Major Jeffrey Day is a Royal Canadian Engineer officer currently attending the United States Army School of Advanced Military Studies. He can be found on Twitter @JeffDay27. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  U.S. military Multi Domain Operations (MDO) to Penetrate adversary Anti Access / Area Denial (A2/AD) Systems.

Date Originally Written:  February 27, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  March 20, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of the United States military.

Background:  U.S. Army Field Manual 3-0, Operations warns of the potential for near-peer or great power conflict against adversaries who can compete and oppose the United States in all domains and achieve relative advantage either regionally or worldwide[1].  On the other hand, TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 The United States Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 implies that if competition and deterrence fail, the Joint Force quickly penetrates and disintegrates (A2/AD) systems and exploits the resulting freedom in order to win[2]. The MDO concept at this time does not include a shaping phase. Field Manual 3-0 describes how “Global Operations to Shape” continue through the joint phases of conflict, but the tasks listed are passive[3].

Significance:  There is a contradiction between these two U.S. Army concepts. If an enemy can compete and oppose the United States across all domains, quickly penetrating and disintegrating the enemy’s A2/AD would be at best extremely costly in resources, effort, and lives, and at worst impossible. The U.S. military relies on having a position of relative advantage in an area which it can exploit to create the conditions to be able to penetrate and disintegrate enemy A2/AD. Achieving that position is essential to the successful application of the MDO concept, but the enemy A2/AD systems can post a threat to U.S. forces and maneuver hundreds of miles from their borders.

Option #1:  The U.S. military conducts shaping operations in the peripheries, exploiting the enemy’s vulnerabilities throughout the global maneuver space, to indirectly weaken A2/AD systems.

The Second World War has several examples of the belligerents exercising this option. Prior to D-Day, the Allies limited German access to weather information through the Greenland campaign. Weather intelligence from Greenland was extremely useful to accurately predict European weather[4]. Rear-Admiral E.H. Smith of the United States Coast Guard organized the Northeast Greenland Sledge Patrol in the fall of 1941. It consisted of Danish and Norwegian trappers and Inuit hired to regularly patrol the East coast of Greenland and report any signs of enemy activity[5]. Through their operations, and other missions, Germany access to quality weather information, and thus their ability to forecast European weather was greatly reduced. U.S. President Eisenhower highlighted the importance of the weather data secured by the Allies and denied to the Axis many years after the war. When President Kennedy asked President Eisenhower why the invasion of Normandy had been successful, Eisenhower’s response was, “Because we had better meteorologists than the Germans![6]” What Eisenhower really meant was that the Allies had better weather data than the Germans, a position of relative advantage which largely came from shaping operations prior to attempting to defeat the Atlantic Wall, which is an historic example of an early A2/AD system. Throughout the history of global war there are campaigns in the peripheries with similar objectives. Examples include Germany attempts to deny British access to middle eastern oil in the Second World War, and the British campaign to secure eastern Indian Ocean sea lines of communication by capturing Madagascar during the Second World War.

Risk:  It took the Allies until 1944 before they set the conditions to attack into northern mainland Europe. U.S. shaping efforts today will also take time, during which the enemy will be able to further prepare their defense or also exploit opportunities in the global maneuver space. Due to their lack of mass, the smaller U.S. forces committed to the peripheries will be vulnerable to an enemy set on retaining their position of advantage.

Gain:  Shaping operations in the peripheries can be useful by:

  • Securing, seizing, or denying access to critical resources
  • Securing, seizing, or denying access to intelligence
  • Defending access to or denying enemy access to strategic lines of communication

By retaining critical capabilities and degrading the enemy’s critical requirements, the United States may be able to force the enemy to rely solely on resources, information, and lines of communication within the enemy’s area of control. If this area of control is continually diminished through the continued execution of peripheral campaigns, the United States will be able to attack in the primary theaters at a time of their choosing and from a position of relative advantage or perhaps even absolute advantage. By weakening the enemy’s A2/AD systems peripherally over a longer period of time, there will be better assessments of their residual capabilities and duration of the weaknesses.

Option #2:  The U.S. military commits resources to ensure technological dominance within specific aspects of domains to permit the Joint Force to quickly penetrates and disintegrates A2/AD.

Through extensive scientific and technical research and development, as well as reliance on technical intelligence to understand the enemies’ capabilities, the United States can ensure that it maintains a position of relative advantage along critical segments of all domains. Option #2 will enable the exploitation of vulnerabilities in enemy A2/AD systems, permitting disruption at key times and locations. Secrecy and operational security will be essential to ensure the enemy is not aware of the U.S. overmatch until it is too late to react.

Risk:  If the enemy is able to counter and minimize the calculated U.S. overmatch through intelligence, superior science, or luck, joint force entry and MDO will fail. It also will be more difficult to assess the impact of actions made to degrade enemy A2/AD systems or the enemy may repair systems before the joint force is able to permanently disintegrate them.

Gain:  This option exploits and does not cede the current technological advantage the United States holds over its competitors. Additionally, it permits the United States to conduct short and decisive operations. Potential enemies will waste resources developing resilient A2/AD systems, with expensive defensive measures protecting all perceived vulnerabilities. To counter these measures, the United States military only has to develop specific specialized capabilities, to penetrate A2/AD at points of their choosing, therefore retaining the initiative.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


[1] U.S. Department of the Army, Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 3-0, Operations. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2017), 13.

[2] TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 – The United States Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, December 6, 2018.

[3] The tasks listed in Field Manual 3-0 are: Promoting and protecting U.S. national interests and influence, building partner capacity and partnerships, recognizing and countering adversary attempts to gain positions of relative advantage, and setting the conditions to win future conflicts

[4] C.L Godske and Bjerknes, V, Dynamic Meteorology and Weather Forecasting (Boston: American Meteorological Society, 1957), 536

[5] David Howarth, The Sledge Patrol (New York, NY: The MacMillan Company, 1960), 13.

[6] “Forecasting D-Day,” NASA Earth Observatory, last modified June 5, 2019, accessed October 27, 2019,