An Assessment of Thinking Big About Future Warfare 

Marco J. Lyons is a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel 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 marco_lyons@hks.harvard.edu. 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:  An Assessment of Thinking Big About Future Warfare 

Date Originally Written:  April 15, 2022. 

Date Originally Published:  May 2, 2022.

Summary:  There are critical, outstanding disconnects between U.S./western military theory, forces, and doctrine that hamper linking military strategy to national policy. Big ideas about future warfare matter primarily around seizing and maximizing advantages over potential adversaries to compel favorable policy outcomes. The big ideas are useful and matter because identifying, developing, and deploying warfighting advantages unfolds over long periods of time.

Text:  Far more than any particular revolution in military affairs, western powers are witnessing what may be called an extended revolution in strategic affairs. Such dramatic and wide-reaching change in warfare and how it is conceived involves 1) fundamental questions of the utility and most effective forms of power and diplomacy; 2) challenges to future force planning caused by advances in information technologies, long-range, precision fires, and hybrid combinations of symmetrical and asymmetrical capabilities, and whether these define a new warfighting regime and character of war; and 3) influences of globalization – or more specifically, the security environments created by the various forces making up social and economic globalization – on militaries. Bringing these three dynamics together – and more may be added to the list – in a deeply integrated way will almost certainly yield a new paradigm of warfare. 

Both change and continuity are expected characteristics of the future security environment. Thinking about future big ideas is really only possible because there is enough continuity in history and military affairs[1]. Understanding future war is helped by elaborating on seven critical contexts or broad categories of circumstances: political, social-cultural, economic, military-strategic, technological, geographical, and historical[2].

It is difficult if not impossible to talk about big ideas in future warfare without referencing the possibilities for revolutionary change. One of the more popular ideas about the likelihood of new forms of warfare is the revolution in military affairs, or RMA, which nearly dominated defense publications and discussions in the 1990s. The term has a special linguistic power by implying historic, almost inevitable change[3]. Examinations of military history yield periods of profound change in war’s ever-changing character, and sometimes these periods may be called revolutionary, but these assessments are still difficult to complete in a fully persuasive manner[4]. There is no consensus view of the RMA as a way of thinking about future warfare. 

The early days of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) seemed to fall both within and outside the more traditional lines of western war[5]. But just because the U.S. Air Force contributed the core capabilities that allowed Joint Force commanders to achieve effects with air power in Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks did not mean that the character of military operations more broadly had changed. Early OEF was a case of what was possible given the seven critical contexts identified above. Although there are convincing reasons to believe that the character of future warfare will change, and probably change in significant ways, the fundamental nature of war will remain the same[6].

Defense planners thinking about the character of future warfare will be well-served by using a simplified list of four operational challenges. These operational challenges could be used to explore needed capabilities and force postures. The four might be: 1) early halt of an invasion with depth (e.g., Ukraine) or without (e.g., the Baltic states); 2) early attack and early counteroffensive to destroy an enemy combined arms army without the benefit of a massive force buildup first (e.g., Taiwan); 3) effective and low-risk intervention in an ongoing, complex conflict zone or region; and 4) effective low-risk peace enforcement in complex terrain including megacities[7]. There is nothing revolutionary about these four. 

It is inherently difficult to predict the exact course of future change, especially since future enemies will invariably have a say in these eventualities. Nonetheless it is important for defense planners to have a clear sense of the character and general scope of future conflict. While technology will almost certainly continue to evolve, including in the critical areas of reconnaissance and long-range precision fires, there is no overwhelming evidence that the character of future operations will change dramatically for ground forces in most types of missions, and especially in close combat in complex and urban terrain[8]. Tactical continuity is supreme. 

Big ideas about future warfare matter primarily around seizing and maximizing advantages over potential adversaries. Generally, the big ideas are useful and matter because identifying, developing, and deploying warfighting advantages always unfolds over longer periods of time. Finally, the exact nature of future warfighting advantages is highly situational – or contextual – and potential adversaries are presumably trying to counter friendly attempts to secure advantages[9]. The tension in “big idea versus context” illustrates the interactive nature of war. 

