The nature of war is not changing but rather the character of war is with social media, cyber operations, information operations and small commercially available unmanned aerial vehicles, which all lead to an increasingly lethal battlefield in which all domains will be contested and congested.
With adversaries catching up to and challenging the superiority of the U.S. military in the various domains of warfare, the Pentagon is seeking to undertake a series of initiatives to posture itself to fight and win in future operating environments.
The individual services have been discussing new operating concepts surrounding multi-domain battle or multi-domain command and control, all of which is to say they are pursing concepts to facilitate the free flow of information, operations and maneuver seamlessly across the five domains of war.
At a higher level, the Pentagon, under the tutelage of the deputy defense secretary, has embarked under what he calls the third offset strategy, which
in its simplest terms hypotheses
“that the advances in artificial intelligence and autonomy — autonomous systems — is going to lead to a new era of human-machine collaboration and combat teaming.” Work has also emphasized that the effort is really about increasing and strengthening conventional deterrence.
What is the relationship between these two parallel yet distinct efforts? For one, the third offset strategy is looking far into the future to evaluate how the force will fight in those environments.
First, with the change of administration, there was some
speculation regarding the longevity and fate of the third offset strategy
. The effort is “still alive and well with the administration change,” Maj. Gen. Burke Wilson, deputy principal cyber advisor to the secretary of defense, said during a March 30 conference.
“Offset strategies always happen when our potential competitors reach parity with us in certain areas,” Work
in October. “And our potential competitors have reached parity with us in what we would determine battle networks.” These battle networks, or theater wide battle networks, Work described as sensor grids that look at what is happening in theater, intelligence grids that make sense of what’s happening and determining desired effects, effects grids to make those goals happen, and logistics and support grids that keeps the whole thing running.
Russia and China now have battle networks – theater wide battle networks, Work warned, which are approaching parity with the U.S. To strengthen conventional deterrence, the U.S. wants to make sure it can extend its advantage in that particular area, he said.
One of the key pillars of the third offset strategy is the Strategic Capabilities Office, which seeks to employ rapid prototyping and repurposing of existing systems in unconventional ways to get at tough problems. Work has called SCO, stood up secretly in 2012, the spark that helped lead to the notion of the offset.
“SCO is the near-term element -- determining how we fight in the next ten years -- of the broader Third Offset, which also includes how we fighter in the far future,” Lt. Col. Roger Cabiness, a Defense Department spokesman, told C4ISRNET in an email. “Many of SCO's prototyping initiatives with the Services (e.g., cross-domain ATACMS) are the first instantiations of the their multi-domain battle concept, providing a pathfinder for developing tomorrow's operational concepts.”
The ATACMS, or Army Tactical Missile System, is a missile system that will allow the Army to target and hit objects both on land and at sea making it a cross domain solution.
With the multi-domain efforts by the individual services, the need to conduct so-called cross domain fires is a key component. “What we are looking at is the ability to create cross domain fires, that we don’t just have a land based … artillery shell that starts off and goes and engages another land-based target,” Gen. David Perkins, commander of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, said during a conference in March. While the Army has these land-to-land systems now “there’s nothing that says you can’t have a land-based Army fires capability that could have an anti-ship capability or an anti-UAV capability.”
He added that many combatant command commanders, Pacific Command and European Command in particular, are very interested in this capability – an Army fires unit that could provide effects in all the domains: counter-UAV, counter maritime, land, air defense, he said.
There isn’t a big change that is inherent in current weapon systems to make this a reality.
Relatedly, the Air Force,
are also applying similar rapid prototyping efforts with their own rapid capabilities offices to get at hard problems and field capabilities to the force quickly.
“In solving critical needs for Combatant Commanders, SCO routinely meets with Service program offices, laboratories, and agencies to identify technologies and systems that may lead to solutions for key operational challenges,” Cabiness said. “SCO always adopts the fastest path to fielding the solution, whether spearheading a new initiative or partnering with an existing effort. This prevents duplication and maximally accelerates promising candidates.”
The Army and Marines have developed a
joint multi-domain battle white paper
that sets the stage for fighting in new operating environments. Called “Multi-Domain Battle: Combined Arms for the 21st Century,” the white paper outlines an approach for ground combat against sophisticated peer threats in the 2025-2040 timeframe.
“U.S. ground combat forces, operating as part of a joint, interorganizational, and multinational teams, are currently not sufficiently trained, organized, equipped, nor postured to deter or defeat highly capable peer enemies to win in future war,” the white paper says. “Implementing Multi-Domain Battle entails three components: creating and exploiting temporary windows of advantage; restoring capability balance and building flexible, resilient formations in the Joint Force; and altering force posture to enhance deterrence.”
At a higher level, the third offset is examining how things like man-machine teaming, autonomy, machine learning and artificial intelligence can help decision makers to more quickly and efficiently connect dots. Sensing adversary patterns, empowering decision-makers and acting upon this information quickly are really at the heart of the so-called third offset strategy the Pentagon is war gaming, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva
If the U.S. is creating slow weapons to act on a fast battlespace, “we’re going to get our clock cleaned,” he said.