence as described by the NDS and supports strategic discipline as emphasized by the National Military Strategy (NMS) by combining the layers of institutions, innovation, and influence. By enabling Allies and Partners to address the threats they face through Layered Assurance, we will build regional security constructs that sustain deterrence of regional threats and advantage over strategic competitors.
The geostrategic location of USCENTCOM’s Area of Responsibility (AOR) positions it as a foundational source for global energy and a thoroughfare for international commerce. More than 27% of global oil still travels through the Strait of Hormuz, and over 20% of all global commerce depends on the Suez Canal. As a result, the Central Region is the nexus of global competition with China, as it provides a key foothold for People’s Republic of China (PRC) influence over global energy, commerce, and politics. China and Russia remain poised to fill security vacuums created by the abandonment narrative that they propagate, and our service members and partnered forces also remain under threat of attack by the Iranian Threat Network while countering Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs) abroad. Iran’s continued development and proliferation of ballistic missiles and Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS) increase the risk of conflict escalation while offering competitive space for China and Russia to exploit through military sales.
China continues to expand its influence through economic, diplomatic, and military investment. Militarily, China has increased its basing access in the vicinity of key maritime transit routes in the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and Arabian Gulf. Many U.S. Partners are turning to China out of necessity, due to a lengthy U.S. foreign military sales process and constraints imposed by U.S. policy. The PRC threat extends beyond the Indo-Pacific, as the Chinese conduct significant trans-regional gray-zone activity to advance their strategic objectives.
Russia continues its malign activities in the information domain and maintains the capability to frustrate our operations in the electromagnetic spectrum. Russia is also playing a spoiling role with our Partners and regional populations to sow distrust and portray the U.S. as unreliable. While Russian military provocations against the U.S. and Coalition in Syria did not increase immediately after the invasion of Ukraine, they continue to contest our presence in the region, presenting the potential for horizontal escalation and miscalculation.
Iran remains the most significant regional-based threat facing USCENTCOM and our Partners. Tehran’s actions drive instability across the AOR and routinely increase the risk of conflict escalation by utilizing proxies to attack U.S. and Partner interests. Iran has the largest military in the Middle East and the continued development of its ballistic missile and UAS inventories are of particular concern. Iran presents a persistent threat in cyberspace based on its demonstrated ability to attack DoD information networks, the U.S Homeland, Allies and Partners. The Iranian regime has shown willingness to conduct calculated responses (attributable and non-attributable) in retaliation to perceived U.S. and Israeli threatening actions.
The USCENTCOM AOR remains the Sunni VEO epicenter, with a large number of the most dangerous terrorist groups operating in theater—each with vastly different operational priorities and capabilities. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda (AQ) are the primary VEOs in the region, and each group maintains numerous affiliates pursuing various local, Environment Strategic 4 regional, and global objectives. The loss of access and influence with the Afghan government will increasingly challenge our ability to monitor and disrupt ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) and AQ activities. The resultant reductions in consistent counterterrorism pressure likely will enable the groups to pose increased threats to the West and potentially the Homeland.
The AOR also has a history of state and non-state actors use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). DoD policy is to support U.S. government and international efforts to deny Iran and VEOs WMD. WMD threats that have broad impacts beyond the USCENTCOM AOR include Iran’s ballistic missile advancements and progress toward a nuclear weapon, should they choose to pursue one. Pakistan shares a contentious border with India, and there is potential for vertical escalation between these nuclear powers. Syria’s use of chemical weapons in 2017 and 2018 are indicative of its retention of some chemical weapon capabilities, which will continue to be a threat to the people of Syria and its neighboring countries.
Many AOR nations face challenges to provide services and security to their constituents, as national leaders struggle with worsening socio-economic conditions and other transboundary challenges such as climate change. Ethnic, sectarian, and tribal rivalries pose further systemic challenges to government legitimacy. State and non-state sponsored drug trafficking organizations emanating from and/or transiting the USCENTCOM AOR continually grow in capability, pose an increasing threat to AOR partner nation governance and stability, and directly threaten U.S. national security. Moreover, areas of weak governance and instability offer transnational criminals an opportunity to operate in the seams between law enforcement and military authorities. Ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen and the collapse of legitimate governance in Afghanistan have undermined stability throughout and beyond the region and given rise to humanitarian and refugee crises.
The USCENTCOM mission endures.
USCENTCOM directs and enables military operations and activities with Allies and Partners to increase regional security and stability in support of enduring U.S. interests.
Allies and Partners remain central to all U.S. efforts in the region.
The USCENTCOM five-year vision focuses on sustaining and building upon the strategic comparative advantage U.S. Allies and Partners present:
The United States prevails as the security partner of choice in the Central Region, sustaining deterrence of regional threats and advantage over strategic competitors with an integrated network of regional security constructs.