Doctrine and the other dimensions of force development are profoundly shaped by the reigning big ideas that capture the attention of military leaders and organizations. Those big ideas sketch what the organizations in question are prepared to do, against which opponents, in which operational environments[10]. So the U.S. Army, on the one hand, may want to cling to the big idea that the most consequential future conflicts will be major theater, conventional forces, maneuver and fire campaigns. Nonetheless, the indicators are that irregular fights – alongside large-scale combat operations – in complex hybrid combinations are not going anywhere. 

Implementing big ideas involves turning vision into things, concepts into capabilities and formations, and orchestrating grand actions in accordance with the vision[11]. Big ideas matter but after all, success is judged by adaptation.

Land forces, and particularly the U.S. Army, have been affected more than other military forces by the existential crisis in supposed relevance caused by the end of the Cold War, the lopsided victory in the First Gulf War, the advent of information technologies, revival of irregular and stability operations, and globalization. There are critical, outstanding disconnects between U.S./western military theory, forces, and doctrine that are, most likely, hampering the effective linking of military strategy to national policy. 


Endnotes:

[1] Colin S. Gray, “Another Bloody Century?” Infinity Journal, no. 4 (Fall 2011): 4–7, https://www.militarystrategymagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Infinity_Journal_Special_Edition_war_and_strategy_back_to_basics.pdf#page=14. Gray makes some of the most reasonable and persuasive arguments against assuming too much change in the character of war over time. 

[2] Colin S. Gray, “The 21st Century Security Environment and the Future of War,” Parameters 38, no. 4 (2008): 18, https://press.armywarcollege.edu/parameters/vol38/iss4/7/. Also see Warren Chin, “Technology, War and the State: Past, Present and Future,” International Affairs 95, no. 4 (July 2019): 765–783. Chin concludes that the relationship between war and the state may be in for dramatic change – an existential crisis – as another wave of industrialization, impacts of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies on societies and economies, as well as possible global climate emergencies tax the modern state to the point of breakdown. 

[3] Lawrence Freedman, The Revolution in Strategic Affairs, 1st ed. (London: Routledge, 1998), 7–8. 

[4] Carlo Alberto Cuoco, The Revolution in Military Affairs: Theoretical Utility and Historical Evidence, Research Paper, no. 142 (Athens, Greece: Research Institute for European and American Studies, April 2010), https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/115259/rieas142b.pdf. 

[5] Colin McInnes, “A Different Kind of War? September 11 and the United States’ Afghan War,” Review of International Studies 29, no. 2 (2003): 165–184, https://library.fes.de/libalt/journals/swetsfulltext/16323302.pdf. 

[6] David J. Lonsdale, The Nature of War in the Information Age: Clausewitzian Future (London: Frank Cass, 2004). Also see P.E.C. Martin, “Cyber Warfare Schools of Thought: Bridging the Epistemological/Ontological Divide, Part 1,” Royal Canadian Air Force Journal 5, no. 3 (Summer 2016): 43–69, https://rcaf-arc.forces.gc.ca/assets/AIRFORCE_Internet/docs/en/cf-aerospace-warfare-centre/elibrary/journal/2016-vol5-iss3-summer.pdf#cyber-warfare-schools-of-thought. 

[7] Paul K. Davis, David C. Gompert, Richard Hillestad, and Stuart Johnson, Transforming the Force: Suggestions for DoD Strategy (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1998), https://www.rand.org/pubs/issue_papers/IP179.html. 

[8] Michael E. O’Hanlon, The Future of Land Warfare (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2015), https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/25774. 

[9] Colin S. Gray, The Airpower Advantage in Future Warfare: The Need for Strategy (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University, Airpower Research Institute, December 2007), https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA477043.pdf. 

[10] Terry Terriff, “The Past as Future: The U.S. Army’s Vision of Warfare in the 21st Century,” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 15, no. 3 (2014): 195–228, https://jmss.org/article/view/58119/43736. 

[11] Robert H. Scales, Future Warfare: Anthology (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 2000), https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA365316.pdf. 

