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”?
Hybrid states emphasize direct and indirect approaches across land, air, sea, space, and cyber domains to achieve geopolitical objectives. The objectives of the hybrid state are unbounded and accelerated policy to deter and influence relevant actors.To develop resilience to both direct and indirect approaches to such strategies, targeted nations must understand the operational environment, its cross-domain effects, and the evolving character of war. It is imperative this comprehensive understanding of the operational environment encompasses planning considerations that include the adversary’s critical factors.
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.
Democracy will always benefit from the requirement to persuade the public––to gain consensus on, and legitimacy for, the use of force in order to defend or pursue national interests. If this opportunity is ceded for fear of being unconvincing, or in fear of explaining the ugliness it will entail, then a society will find itself bereft of clarity in the political objective and therefore unable to craft strategy appropriate the task at hand. Furthermore, the failure to have these discussions leaves the populace underprepared for the brutality and sacrifice that war may require.
In 105 days the Finns defeated a Soviet force ten times as large and with orders of magnitude more tanks, artillery and airplanes. The tactical and operational victory by the Finns demonstrates that a weaker force can defeat a stronger one, but only by fighting and operating differently and not simply fighting in the traditional, accepted ways.
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.