The joint force supported by Second Offset technologies ensured U.S. military preeminence in the post-Vietnam era well into the 21st century. By moving to the deployment of an integrated joint force using Multi-Domain Battle as an operational concept, the United States can provide like-minded nations the opportunity to become truly interoperable, and, when necessary, seamlessly transition from the most effective deterrent to a lethal and agile military force capable of defeating any adversary.
The Air Force, Navy, and Marines are the second group of critical stakeholders who will be active participants (to varying degrees) in the upcoming experiments. As the warfighting experts in their respective mission domains––air, sea, and the littorals––the Army’s sister services rightfully believe they bring critical capabilities to Multi-Domain Battle. But, will their capabilities become organic to the multi-domain task force structure—making the task force more joint than U.S. Army-centric? To what degree will multi-domain task force commanders be able to leverage Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps assets presently forward deployed/forward based overseas to create the desired effects? Will a laborious and time-consuming request for forces process be necessary before these assets are placed at the disposal of multi-domain task force commanders or will they be permanently “on-call”?
Just as the leaders and thinkers within the joint force are becoming more dedicated to the notion that a “post-joint” understanding of complex future military operations should be framed by the concept of multi- or cross-domain operations, the Joint Warfighting Department at the Air Command and Staff College has similarly altered its instruction of joint capabilities and planning. The department exchanged the traditional service-centric presentations, and discussions of capabilities and employment of forces, for a series of seminars covering military operations within the various domains of battle. So, instead of viewing military operations through the lens of a service structure, the department is emphasizing holistic joint force capabilities; the manner in which these capabilities facilitate access to, and maneuver within, the battlespace; and the various effects they can achieve by combining and synchronizing actions within and through the land, air, maritime, space, and cyber domains.
The information age, a phrase famously coined by Berkeley Professor Manuel Castells in the 1990s, described a tectonic shift in our culture and economy which we generally take for granted at present. From our current vantage point, replete with ubiquitous pocket-sized personal computing and communications devices, it is hard to imagine a world we cannot convert our data or social networks into physical resources and access. We keep our data in the cloud and call upon it when we need it, regardless of where we are. We log into AirBnB, and somehow money we have never seen transfers to someone else who will never see the money, and that becomes a room for an evening. The idea of a brick-and-mortar video store, such as the 1990s-staple Blockbuster Video, is hopelessly anachronistic in the era of Netflix.
Multi-Domain Battle has many flaws, but its most fatal is that as presently envisioned it risks being an underachiever. The United States, if it is to re-exert its global position, needs a military strategic concept that is more than just an iterative update of Air/Land Battle. It needs one that is great, if not revolutionary. Those designing Multi-Domain Battle are right in seeking a land force able to contest and win the fight in and across all domains, and which takes advantage of technological advances in connectivity, visibility, and lethality. This is a good start, but only if it nests Multi-Domain Battle within a military and national strategy.
Major military innovation is often accompanied by tension between the camps representing the old guard who fight to preserve their place in the existing way of war and the disrupters who lay claim to a potential new order. There is much at stake in these cultural struggles in which fights over status, authority, budget, and pathways to high rank are relatively minor manifestations when considered alongside the main event—military effectiveness in future wars. However, Multi-Domain Battle as the U.S. Army’s future warfighting concept has not yet faced much challenge or criticism, at least not in public.
It was not that long ago that the revolution in military affairs of the late 1990s was advanced as a transformative event that would assure U.S. dominance over all rivals. Instead, it resulted in a technology-centric way of fighting that defied the enduring nature of war and resulted in a lessening of U.S. combat power for the wars the nation had to fight. The U.S. military may not suffer the same fate from Multi-Domain Battle. It is advancing at such a pace, however, that there has been little time to unpack all of the challenges its implementation may face, as well as the second order effects its employment will generate.
Over the past two decades the use of the word domain has attained wide acceptance in the military lexicon. Vague when described in doctrine, it exerts a strong influence by establishing the most basic boundaries of military functional identities. Despite the unquestioned usage of domain-centric terminology, the exact meaning of domain remains largely undefined without consideration of etymological origins. However, the word contains some built-in assumptions regarding how we view warfare that can limit our thinking. An ambiguous categorization of separate operating domains in warfare could actually pose an intractable conceptual threat to an integrated joint force, which is ironically the stated purpose of multi-domain battle.
Everything was in place. While the US and allied forces were still struggling to fully defeat enemy denial of service attacks, they had been able to communicate in short bursts with subordinate units. The plan was set. Land-based long-range missiles would initiate the attack by destroying enemy sea based jammers. At the same time, a manned-unmanned teaming attack, combining stealthy Air Force UAVs for targeting and Army long range missiles, would pinpoint and destroy the enemy’s air defense nodes to begin to regain contested airspace.
The United States faces a changing and more uncertain military future. The military dominance that the United States easily assumed following the end of the Cold War – and demonstrated in the Gulf War – is no longer so assured. Potential American adversaries are developing capabilities to challenge American strengths. The American military must develop new concepts and capabilities to continue to guarantee the military supremacy Americans expect. Multi-Domain Battle is an effort to develop these necessary concepts and capabilities. It will provide the means to counter adversaries who seek to break the current American military system. Multi-Domain Battle will deepen and expand current joint doctrine. It will allow the services to move beyond synchronization and converge their capabilities in their respective domains to open windows of relative advantage in a domain or several domains to gain the initiative. The concept also specifically challenges land forces to adapt and prepare for situations in which the complete American control of the air, sea, cyberspace and space, formerly a forgone conclusion, is no longer. This fictional depiction describes how the United States military might apply Multi-Domain Battle as a concept to defeat a near peer threat. The story does not describe any real potential adversary. The majority of geographic locations are fictional. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to any real individual is accidental.
Multi-Domain Battle offers a conceptual structure for an extension of the technological and doctrinal Second Offset. This combination can continue to offset any adversary's ability to mass effects in the cyber, information, and electro-magnetic spectrum as well as massed lethal fires. The desired capabilities needed to force seams in enemy defenses and establish temporary windows of opportunity in the physical and cyber domains will serve to set disciplined conditions for a conceptual and actual Third Offset.