Assessment Papers Defense and Military Reform Governing Documents and Ideas Marco J. Lyons Policy and Strategy U.S. Army

U.S. Army Options to Regain Land Power Dominance

Marco J. Lyons is a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel 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 marco_lyons@hks.harvard.edu. Although the analysis presented here is the author’s alone, he has benefitted extensively from discussions with Dr. Ron Sega of U.S. Army Futures Command and Dr. Anthony “Tony” Tether a former Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. 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:  The U.S. Army has a modernization enterprise that is second-to-none but facing the highly capable militaries of China and Russia is an unprecedented challenge. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army planned to have a Taiwan invasion capability no later than the early 2020s[1]. The Russian military will probably have substantially increased its missile-based stand-off capabilities by the mid-2020s[2]. More alarmingly, Russia has succeeded in modernizing approximately 82 percent of its nuclear forces[3]. Russian conventional and nuclear modernization have both been factors in Moscow’s recent three-pronged invasion of Ukraine. 

Date Originally Written:  April 5, 2022. 

Date Originally Published:  April 18, 2022. 

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author has researched future operational concept development through the Army Science Board. The author believes that U.S. Army decision makers and analysts can more aggressively leverage past future force initiatives to address emerging threats from China and Russia. 

Background:  The ability to operate directly against adversary centers of gravity defines dominance. Dominant land power refers here to the ability of a land force to operate directly against the most decisive points that sustain an adversary force[4]. In land operations, a final decision requires control – through seizure, occupation, or retention – of terrain, people and resources using actual or threatened destruction or presence, or both[5]. America’s position as a global leader rests on its dominant land power[6]. 

Significance:  The character of warfare, the increasing interaction between the levels of war, and a concomitant need for higher echelon commanders to exercise military art on a broader scale and wider scope than earlier in history, all demand the U.S. Army refocus on the operational level[7]. The planning and command challenges at the operational level are more demanding than current doctrine would suggest. Moreover, the consequences of failure in major operations are difficult to overcome[8]. What has been called the theater-strategic level of war, or higher operational art, is poorly understood[9]. Three decades of post-Cold War stability and support operations, and two decades of counterinsurgency have helped the U.S. Army lose touch with the art of major operations. 

In only a few years China will have a trained, equipped, and cohesive invasion force and Russia will have a combat-capable force with recent experience in cross-domain operations. U.S. Army strategic leaders are already pressing for force transformation against these large-scale threats[10]. The Army can build on more than five years of modernization, the 2018 multi-domain operations concept, and a new global posture strategy to maintain the momentum needed to break the mold of the Brigade Combat Team-centric, Unified Land Operations-based force[11]. Importantly, U.S. Army planners can rapidly harvest important work done since the end of the Vietnam era. In competition, crisis, and armed conflict – in war – the United States needs a ready land force to deter unwanted escalation, assure allies and key partners, and compel beneficial geostrategic outcomes through force, if necessary. 

Option #1:  The U.S. Army revives and updates AirLand Battle–Future (ALBF). ALBF was meant to be a follow-on doctrine to AirLand Battle but was interrupted by the end of the Cold War and breakup of the Soviet Union. ALBF took the fundamentals of AirLand Battle and applied them to nonlinear battlefields and to advanced-technology capabilities – the same dynamics seen in the emerging operational environment. Additionally, ALBF extended operational concepts to operations short of war – like the competition short of armed conflict idea today[12]. 

Risk:  Major additions to the U.S. Army’s current doctrine development projects run the risk of delaying progress. Adding ALBF to the current Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) doctrine development may impose additional testing and validation demands. 

Gain:  An updated ALBF would provide a ready road map for the U.S. Army to move from the narrowly conceived 2018 Army in MDO concept to a published MDO doctrine which would replace Unified Land Operations. With the incorporation of a detailed view of multi-domain battle – still the heart of the MDO concept – an updated ALBF would provide the broad-based, low- to high-intensity doctrinal framework for the coming decades. 

Option #2:  The U.S. Army reinstitutes an updated Army of Excellence (AOE). The AOE was the last organization designed against a specified threat force – the Soviet Army and similarly-equipped enemy forces. The original rationale for the AOE was to reduce force “hollowness” by bringing personnel and materiel requirements within the limits of Army resources, enhance U.S. Army Corps-level capabilities to influence battle, and improve strategic mobility for immediate crisis response in regional conflicts[13]. This rationale is still relevant. Building on this rationale and using the Chinese People’s Liberation Army as a specified threat force, the Army could update the AOE (Light) Division to a “hybrid warfare” force and the AOE (Heavy) Division to a “high-technology, cross-domain maneuver” force. Echelons above division, with a reinstitution of corps-directed battle, could focus on layering advanced technology with multi-domain operations capabilities to conduct nonlinear and deep operations. 

