Commentary: A Multidomain Age Is Dawning for the Army

August 1, 2019
By Lt. Gen. John R. (Bob) Wood, USA (Ret.)

The U.S. Army is facing one of its biggest changes in history. Along with the other services, the Army is studying the model of multidomain operations, or MDO, and is developing its concepts to deal with a changing threat environment that challenges U.S. force supremacy around the globe.

Our adversaries have studied our military strengths in detail, and their advancements in technology and conceptual doctrine make it clear they will not let us gain the advantages we enjoyed in the past. They will not allow us to bring our forces to bear in traditional ways or to synchronize as we once did, and their countering efforts will range across all domains. In the foreword to TP525-3-1, the Army’s conceptual guidance for MDO, the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, USA, addresses the issue directly: “The military problem we face is defeating multiple layers of standoff in all domains in order to maintain the coherence of our operations.”

This broad change requires the Army to develop alternate ways of penetrating the theater, defeating a threat and restoring conditions that support enduring national aims. Capabilities must be rapidly integrated, even converged, to achieve the cross-domain synergy that creates cascading dilemmas across all domains for the enemy. Fundamentally, freedom of maneuver must be gained and maintained, in both the physical and cognitive sense. An enemy cannot be allowed to defeat us one domain at a time. For the Army, winning a land battle and achieving success in the ground domain, while essential, must add to the coherent success of a joint and coalition force across all domains in time, space and purpose.

MDO challenges are many, but it is extremely encouraging to see our Army acknowledge these challenges directly and move in concrete ways to address them. Progress is purposeful and accelerating. There are many examples.

One is the Multi-Domain Task Force operating in the Indo-Pacific, which is well into its 36-month test and evaluation period. Its core command and control cell contains enhanced intelligence, cyber, electronic warfare and space elements. Long-range fires tie into multiservice sensors. Denial and deception operations open windows of opportunity for survivable maneuver elements to move to positions of advantage. And all operations feed back to assessment teams. Multiple domains are leveraged to retain freedom of maneuver.

In another effort, cooperation among the services and allies is moving planning processes from synchronizing federated service-specific solutions to far more agile integration of converged multidomain actions. They are making progress adapting necessary authorities and permissions to facilitate and speed coordinated effects.

A multidomain planning framework has been defined and is being used extensively. The “Deep, Close, and Rear” framework that served AirLand Battle so well is replaced by a new seven-element framework that better describes this triad in terms more conducive to multiservice actions.

Also, cross-functional teams within the Army continue on priority work under the Army’s new Futures Command to align critical capabilities such as long range fires, network, soldier lethality, vertical lift, combat vehicles and air and missile defense to the needs of multidomain operations.

The Army’s live, virtual and constructive training model is incorporating the lessons of multidomain operations and adding the same lessons to distributed synthetic training environments.

And the concept of information environment operations, which seeks to incorporate information-related capabilities, is driving new planning and operations in the information space. Commander’s intent now drives actions with an array of information capabilities from cyber effects to space operations to military and civilian engagements.

Our military has talked about joint operations for a long time, and without question we have done our best to create joint solutions. However, we often defaulted to domain-specific solutions. That is a luxury we can no longer afford. While advancements proceed, the friction caused by change is evident. It was my good fortune to witness such friction and ultimately the changes necessary to enable AirLand success for our Army. The signs are promising that we’re on a similar, but quicker, pace toward MDO. The Army has clearly recognized that our future must be multidomain, or this future will belong to someone else.

Lt. Gen. John R. (Bob) Wood, USA (Ret.), is AFCEA’s executive vice president, Defense and National Security.

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