Throughout the past twenty years the appearance of new threats has been harbinger of increasing complexity in conflicts. Given this, the success of future military operations requires improvement in joint and combined Command & Control structures to achieve better joint action capability across the entire range of environments.
Multi-Domain Operation (MDO): On Ward!
We know that our purpose is a just and moral one, for we seek only peace with freedom and we can succeed in this great endeavour only if each and every one of us is willing to give the full measure of courage, sacrifice, work and vision, not in a divided effort but working together in pursuit of our common goal. (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
Preliminary note: This product is designed to provide an independent opinion. It does not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of NATO and/or the Nations quoted in the article.
A complex and ever-changing environment yet to come
Over the last two decades of conflict adversaries have closely studied western countries at war through operation led by nations, coalition or international organisations like NATO,(1) European Union (EU) or United Nations (UN). The numerous operations (UNIFIL,(2) Atalanta,(3) KFOR,(4) ISAF,(5) Enduring Freedom,(6) NATO Traning Mission–Iraq,(7) Unified Protector,(8) and others) these countries have been involved in enabled their adversaries to know quite well their modus operandi and why it is successful applying operations concepts that emphasize joint and combined operations; technological dominance; global power projection; strategic, operational, and tactical manoeuvre; effective joint fires; sustainment at scale; and mission command initiative. Adversaries have analyzed, systems, capabilities, and tactics attempting to minimize their disadvantages in every domains.
At the same time, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, nanotechnology, robotics, and quantic computing, are profoundly anchored in the reasons why the characteristics of modern wars are fundamentally changing. These technologies are developed and their military applications become more and more well-defined. These evolutions have the potential to revolutionize battlefields unlike anything since the integration of aviation which began the era of combined arms warfare. Strategic competitors rely on these emerging technologies to develop capabilities to fight in all domains – land, air, sea, space and cyberspace. In this new realm great powers compete to achieve their strategic goal and the current military problem remains to maintain the ability to defeat multiple layers of stand-off in all domains in order to maintain the coherence of operations.
The NATO Strategic Foresight Analysis(9) (report published by ACT(10) in 2017) and the most recent Framework for Future Alliance Operations (FFAO, 2018) mention a number of commonly-accepted indicators of what the future might look like, noting that the environment is complex and ever-changing. The future will likely bring a wide range of new threats coming from emerging technology or from new, creative, and innovative tactics, techniques, procedures, capabilities, or doctrine. Without suffering the cost of research and development, hostile actors can capitalise on technological advancements and translate them into capabilities that engender threats to other nations. Examples of areas where technology could revolutionise warfare are sub-surface and subterranean operations, swarm techniques, space based weapons, directed energy, autonomous systems and sensors, quantum computing, unmanned systems, electromagnetically launched projectiles, renewable energy, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and nanotechnology. Technology will also change the way information will be disseminated and will probably require changes in how military organisations are managed and structured, as well as how decision-making is conducted. Additionally the technical capacity to monitor actions, almost without geographical limitations, gives global audiences access to the gigantic information flow related to a conflict. Hence, the fight for creating perceptions becomes an essential part for future conflicts. Bottom line, it seems fair to conclude that the nature of war and conflicts will become even more complex and will change even more rapidly than it does nowadays.
One step further in effects based operations
Kinetic aspect will still remain where traditional kinetic effects are used to disable and destroy. However, arising abilities to act through new domains implies to change modus operandi. For instance, the cyber domain which is reasonably familiar now (although it is still maturing) is a critical enabler for capabilities in the kinetic fields. Command and Control of military forces, designed primarily to achieve kinetic effects, still needs to implement cyber and related new tools to achieve their objectives in the designated domains. At the same time, kinetic forces should guarantee coordinated and combined operations can take place with forces designed to primarily operate in the cyber domain. In this new framework the C2-approach may not need a drastic change, although it will necessitate some adjustments. These adjustments might include: process changes to take benefit from any capabilities provided by advanced technology, and generation of staff, tools and techniques to operate in all domain.
Prevailing in future operations means a joint force is able to accomplish assigned missions and affect the will of the adversary through a combination of multi domain effects. Multi-domain operations are not just operations led in one domain with the support of services from the others (e.g. an air campaign enhanced with support of assets and effects on the ground, at sea or in space and cyber). Multi-domain operations must provide the ability to generate offensive and defensive capabilities from all domains in order to create complex dilemmas for an adversary at a tempo that they can’t respond to. One of the best examples for how multi-domain operations can solve current military problems is that of suppression of enemy air defences. In the multi domain operation concept, a joint force will have the ability to conduct that mission from platform on the ground, at sea, in air, space and cyber to independently generate effects in those domains to create more problem for the adversary.
