Technology remains the key to unlocking the multi-domain future

Published 21 October 2020

 

Effective Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) will demand a range of technological and operational advances for the US military, according to senior defence and industry experts, with adaptations required in both procurement priorities and doctrine development.

MDO dominates thinking on the future of warfare for the US and its allies, particularly against the backdrop of rising peer or near-peer rivals such as China and Russia, who are rapidly developing their own capabilities in the area.

The concept – which the US military also terms Joint All Domain Operations (JADO) or Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) – would deploy sophisticated combinations of the air, land, sea, space and cyber domains to challenge and overwhelm an adversary’s capacity to respond.

 
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Image: Viasat

The idea of projecting power across multiple domains is not new, with combinations of land and naval assets deployed as far back as ancient Egypt, notes Jeff Reilly, director of joint education at the US Air Command and Staff College.

 

It is the seamless integration of the different domains that marks out MDO today, with the command and control (C2) demands that this implies.

 

Reilly adds a sixth domain: the human domain, comprising leaders, the organisations that support them, and wider population groups. Any action that affects any part of this continuum of six domains has repercussions on the others, he says, so connectivity plays a crucial role in the JADO battlespace.

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If a military has control of the electromagnetic spectrum, and can take control away from its adversary, it has a drastic impact on their position, navigation and timing (PNT) capacities and perhaps on their use of their weapon systems.

 

‘That's automatically going to have an impact on the air, land and maritime domains, hopefully causing a psychological paralysis within the leadership of whatever organisation that is,’ he explains.

 

JADO implies a holistic approach, though this is not easy to achieve, says Lieutenant Colonel David Lyle, Air Education and Training Command/Air University Liaison to the National Capital Region in the US.

 

‘It’s always been a challenge to try to get people from different backgrounds, different specialties, different cultures on the same sheet of music under a common design,’ Lt Col Lyle explains.

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‘That's automatically going to have an impact on the air, land and maritime domains, hopefully causing a psychological paralysis within the leadership of whatever organisation that is,’ he explains.

 

JADO implies a holistic approach, though this is not easy to achieve, says Lieutenant Colonel David Lyle, Air Education and Training Command/Air University Liaison to the National Capital Region in the US.

 

‘It’s always been a challenge to try to get people from different backgrounds, different specialties, different cultures on the same sheet of music under a common design,’ Lt Col Lyle explains.

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​​Joint Nature

The various branches of the US military are pursuing a number of programmes related to JADO. Given the inherently joint nature of the concept, there is a high degree of overlap between these different projects, while the services maintain the same overarching goals.

 

A notable example is the US Army’s Terrestrial Layer System, which will provide a range of vehicle-based EW, cyberspace and signals intelligence capabilities. The US Air Force, meanwhile, is taking the lead in the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), which is designed to enable the Joint Force to expand its warfighting capabilities across all domains. 

 

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, has placed four major lines of effort for JADO under the leadership of different services.

 

The Air Force is leading JADC2, the Navy is responsible for long-range fires, and the Army is overseeing a focus on logistics under attack. A fourth area focused on information advantage has yet to be fully defined, though the US Marine Corps is likely to take the lead here.

 

These efforts are underpinned by a determination to avoid a silo mentality, says Lt Col Lyle. ‘You have to think and put common design up front before you choose your options and build your forces, and that's what we're trying to do now.’

 

Technological advances will be key for the US military to achieve its JADO goals.

 

Major Scott Van de Water, chief of outreach at the Air University’s LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education, outlined some of the areas of potential development in the coming years.

 

These include self-healing mesh networks, a type of communication capability that would ‘allow for people to enter new areas of operation and seamlessly connect to blue forces, to have the most up-to-date and recent data without necessarily having to go through some sort of backhaul communications’.

 

On a broader level, satellite communications (SATCOM) is a crucial enabler for connectivity from sensor to shooter, even while adversaries try to disrupt networks.

