As U.S. services and joint force are better posturing themselves to fight in more complex, contested and congested operating environments, the Air Force — the best positioned for this so-called multi-domain battle given its space, air, cyber and ground operations — is looking at how it can support its sister services in multi-domain battle.
"My question to us as an Air Force is: How do we support the Army in those settings?" Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, deputy chief of staff for operations, said during a presentation Wednesday at the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in Arlington, Virginia. "If the environment is going to change, if you're not going to be meeting the enemy on the planes of Europe or out in the desert of Iraq or Syria, but you're going to be in a dense, urban environment, how do we as airmen respond to that threat? How do we change? What do we do?"
There still aren't a lot of answers as to what a multi-domain battle — or multi-domain command and control, as the Air Force calls its focused efforts — might look like from a functional, organizational or operational standpoint.
Brig. Gen. Chance Saltzman is leading a multi-domain command and control Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team study, which will brief Air Force leadership on recommendations and best practices ahead. This team is thinking about how to bring the effects from all the different domains and operate in different observe, orient, decide and act loops at a pace with which the enemy can’t keep up.
"So if they take away, we give them a problem in another domain," Nowland said. "It’s important for us as airman to think about and not leave it to the Army to think about because we need to understand what the other services are doing and bring an airman’s approach."
Much is still up in the air while the study is being undertaken.
As far as the multi-domain C2, there is always a desire to produce a solution, said Col. Douglas DeMaio, vice commander of the Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education at Maxwell Air Force Base, during a presentation earlier this year.
For DeMaio, it's important to view this issue through a cultural lens and define what the force is trying to solve. Relating back to air superiority, DeMaio noted that examining the elements of counter-air enabled an effective counter-air doctrine that has now been updated to domain control, which will allow various degrees of superiority.
Despite its history in multi-domain and command and control operations, this becomes a cultural issue for the Air Force to view air, space and cyber as three equal components rather than individual pillars of excellence, DeMaio said. This will take cultural building from an Air Force perspective, as the service is the only one named after a domain, he added, and it will require training and a new outlook on systems.
Until the study is complete, it is hard to discern the results of the Air Force's efforts. Lockheed Martin will be hosting a war game to "show how cross domain command and control can be enhanced by operationally integrating air, space and cyber domains." This war game will leverage various cross domain solutions from Lockheed that are utilized by the military, such as the Intelligent Space (iSpace) system; the Distributed Common Ground System; the Theater Battle Management Core System; Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications system; and the next-generation Air Tasking Order Management System.
Nowland said Wednesday that the Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team led by Saltzman will begin looking at war game exercises. Lockheed said the results of its war game will be provided to Saltzman and his team.
The Army and Marine Corps have released a joint white paper on multi-domain battlethat outlines an approach for ground combat against sophisticated peer threats in the 2025-2040 time frame.
The Army and Marine Corpsare looking to both repurpose existing systems for multi-domain use, bake in multi-domain capabilities from the start and host war games.
In the Army, for example, problems were addressed in isolation, according to Gen. David Perkins, the commander of Training and Doctrine Command. Problems would be broken down by their war-fighting functions and their respective domains, he saidat a recent conference.
Upon developing a solution, the force would retrofit these siloed solutions together, given they were not integrated but rather federated. This series of federated solutions, Perkins said, created problems for challenges that arise under the guise of multi-domain battle.
For example, in addressing the threat of unmanned aerial systems, Perkins said, this would have been considered an air defense problem because these systems reside in the air domain. At first, the force was using Patriot missiles to defeat small and cheap commercial UAS.
What the Army is now trying to do is consider the multi-domain aspect of a solution from the beginning to prevent the retrofitting that ties them together later on. Something like counter-UAS is a commander’s problem, not an air defense problem, asserted Perkins. As such, they are now looking at things like electronic warfare and cyber to defeat these systems in addition to traditional kinetic solutions.
One concrete example or peek inside potential changes the Air Force is considering related to multi-domain battle is merging the 24th Air Force and the 25th Air Force, an effort mirroring the initiatives of other services, to more closely align cyberspace activity with electromagnetic spectrum activity.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.