Marco J. Lyons is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army who has served in tactical and operational Army, Joint, and interagency organizations in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and in the Western Pacific. He is currently a national security fellow at Harvard Kennedy School where he is researching strategy and force planning for war in the Indo-Pacific. He may be contacted at email@example.com. The author thanks David E. Johnson for helpful comments on an earlier draft. 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.
Title: Assessing the Foundation of Future U.S. Multi-Domain Operations
Date Originally Written: February 15, 2022.
Date Originally Published: March 14, 2022.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author believes that U.S. adversaries pose a greater threat if they outpace the U.S. in both technological development and integration.
Summary: Both U.S. Joint Forces and potential adversaries are trying to exploit technology to lock in advantage across all domains. Through extensive human-machine teaming and better ability to exploit both initiative (the human quality augmented by AI/ML) and non-linearity, Army/Joint forces will lose the fight unless they perform better, even if only marginally better, than adversaries – especially at the operational level.
Text: The 2018 U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) 2028 is a future operational concept – not doctrine – and not limited to fielded forces and capabilities. A future operational concept consists of a “problem set,” a “solution set,” and an explanation for why the solution set successfully addresses the problem set. Since 2018, there have been ongoing debates about what MDO are – whether they are revamped AirLand Battle or they are a next evolution of joint operations. Before the Army finishes translating the concept into doctrine, a relook at MDO through historical, theoretical, and doctrinal lenses is necessary.
The historical context is the 1990-1991 Gulf War, the Korean War, and the European and Pacific Theaters of World War Two. The theoretical basis includes Clausewitzian war, combined arms, attrition, and Maneuver Warfare. The doctrinal basis includes not just AirLand Battle, but also AirLand Battle – Future (ALB–F), Non-Linear Operations, and the 2012 Capstone Concept for Joint Operations. ALB–F was meant to replace AirLand Battle as the Army’s operational concept for the 1990s, before the end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union interrupted its development. Never incorporated into Field Manual (FM) 100-5, Operations, ALB–F emphasized the nonlinear battlefield and conceived of combat operations through information-based technologies.
This assessment presupposes the possibility of great power war, defines potential enemies as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Russian Armed Forces, assumes the centrality of major theater operations, and accepts that the Army/Joint force may still have to operate in smaller-scale contingencies and against enemy forces that represent subsets of the PLA and Russian Armed Forces. By assuming the PLA and Russian Armed Forces, this conceptual examination is grounded in the characteristics of opposing joint forces, mechanized maneuver, and primarily area fires.
The Army/Joint force faces a core problem at each level of war. At the strategic level, the problem is preclusion, i.e., potential adversaries will use instruments of national power to achieve strategic objectives before the U.S./coalition leaders have the opportunity to respond. At the operational level, the central problem is exclusion. Anti-access/area denial is just one part of operational exclusion. Potential adversaries will use military power to split combined/joint forces and deny U.S./coalition ability to maneuver and mass. The tactical problem is dissolution. By exploiting advantages at the strategic and operational levels, potential adversaries will shape tactical engagements to be close-to-even fights (and potentially uneven fights in their favor), causing attrition and attempting to break U.S./coalition morale, both in fighting forces and among civilian populations.
The best area to focus conceptual effort combines the determination of alliance/coalition security objectives of the strategic level of warfare with the design of campaigns and major operations of the operational level of warfare. The Army/Joint force will only indirectly influence the higher strategic-policy level. The problem of preclusion will be addressed by national-multinational policy level decisions. The tactical level of warfare and its attendant problems will remain largely the same as they have been since 1917. If Army/Joint forces are not able to win campaigns at the operational level and support a viable military strategy that is in concert with higher level strategy and policy, the outcomes in great power war (and other major theater wars) will remain in doubt.
The fundamentals of operational warfare have not changed substantially, but the means available have shrunk in capacity, become outdated, capabilities have atrophied, and understanding has become confused. Today’s Unified Land Operations (ULO) doctrine is, not surprisingly, a product of full-dimensional and full-spectrum operations, which were themselves primarily informed by a geopolitical landscape free of great power threats. Applying ULO or even earlier ALB solution sets to great power threats will prove frustrating, or possibly even disastrous in war.
Given the primary operational problem of contesting exclusion by peer-adversary joint and mechanized forces, using various forms of multi-system operations, future Army/Joint forces will have to move under constant threat of attack, “shoot” at various ranges across multiple domain boundaries, and communicate faster and more accurately than the enemy. One way to look at the operational demands listed above is to see them as parts of command and control warfare (C2). C2 warfare, which has probably always been part of military operations, has emerged much more clearly since Napoleonic warfare. Looking to the future, C2 warfare will probably evolve into something like “C4ISR warfare” with the advent of more automation, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep neural networks.