C2 development: what’s the next step?
This shift to multi-domain operations is going to take time as some facets still need to be thought through. As an example, one of the critical one is determining what a command structure under MDC2(11) will look like. Without a foundational level, the best ideas will just crumble the whole architecture. These foundations could include elements such as Multi-domain operations concepts, C2 and MDO experts, MDC2 tools.
This updated framework of action will provide the joint force commander the ability to face new challenges. Knowing that separate operations centres will not serve the need for future wars, he will persistently need an appropriate cross-domain information sharing between air, land, maritime, space and cyberspace. To that aim, development of a Multi Domain Command and Control capabilities which will impeccably support analysis, fusion and sharing of information for the benefit of all domains of operation will be indispensable. To execute capabilities across all of the domains, command and control structure that can seamlessly exercise the appropriate kind of weaponry will be key. To get there, C2 system interfaces must evolved beyond their current capability and road-blocks to sharing must be removed. If one component wants to build a single global network linking Air, Sea, Land, Space and Cyberspace, it must first pursue further in sharing proprietary data and remove existing barriers. Once this new environment is firmly in place, then they can begin to build in multi-domain C2. At that juncture, when multi-domain C2 capabilities exist, multi-domain operations will become achievable.
In this new realm Artificial Intelligence (AI)(12) could also be fundamental to converging capabilities across all domains. An important implication for future military commanders will be the expected interaction with intelligent support systems that have the ability to explain themselves. Research is now being done to allow AI-applications to explain out-comes or decisions. Justifying one’s decisions and explaining “why” is already important, and may in the future become even more important with the proliferation of AI-applications. Trust in the supporting system, either with human staff or a different level of AI-algorithms, is essential for a Commander. This will also have implications for the delegation of authority and assigning tasks during the command and control process. The technological opportunities will outpace the social acceptance of AI-based authority. Careful and closely monitored delegation of both tasks and authority with future commanders is expected to be required.
Human capital: the centrepiece
Nevertheless in human-machine teaming, human factor will hold a central position. Joint forces will necessitate adequate training to be able to think outside the box for doing MDC2 using personnel from all branches. Services have to work to build a C2 workforce (officers and enlisted) to engrain the expertise and proficiency at a career level rather than see personnel cycle in and out on short term rotations. Combination of effects will imply to comprehend all domain characteristics and to acquire the ability to decide and act adequately. For instance, real time situational awareness and subsequent responses will probably play a crucial role when carrying out operations in space, cyberspace or air. Hence, any movement towards multi domain must be with change in how we develop our personnel. If an MDC2 career concept took further form, for it to succeed it must ensure personnel are truly joint-trained and joint-minded, while retaining the expertise in their component capabilities. This requires exposure to the full spectrum of joint capabilities in both educational and operational settings, and experiences in the future MDC2 environment.
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To tackle the lack of “Jointness” of Air Forces the TSSG(13) has proposed the creation of specific career path devoted to developing operational level staff to not only fight jointly but to understand how to employ the spectrum of Joint capabilities across a multi-domain environment. Similarly, the US Air force will work to build a C2 workforce cadre of officers to engrain the expertise and proficiency at a career level rather than see personnel cycle in and out on short-terms rotations. While an interesting concept, this idea is contrary to what some authorities espouse. That’s, a future operational level staff (Joint) must be comprises of expert in each of the single service capabilities, rather it takes years of tactical/tactical-operational level experience to develop. So, what can be done to creat more highly capable Joint officers while keeping a balance with their parent Service’s core competencies?
To improve its Jointness, and to improve the effective use of air power in a Joint environment as the first step towards multi-domain operations, threatened nations must be able to address two questions:
1. How do they train air component commanders to plan air campaigns and to plan the Air power contribution to a joint campaign?
2. What needs to be done to tailor any existing training/exercises to better prepare commanders to plan for, and exercise, Air power in Joint campaigns?
These inquiries and wished-for way ahead seem to be relevant for all other services. A Multi-domain campaign will only become achievable once joint forces are effectively trained for multi-domain operations and adequately equipped with multi-domain C2 capabilities. In addition to these MDO experts and MDC2 tools, a foundational level including elements such as Multi-domain operations concepts will be key.
Preliminary note: This product is designed to provide an independent opinion. It does not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of NATO and/or the Nations quoted in the article.
(1) At present, North Atlantic Treaty Organization has 29 members. In 1949, there were 12 founding members of the Alliance: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom and United States. The other member countries are: Greece and Turkey (1952), Germany (1955), Spain (1982), Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (2004), Albania and Croatia (2009), and Montenegro (2017).