USCENTCOM values the sovereign choices of our Allies and Partners. Prevailing as the security partner of choice begins with recognizing that changes in the U.S. national strategy and approach to the region have impacts on our Allies and Partners. These changes manifest in potential abandonment perceptions and strategic hedging, a persistent Iranian threat, potential VEO resurgence, rising competition to the United States from China and Russia, and challenges with transborder instability. Realizing our vision requires commitment to our Allies and Partners amid these threats.
Refining our understanding of the threats Allies and Partners face will lead to an enhanced form of partnerships with broader cooperative space, greater commitment, and more efficient use of resources on both sides. Over time, enhanced partnerships will support resource efficiency, integrated deterrence, and enduring advantage for the Joint Force, Allies, and Partners. We aim to build patterns of security cooperation that will endure through crisis or conflict. When our Allies and Partners repeatedly choose the United States as their security partner of choice, the collective capability and capacity of our network of Allies and Partners will sustain deterrence of regional threats and advantage over strategic competitors.
Theory of Success
Our Theory of Success is that USCENTCOM can maximize our people and our culture of innovation to strengthen partnerships through Layered Assurance. With Layered Assurance, we can implement integrated deterrence and support strategic discipline in an efficient campaign.
Assurance is using the military instrument of national power to demonstrate commitment and support to Allies and Partners. From the perspective of our Allies and Partners, institutions provide an opportunity to cooperate, innovation demonstrates the value of U.S.-supported institutions, and influence shapes the environment in support of our Allies and Partners. By applying each layer simultaneously, USCENTCOM will demonstrate the commitment and support necessary to retain the trust of our Partners by enabling them to address the threats they face.
Layered Assurance implements integrated deterrence and supports strategic discipline by combining institutions, innovation, and influence to allow the United States to prevail as the security partner of choice in the Central Region.
As we build the collective capability and capacity of our Allies and Partners, we are transforming to accomplish the ends of our Theater Strategy with a collective group of networked Allies and Partners enabled by support from USCENTCOM sufficient and sustainable posture. Sufficient and sustainable posture is essential to stabilizing developing regional constructs and preserving strategic freedom of action.
Regional security constructs integrated across the USCENTCOM AOR innovate, expand interoperable capabilities, and share critical intelligence and information.
Networked U.S. Allies and Partners limit the freedom of action of Iran and its proxies, supporting broader efforts to deny Iran a nuclear weapon, deterring large-scale attack or destabilizing activity against U.S. vital national interests, Allies, or Partners and maintaining options to respond decisively should deterrence fail.
Networked U.S. Allies and Partners are capable of detecting, degrading, and disrupting top-tier VEO External Operations (EXOPs), denying the acquisition, development, or employment of WMD or Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, Nuclear (CBRN) weapons, and supporting broader efforts to repatriate and reintegrate former extremists and their family members.
Networked U.S. Allies and Partners create relative advantages over China and Russia in maritime Freedom of Navigation, energy security, and deterrence to support broader efforts during competition, and enable opportunities for domain control during crisis or conflict.
Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD)/Counter-Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (C-UAS)
Networked U.S. Allies and Partners develop capabilities that deter air and missile attacks, neutralize the proliferation and technological improvement of UAS, and enable self-defense and Partner control of the air domain during crisis or conflict.
Developing Layered Assurance
Layered Assurance organizes and focuses efforts in theater through deliberate layering of institutions, innovation, and influence. Within each layer are an interaction of ways and means. In the past, USCENTCOM efforts have focused most heavily on influence—particularly through conventional posture and operations—with institutions and innovation trailing in terms of their relative weight of effort. There has also been relatively little overlap between institutions, innovation, and influence efforts. To reach our future vision, institutions will be at the core with increasing innovation and new ways and means for influence to complement sufficient and sustainable posture. It will take the talent and synchronization of all of our people to layer these efforts to effectively demonstrate commitment to our Allies and Partners.
Institutions are the core of Layered Assurance. Institutions are norms, processes, and structures for cooperation and interoperability.
Innovation is the middle layer of Layered Assurance, connecting institutions and influence by demonstrating the benefits of cooperating with U.S.-supported institutions and enabling more potent influence. Innovation also supports Partner and Joint Force modernization by allowing testing of emerging concepts and technologies.
Influence is the outer layer of Layered Assurance, and it shapes the environment in support of Allies and Partners. USCENTCOM applies operations in the information environment, irregular warfare, nontraditional cooperation, and posture to influence the environment.
This strategy provides a Theory of Success for the Central Region. By applying Layered Assurance to prevail as the security partner of choice, and building the collective capabilities of our Allies and Partners to manage risk, we are developing strong, sustainable advantages for the Joint Force and our Allies and Partners. Strategy implementation will require continuous cooperation and assessment with our Allies and Partners. Our successful transformation will make USCENTCOM’s People, Partners, and Innovation an enduring source of strength for the nation.