 

Maj Van de Water highlights a range of developments in space that will support US efforts in JADO in the future, notably the proliferation of LEO satellites of the type being developed by SpaceX and Viasat.

 

‘Those types of things are potentially game changers with respect to assured communications and highly resilient communications – it becomes far more difficult when there are hundreds of satellites overhead to jam them all.’
 

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Centrality of connectivity

Ken Peterman, president of Viasat’s Government Systems business and a senior vice president at the company, stresses the centrality of connectivity in the US military’s JADO goals.

 

He describes it as ‘the underpinning foundation for multi-domain situation awareness, multi-domain coordination of forces, multi-domain coordination of weapons, tactics, assets… so that these domains can be defended or, when necessary, offensively attacked in a holistic context’.

 

Viasat therefore provides a diverse range of connectivity options, including SATCOM using different frequency bands and waveforms and in different orbital regimes: low earth orbit (LEO), medium earth orbit (MEO) and geostationary orbit (GEO).

 

The company has invested in a range of assets in the area, notably its ViaSat-3 GEO constellation and its work on the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles XVI programme, under which the company is developing the first Link-16 capable LEO satellite. 

 

Given the centrality of SATCOM, the new US Space Force could play a key role in driving JADO in the future, according to Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project and defence budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a US thinktank.

 

Much of the sensing, communications and situational awareness that JADO relies on will likely be supported or supplied from space, he notes.

 

‘Over the long run, we may actually see the centre of gravity of our battle networks moving into space more and more.’

 

Industry is engaging with the US Space Force at various levels, in both the technological community and the acquisition process, Peterman says.

 

He explains the Space Force and its leaders ‘are embracing and recognising the reality that technology leadership in space resides in the private sector, and they are developing ways to peel back the bureaucracy and reduce acquisition time’.
 

A number of concrete efforts are underway in the US to consider the effectiveness of JADC2 advances, such as the Doolittle Series of wargames, overseen by the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability. Doolittle Series 18, which took place in late 2018, had a particular focus on MDO, with some of this work supported by the Air University.

 

Maj Van de Water explains that this generated a number of lessons, notably a need to invest in shared cloud data infrastructure, the requirement for highly trained personnel in C2, and a demand to build in coalition integration early in the design process.

 

Some of the necessary changes will take place at a high level. Over recent decades, US military operations have become much more centralised, for a number of reasons. For instance, organisational changes have led to much more tightly coupled logistics chains, rather than the more improvisational approach that had been seen in previous decades.

 

A major challenge of operating a highly connected, interwoven C2 system is maintaining the ability for senior officers to stay involved at a tactical level, operating what’s known as a ‘thousand mile screwdriver’, says Maj Van de Water.

 

While militaries will always rely on centralised control, the ability to adapt at a local level, making decisions at the edge, will be essential for the future JADO battlefield, with the thousand-mile screwdriver left firmly in the past.

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Indeed, there is much to be said for a system based more on positive control than procedural control, adds Lt Col Lyle. Essentially, where procedural control relies on rules that are based on assumptions about future conditions, positive control depends on building teams to tackle problems on a much more emergent basis.

 

This is all part of the dynamism that will be an essential element of JADO. It’s also important to ask how much complexity any organisation can deal with at any one time – what is its cognitive bandwidth? Technological developments in AI and Machine Learning (ML) could be useful here, says Lt Col Lyle.

 

However, there is much to be done from a technological point of view, notably the demand for machine-readable data.

 

‘I think it's really important to realise that until we start to have systems which are able to generate computer-readable or machine-readable types of data, we are falling further and further behind,’ says Maj Van de Water.

 

Many of the technological and operational advances that will be demanded in the JADO battlefield are aspirational, with a chasm between today’s reality and long-term goals. How can the US – and its allies – make this transition?

 

One of the most important focuses for now is developing not just a vision for tomorrow, but the architectural plans to get there, says Maj Van de Water.

 

‘I suspect that if we don't do this deliberately, then we risk putting ourselves in a position where we have compromised our ability to fight in the interim.’

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