President's Commentary: Imagination Is the Ultimate Domain

May 1, 2021
By Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC (Ret.)

The focus in the U.S. military is on all-domain operations, in which U.S. forces will operate in a highly integrated manner in what previously were autonomous or semi-autonomous domains. This approach is evolving from a time when the individual services brought specific capabilities to their respective battlespace and often employed them in various concentrated roles.

Now, however, success in modern conflict requires that cross-domain actions and activities occur in a coordinated, synergistic manner. Decision-making, lethality, speed, cross-domain interoperability of systems and secure networking are critical elements in determining which side prevails in future combat. That requirement is plainly visible today and will grow in the coming years as technology evolves. Warfighting functions will rely on effective employment of all available relevant capabilities operating in and through each of the warfighting domains. This will require an unprecedented level of system and network design where the unfettered movement of information and command and control across domains will be a decisive factor. Imagination will be the key to realizing this goal.

Each service has traditionally developed its own capabilities for specific roles or missions, occasionally from a joint perspective. Over time, we have learned that the joint aspect of operations demonstrates how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. To achieve this, individual capabilities must be effectively integrated, or the force will be left with a set of stovepiped, suboptimized systems that fall short of their potential.

The answer may not be in the development of joint all-domain solutions. Instead, another approach may be to allow the leader of each domain to develop its needed capabilities underpinned by a strong joint technical framework enforced by highly disciplined and authoritative oversight.

What empowers all-domain operations is the ability to share information across many domains. The newest battlespace capabilities place a premium on speed to achieve lethality. That speed is enabled by information and networking—a network that is not in place today.

The development of a joint information data bus would allow each functional area to leverage the information being collected across all domains and place it in a repository that can exploit, as necessary, and disseminate that information to the edge in near real time. Think in terms of Microsoft developing a set of functional tools or applications that interact, interoperate and complement one another.

Simply having the ability to move information across domain lines will not be enough to achieve true all-domain potential. Ultimately, success is about gathering information and moving, processing and presenting it in a timely and effective manner to the commander for integration into his decision-making process and mission supporting capabilities. To achieve this goal, planners and decision-makers will need automated tools to determine how best to exploit the advantages of all-domain targeting and decision-making. By matching weapons to desired effects, assisted by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), commanders can select the optimum weapon to employ in a timely manner. Additionally, the network itself will need to be largely homogeneous to alleviate latency and interoperability issues that impact the mission.

For example, the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) concept seeks to combine the opportunity to share information and intelligence in support of decision-making across a broad spectrum of warfighting capabilities and organizations. The JADC2 is evolving as each service designs and implements its own elements. The goal is to bring together these different capabilities to promote lethality, speed, precision and improve decisions under the JADC2 umbrella.

Some of the best aspects of all-domain operations will be advocated by users over time and experience. System designers must allow flexibility as new options evolve in the battlespace. A robust and ubiquitous network will promote decision-making and speed of action, opening the path for improved processes and methods of delivering combat capability.

New technologies are already changing the way decisions are being considered and warfighting is conducted. Hypersonic weapons alone will place a premium on speed of action and reaction. Unmanned ground and air vehicles will provide new ways of supporting warfighters along with increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in a variety of spectra. AI and ML will impact virtually everything electronic, including decision-making. And signal processing will increase the capabilities in the battle for superiority of radio frequency spectrum.

While we’re at it, we can’t forget that our adversaries are not only looking at adapting many of these same concepts but also seeking ways to defeat them. Imagination and creativity will open doors to new methods of conducting operations, thus leading to the heightened success of the all-domain approach, whether in offensive or defensive operations.

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