(2) The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is a peacekeeping mission established on 19 March 1978 by UN Security Council Resolutions 425 and 426, to confirm Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon which Israel had invaded five days prior, restore international peace and security, and help the government of Lebanon restore its effective authority in the area.
(3) The EU Naval Force-Somalia (Operation Atalanta) was launched on 8 December 2008 and is conducted in accordance with UN Security Council’s resolutions. The Operation has been extended until December 2020 and has the following objectives: 1-Protects vessels of the World Food Programme and other vulnerable shipping; 2-deters, prevents and represses piracy and armed robbery at sea; 3-monitors fishing activities off the coast of Somalia, and 4-Supports other EU missions and international organisations working to strengthen maritime security and capacity in the region.
(4) The Kosovo FORce (KFOR) is a NATO-led international peacekeeping force which is responsible for establishing a secure environment in Kosovo.
(5) The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF): was a NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan, established by the United Nations Security Council in December 2001 by Resolution 1386, as envisaged by the Bonn Agreement.
(6) Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) refers to the U.S. led combat operation which supports the Global War on Terror (GWOT) active in Afghanistan, the Philippines, and parts of Africa. The operation was intended to bring stability to Afghanistan and to prevent the emergence of terrorist cells in the region.
(7) The NATO Training Mission-Iraq (NTM-I) was established in 2004 at the request of the Iraqi Interim Government under the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1546. NTM-I was not a combat mission but was a distinct mission, under the political control of NATO’s North Atlantic Council.
(8) Operation Unified Protector was a NATO operation in 2011 enforcing UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 concerning the Libyan Civil War and adopted on 26 February and 17 March 2011, respectively.
(9) The SFA Report identifies trends that will shape the future strategic context and derive implications for the Alliance out to 2035 and beyond. It provides an iterative assessment of trends and their implications to understand and visualise the nature of the dynamic and complex security environment. The SFA is the initial phase of the ongoing Long-Term Military Transformation efforts at ACT and sets the intellectual foundation for a follow-on report, the Framework for Future Alliance Operations. The SFA Report examines the main trends of global change and the resultant defence and security implications for NATO, highlighting challenges as well as opportunities. It is structured along the following themes: political, human, technology, economics/resources and environment.
(10) Allied Command Transformation’s mission is to contribute to preserving the peace, security and territorial integrity of Alliance member states by leading the warfare development of military structures, forces, capabilities and doctrines. The mission must enable NATO to meet its level of ambition and core missions.
From its inception in 2003, ACT demonstrated the importance placed by NATO Nations on the roles of transformation and development as continuous and essential drivers for change—drivers of change that will ensure the relevance of the Alliance in a rapidly evolving and complex global security environment. ACT is organized around four principal functions: Strategic thinking; Development of capabilities; Education, training and exercises; and, Co-operation and engagement.
These functions are reflected in the composition of ACT which has its Headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia and three subordinate entities in Norway (Joint Warfare Centre), in Poland (Joint Force Training Centre) and in Portugal (Joint Analysis & Lessons Learned Centre).
(11) MDC2: Multi domain command and control.
(12) “AI will profoundly change military organizational planning and coordination. The implementation of AI in the battlefield would mean advancing into a “hyper war” where current decision-making processes could be disrupted by the enormous speed of development and the ability of machine learning by AI applications. It is, therefore, key for the Alliance to implement AI applications into their militaries’ planning, operations, and coordination”. Karlijn Jans, NATO Needs to Get Smarter About AI, Atlantic Council, July 10, 2018 (www.atlanticcouncil.org/).
(13) Comprising US, UK and France Air forces, the Tri-lateral Strategic Steering Group has investigated the concept of multi-domain warfare. According to their studies future adversaries will blend conventional, asymmetric and hybrid capabilities across each of the traditional physical domain (Air, Land and Space) plus Cyber and Space, they postulate that a more comprehensive approach to dealing with this security is needed to operate in this type of multi-domain environment. Furthermore they assert that not only is this multi-domain operations concept a potential for the future but that element of it already exist with the US, British and French national perspectives on warfare today.
ACT, Strategic Foresight Analysis (SFA), 2017 report, 87 pages (www.act.nato.int)
ACT, Framework for future Alliance operations, 2018 (www.act.nato.int/).
Tim, Multi-Domain Command and Control, Maintaining Our Asymmetric Advantage, Joint Air Power Competence Center, 2018 (www.japcc.org/multi-domain-command-and-control/).
US Army Training and Documentation Command (TRADoc), The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 (Pamphlet, 525-3-1, 2018, 102 pages (www.tradoc.army.mil/Portals/14/Documents/MDO/TP525-3-1_30Nov2018.pdf).
Tri-lateral Strategic Steering Group studies on future warfare.