Risk:  AOE was resource-intensive and a new AOE might also demand resources that may not materialize when needed. 

Gain:  An updated AOE organization would provide a familiar blueprint for fielding the land force for a more fully developed MDO doctrine. A new AOE would quickly restore robust and more survivable formations. 

Option #3:  The U.S. Army restarts the Army After Next (AAN). AAN locked on to technological maturation timelines that turned out to be wildly optimistic[14]. But many of the concepts, not least information dominance, precision fires, and focused logistics, were valid in the mid-1990s and remain so – the challenges are in testing, validation, and integration. Today, some of the early-envisioned AAN capabilities will soon be fielded. Various new fires systems, including Extended Range Cannon Artillery and Long-Range Precision Fire missiles, will provide the greatly extended range and higher accuracy needed to destroy enemy anti-access, area denial systems. As part of MDO, these new fires systems can be linked with forward operating F-35 multirole combat aircraft and ideally a constellation of low earth orbiting sensor platforms to achieve unprecedented responsiveness and lethality. The first battery of tactical directed energy weapons are in development, and even the combat cloud imagined by AAN planners, now called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (or an alternative capability solution), is a near-term reality[15]. 

Risk:  AAN may not have focused enough on lethality at the operational level of war, and so in reviving the effort, it is possible this same shortcoming could hamper MDO against near-peer enemy forces. 

Gain:  What AAN provided that is missing today is a comprehensive blueprint to channel the Army’s genuine and ‘unifying’ modernization campaign under Army Futures Command[16]. 

Other Comments:  The U.S. Army’s strategy defines a land power dominant force by 2028[17]. Under the current Army Chief of Staff, beginning in 2020, the U.S. Army is trying to more closely link readiness, modernization, posture, and force structure under a broad plan for “transformation”[18]. To focus force transformation, the American Army could revive past work on nonlinear warfare, corps battle command, and technologically-enabled, globally integrated operations. 

Recommendation:  None. 


Endnotes:

[1] Franz-Stefan Gady, “Interview: Ben Lowsen on Chinese PLA Ground Forces: Assessing the future trajectory of PLA ground forces development,” The Diplomat, April 8, 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/interview-ben-lowsen-on-chinese-pla-ground-forces/. 

[2] Fredrik Westerlund and Susanne Oxenstierna, eds., Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective – 2019 (Stockholm: Swedish Defence Research Agency, December 2019), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337948965_Russian_Military_Capability_in_a_Ten-Year_Perspective_-_2019. 

[3] Dakota L. Wood, ed., 2021 Index of U.S. Military Strength (Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation, 2021), https://www.heritage.org/sites/default/files/2020-11/2021_IndexOfUSMilitaryStrength_WEB_0.pdf. 

[4] Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Vision 2020: America’s Military – Preparing for Tomorrow (Washington, DC: National Defense University, Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2000), https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a526044.pdf. 

[5] Michael A. Vane and Robert M. Toguchi, “The Enduring Relevance of Landpower: Flexibility and Adaptability for Joint Campaigns,” Association of the United States Army, October 7, 2003, https://www.ausa.org/publications/enduring-relevance-landpower-flexibility-and-adaptability-joint-campaigns. 

[6] Williamson Murray, ed., Army Transformation: A View from the U.S. Army War College (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2001), https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/1560.pdf. 

[7] David Jablonsky, “Strategy and the Operational Level of War: Part I,” Parameters 17, no. 1 (1987): 65-76, https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA516154.pdf. 

[8] Milan Vego, “On Operational Leadership,” Joint Force Quarterly 77 (2nd Quarter 2015): 60-69, https://ndupress.ndu.edu/JFQ/Joint-Force-Quarterly-77/Article/581882/on-operational-leadership/. 

[9] Michael R. Matheny, “The Fourth Level of War,” Joint Force Quarterly 80 (1st Quarter 2016): 62-66, https://ndupress.ndu.edu/JFQ/Joint-Force-Quarterly-80/Article/643103/the-fourth-level-of-war/. 