With technological advances, every force – or “node,” i.e., any ship, plane, or battalion – is able to act as “sensor,” “shooter,” and “communicator.” Command and control is a blend of intuition, creativity, and machine-assisted intelligence. Maximum exploitation of computing at the edge, tactical intranets (communication/data networks that grow and shrink depending on their AI-/ML-driven sensing of the environment), on-board deep data analysis, and laser/quantum communications will provide the technological edge leaders need to win tactical fights through initiative and seizing the offense. Tactical intranets are also self-defending. Army/Joint forces prioritize advancement of an “internet of battle things” formed on self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-healing networks – the basic foundation of human-machine teaming. All formations are built around cross-domain capabilities and human-machine teaming. To maximize cross-domain capabilities means that Army/Joint forces will accept the opportunities and vulnerabilities of non-linear operations. Linear warfare and cross-domain warfare are at odds.
Future major operations are cross-domain. So campaigns are built out of airborne, air assault, air-ground and air-sea-ground attack, amphibious, and cyber-ground strike operations – all enabled by space warfare. This conception of MDO allows service forces to leverage unique historical competencies, such as Navy’s Composite Warfare Commander concept and the Air Force’s concept of multi-domain operations between air, cyberspace, and space. The MDO idea presented here may also be seen – loosely – as a way to scale up DARPA’s Mosaic Warfare concept. To scale MDO to the operational level against the potential adversaries will also require combined forces for coalition warfare.
MDO is an evolution of geopolitics, technology, and the character of war – and it will only grow out of a complete and clear-eyed assessment of the same. Army/Joint forces require a future operational concept to expeditiously address emerging DOTMLPF-P demands. This idea of MDO could create a formidable Army/Joint force but it cannot be based on superiority, let alone supremacy. Great power war holds out the prospects for massive devastation and Army/Joint forces for MDO are only meant to deter sufficiently (not perfectly). Great power war will still be extended in time and scale, and Army/Joint forces for MDO are principally meant to help ensure the final outcome is never substantially in doubt.
 U.S. Department of the Army, Training and Doctrine Command, TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1, The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 (Fort Eustis, VA: Government Printing Office, 2018).
 U.S. Department of the Army, TRADOC Pamphlet 71-20-3, The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Concept Development Guide (Fort Eustis, VA: Headquarters, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, December 6, 2011), 5–6.
 See Dennis Wille, “The Army and Multi-Domain Operations: Moving Beyond AirLand Battle,” New America website, October 1, 2019, https://www.newamerica.org/international-security/reports/army-and-multi-domain-operations-moving-beyond-airland-battle/; and Scott King and Dennis B. Boykin IV, “Distinctly Different Doctrine: Why Multi-Domain Operations Isn’t AirLand Battle 2.0,” Association of the United States Army website, February 20, 2019, https://www.ausa.org/articles/distinctly-different-doctrine-why-multi-domain-operations-isn’t-airland-battle-20.
 Stephen Silvasy Jr., “AirLand Battle Future: The Tactical Battlefield,” Military Review 71, no. 2 (1991): 2–12. Also see Jeff W. Karhohs, AirLand Battle–Future—A Hop, Skip, or Jump? (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Army Command and General Staff College, School of Advanced Military Studies, 1990).
 This of course reverses what the Army identified as a U.S. advantage – strategic preclusion – in doctrinal debates from the late 1990s. See James Riggins and David E. Snodgrass, “Halt Phase Plus Strategic Preclusion: Joint Solution for a Joint Problem,” Parameters 29, no. 3 (1999): 70–85.
 U.S. Joint Forces Command, Major Combat Operations Joint Operating Concept, Version 2.0 (Norfolk, VA: Department of Defense, December 2006), 49–50. The idea of operational exclusion was also used by David Fastabend when he was Deputy Director, TRADOC Futures Center in the early 2000s.
 World War I was a genuine military revolution. The follow-on revolutionary developments, like blitzkrieg, strategic bombing, carrier warfare, amphibious assaults, and information warfare, seem to be essentially operational level changes. See Williamson Murray, “Thinking About Revolutions in Military Affairs,” Joint Force Quarterly 16 (Summer 1997): 69–76.
 See Dan Struble, “What Is Command and Control Warfare?” Naval War College Review 48, no. 3 (1995): 89–98. C2 warfare is variously defined and explained, but perhaps most significantly, it is generally included within broader maneuver warfare theory.
 Alexander Kott, Ananthram Swami, and Bruce J. West, “The Internet of Battle Things,” Computer: The IEEE Computer Society 49, no, 12 (2016): 70–75.
 Theresa Hitchens, “DARPA’s Mosaic Warfare — Multi Domain Ops, But Faster,” Breaking Defense website, September 10, 2019, https://breakingdefense.com/2019/09/darpas-mosaic-warfare-multi-domain-ops-but-faster/.