[10] James C. McConville, Army Multi-Domain Transformation: Ready to Win in Competition and Conflict, Chief of Staff Paper #1, Unclassified Version (Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army, March 16, 2021), https://api.army.mil/e2/c/downloads/2021/03/23/eeac3d01/20210319-csa-paper-1-signed-print-version.pdf. 

[11] Billy Fabian, “Back to the Future: Transforming the U.S. Army for High-Intensity Warfare in the 21st Century,” Center for a New American Security, November 19, 2020, https://www.cnas.org/publications/commentary/back-to-the-future-transforming-the-u-s-army-for-high-intensity-warfare-in-the-21st-century. One recent study concluded that Unified Land Operations does not sufficiently focus on large-scale war against an enemy force. See Alan P. Hastings, Coping with Complexity: Analyzing Unified Land Operations Through the Lens of Complex Adaptive Systems Theory (Fort Leavenworth, KS: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 2019), https://cgsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/api/collection/p4013coll3/id/3894/download. 

[12] Terry M. Peck, AirLand Battle Imperatives: Do They Apply to Future Contingency Operations? (Fort Leavenworth, KS: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 1990), https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a234151.pdf. 

[13] Pat Ford, Edwin H. Burba, Jr., and Richard E. Christ, Review of Division Structure Initiatives, Research Product 95-02 (Alexandria, VA: Human Resources Research Organization, 1994), https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/citations/ADA297578. 

[14] Robert H. Scales, “Forecasting the Future of Warfare,” War on the Rocks, April 9, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/04/forecasting-the-future-of-warfare/. 

[15] Dan Gouré, “Creating the Army After Next, Again,” RealClearDefense, August 16, 2019, https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2019/08/16/creating_the_army_after_next_again_114670.html. 

[16] U.S. Army, 2019 Army Modernization Strategy: Investing in the Future (Fort Eustis, VA: Army Futures Command, 2019), 1,  https://www.army.mil/e2/downloads/rv7/2019_army_modernization_strategy_final.pdf.

[17] The United States Army, “The Army’s Vision and Strategy,” Army.mil, no date, https://www.army.mil/about/. The Army’s “WayPoint 2028” focused on concepts and modernization. The United States Army, “Gen. Michael Garrett Visit,” U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, August 18, 2020, https://usacac.army.mil/node/2739. The Army’s “AimPoint Force” structure plan was meant to revive capable warfighting echelons above brigade. Andrew Feickert, “In Focus: The Army’s AimPoint Force Structure Initiative,” Congressional Research Service, May 8, 2020, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/IF11542.pdf. The “AimPoint Force” was about designing networked capabilities for overmatch. Devon Suits, “Futures and Concepts Center evaluates new force structure,” Army.mil, April 22, 2020, https://www.army.mil/article/234845/futures_and_concepts_center_evaluates_new_force_structure. 

[18] Association of the United States Army, “McConville Advocates for Aggressive Transformation,” Association of the United States Army, October 14, 2020, https://www.ausa.org/news/mcconville-advocates-aggressive-transformation. 

Capacity / Capability Enhancement Defense and Military Reform Governing Documents and Ideas Major Regional Contingency Marco J. Lyons Option Papers U.S. Army

Assessing the Forces Driving the Redesign of U.S. Army Land Power

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 marco_lyons@hks.harvard.edu. Although the ideas here are the author’s alone, he benefitted from feedback provided by Colonel George Shatzer (Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College) 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 Forces Driving the Redesign of U.S. Army Land Power 

Date Originally Written:  March 23, 2022. 

Date Originally Published:  March 28, 2022.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that threat, geopolitical, and technological changes necessitate a reassessment of broad U.S. Army future force design parameters. Without this reassessment, the U.S. Army and the Joint Force risk wasting resources on obsolete conceptions. 

Summary:  Redesigning U.S. Army land power for the twenty-first century will require policy makers and defense leaders to negotiate numerous conflicting dynamics. Future U.S. Army forces will need to be immediately ready for crises but also adaptable. They will need to be powerful enough for major combat operations and organizationally flexible, but also tailored to missions and tasks. 

Text:  The principles that have historically guided U.S. Army force planning—size, mix, and distribution—to meet strategic needs include: early use of the Regular Component in a contingency; reliance on the Reserve Component for later-arriving forces; primacy of defeating an aggressor in major combat operations; capabilities for short-notice deployments; and the importance of readiness to deploy over cost considerations[1]. These principles will likely persist. 

Future technological factors will shape U.S. Army strategy, force structure, and planning decisions. Important technological changes that may decisively influence future U.S. Army force design include advances in information acquisition, processing, distribution, and utilization; capabilities for light, medium, and heavy forces; integrated air defense and protection; and changes to support and maintenance requirements for advanced systems. Demands to reconfigure forces for a broad range of contingencies will not shrink in the foreseeable future. The overriding imperative for air deploy-ability will not change significantly[2]. Like in the 1990s, come-as-you-are wars are still likely, but these require reconceptualization in a Great Power context. 

There will continue to be missions and tasks that only Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, or Airmen can realistically accomplish. Military power employment and military power integration and significantly different – the sum, integrated, is greater than the parts, acting independently. Missions and tasks of the future joint force will be assigned based on military necessity and objectives, and not based on predetermined formulas or a desire for equitability. Future force planning will balance forms of military power and the different major components within land power with the understanding that high-/low-technology mixes are generally superior to a reliance on only one end of the technology spectrum[3]. 

Military affairs are evolving rapidly as events in Ukraine illustrate. Ballistic missiles, precision strikes, unmanned systems, space and cyberspace, and weapon of mass destruction technologies are spreading to various areas around the world. The means and ways of warfare are changing. Battle space in the air, sea, space, and cyberspace domains, in which U.S. forces have enjoyed various degrees of dominance, is becoming increasingly contested[4]. This contestation directly threatens U.S. integration of joint functions, especially fires, movement and maneuver, and sustainment. 

Globalization creates both economic wealth and activity, along with security vulnerabilities. For many advanced economies, the range of security threats is expanding and becoming more varied. The twenty-first century is likely to see more so-called coalitions of the willing than formalized alliance structures like during World War Two. It is not clear that traditional military forces and capabilities will still retain their value and utility[5]. 

The unclassified summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) recognized a weakening, post-1945 international order. The 2018 NDS also called for increased strategic flexibility and freedom of action to manage a high volume of change[6]. Although accurately forecasting the future strategic environment is inherently prone to error, it is also practical to assume that major changes will happen rapidly in the wake of particular high-impact events[7]. 

Because future great power competitors will likely have formidable escalation capabilities, the importance of designing for escalation advantage in future force planning will increase. Part of the complexity being generated in the emerging operational environment is caused by the increasing number of competition-warfighting domains, expanding options for synergy between them, and their disparate considerations with respect to speed, range, and lethality. As the reach, penetrability, and effectiveness of sensors, networks, and weapon systems improve, the demands for integration of capabilities and effects across domains multiply[8]. One characteristic of the emerging operational environment worth watching is that more power centers have more ways to push events on the international stage to their liking[9]. This pushing might be called hyper-competition[10]. 

Future adversaries will almost invariably be fighting on or near land, near their home or otherwise controlled territory, with shorter and simpler lines of communications. Platform for platform, land ones are cheaper, less technologically complex, easier to produce in large numbers, and quicker to replace than their air and maritime counterparts[11]. Part of what makes the twenty-first century military challenge so seemingly intractable is that the drivers of change appear to be forcing adaptation across the full breadth of policy, security, and military dimensions[12]. This means that these traditional factors will almost certainly change in the near- to mid-future: federated military forces based on physical domains; alliances and partnerships of convenience; and “runaway” technological advances that are formulated for purely civilian use. 

Numerous dynamics suggest that the future joint force will be smaller but will still need to retain technological overmatch, rapid deploy-ability, joint and multinational interoperability, and organizational agility[13]. Force development is about getting the joint force to do what it does better while force design is about getting the joint force to do new things in new, more disruptive ways[14]. Changes to both force development and force design are needed to protect current and future overmatch. For national security, and for getting to the future force needed, force development is best when linked directly to the right kinds of research clusters looking at disruptive technologies, that can then be integrated quickly into the right kinds of military capabilities[15]. As for force design, U.S. Army Futures Command is a primary vehicle for delivering rapid technological integration to ground forces. Integrating various technological, research, and military activities based on a coherent view of future national security will take reformed national policy. 

Redesigning U.S. Army land power for the twenty-first century will require policy makers and defense leaders to negotiate numerous conflicting dynamics. Future U.S. Army forces will need to be immediately ready for crises but also adaptable. They will need to be powerful enough for major combat operations and organizationally flexible, but also tailored to missions and tasks. Countering Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine or the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will take forces dominant in and through the land domain while being fully relevant in all competition-warfighting domains – properly integrated with other forms of domain power. 


Endnotes:

[1] Joshua Klimas and Gian Gentile, Planning an Army for the 21st Century: Principles to Guide U.S. Army Force Size, Mix, and Component Distribution (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/perspectives/PE200/PE291/RAND_PE291.pdf. 

[2] National Research Council, Board on Army Science and Technology, Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems, STAR 21: Strategic Technologies for the Army of the Twenty-First Century (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1992), https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a275948.pdf. 

[3] William T. Johnsen, Redefining Land Power for the 21st Century (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 1998), https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA349014.pdf. 

[4] John Gordon IV, Igor Mikolic-Torreira, et al, Army Fires Capabilities for 2025 and Beyond (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2124.html. 

[5] The United States Commission on National Security/21st Century, New World Coming: American Security in the 21st Century Major Themes and Implications, The Phase I Report on the Emerging Global Security Environment for the First Quarter of the 21st Century, September 15, 1999, https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=2087. 

[6] James Mattis, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2018), https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=807329. 

[7] John A. Shaud, Air Force Strategy Study 2020-2030 (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, Air Force Research Institute, January 2011), https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a540345.pdf. 

[8] Training and Doctrine Command, The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare (Fort Eustis, VA: United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, n.d.), https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/mad-scientist/m/articles-of-interest/217736. 

[9] Richard Kaipo Lum, “A Map with No Edges: Anticipating and Shaping the Future Operating Environments,” Small Wars Journal, November 2020, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/map-no-edges-anticipating-and-shaping-future-operating-environments. 

[10] Cf. Nathan P. Freier, John Schaus, and William G. Braun III, An Army Transformed: USINDOPACOM Hypercompetition and U.S. Army Theater Design (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College Press, 2020), https://press.armywarcollege.edu/monographs/912. 

[11] Shmuel Shmuel, “The American Way of War in the Twenty-first Century: Three Inherent Challenges,” Modern War Institute, June 30, 2020, https://mwi.usma.edu/american-way-war-twenty-first-century-three-inherent-challenges/. 

[12] National Defense Panel, Transforming Defense—National Security in the 21st Century, Report of the National Defense Panel, Arlington, VA, December 1997, https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=1834. 

[13] See Prepared Statement by Dr. Mike Griffin, Senate Hearing 115-847, Accelerating New Technologies to Meet Emerging Threats, Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities of the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, 115th Congress, 2nd Session, April 18, 2018, U.S. Government Publishing Office, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-115shrg41257/html/CHRG-115shrg41257.htm. 

[14] Jim Garamone, “National Military Strategy Addresses Changing Character of War,” Department of Defense (website), July 12, 2019, https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/1903478/national-military-strategy-addresses-changing-character-of-war/. 

[15] Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Operating Environment, JOE 2035: The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World (Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs of Staff, July 14, 2016), https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/concepts/joe_2035_july16.pdf?ver=2017-12-28-162059-917. 

Assessment Papers Capacity / Capability Enhancement Governing Documents and Ideas Marco J. Lyons U.S. Army

Assessing the Foundation of Future U.S. Multi-Domain Operations

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 marco_lyons@hks.harvard.edu. 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[1]. 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[2]. 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[3]. 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[4]. 

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[5]. At the operational level, the central problem is exclusion[6]. 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[7]. 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[8]. 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[9]. 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[10]. 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. 


Endnotes:

[1] 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). 

[2] 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. 

[3] 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. 

[4] 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). 

[5] 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. 

[6] 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. 

[7] 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. 

[8] 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. 

[9] Alexander Kott, Ananthram Swami, and Bruce J. West, “The Internet of Battle Things,” Computer: The IEEE Computer Society 49, no, 12 (2016): 70–75. 

[10] 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/. 

Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning / Human-Machine Teaming Assessment Papers Governing Documents and Ideas Marco J. Lyons United States