Global Force Symposium

U.S. military is finding it must adapt to multi-domain intel collection

In a world that is becoming increasingly connected, for which governments and non-state groups are exploiting and obfuscating social media networks as part of larger campaigns, the United States is finding it must learn to collect intelligence across these spheres of engagement.

Gary Phillips, a senior intelligence adviser within the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, described how the world has gone from 30 percent connected in 2001 to 49.2 percent connected in 2017 and in the early 2000s. He added that while a newspaper might reach 10,000 people, YouTube reaches 10 million.

The nature of future operating environments that exploit civilian spheres of influence — sometimes donned hybrid warfare — or an increasingly complex combat environment that strings together the domains of warfare — so-called multi-domain battle — will force the military to adapt.

Adversaries are capitalizing on this connectivity and these electronic and information themes, Phillips said during a panel discussion at the AUSA Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, on March 14.

He highlighted two areas in particular where adversaries are focusing within this new hybrid multi-domain construct. Firstly, preclusion, or anti-access/area denial, that seeks to deny the U.S. the ability to mass forces and sustain joint combat power in theater.

The second is reflexive control, which was first coined by the Russians, Phillips said. Reflexive control is a way of integrating the components of information warfare to manipulate the environment so that an adversary will make a decision that is both anticipated and wanted, he said. The Russians call it objective and subjective reality, and how they’ll alter the subjective reality to achieve what they want to achieve.

As the U.S. Army and military writ large look to adapt to this new environment, future operations will not only involve the creation of effects across multiple domains — which is to say firing a missile from the ground at maritime targets or orchestrating a cyber operation from a remote location that bears physical results halfway around the world — but it must also involve collecting intelligence across domains.

Planning and executing fire maneuver, while necessary, may not be sufficient to be successful in multi-domain battle, Phillips said.

Technology that enables new concepts also has to be applied to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, he added, pointing to existing paradigms where collecting and analyzing in single domains has been the norm.

"You don’t find many Army systems collecting air targets," Phillips asserted. As such, the Army needs new kinds of systems and thought processes to focus on where the domains interact.

He pointed to cyber and signals intelligence as one area where convergence of capability can be developed.

Additionally, he asked the audience to consider an interface of activities in the air, on land and at sea, and how intelligence can be merged to facilitate multi-domain battle.

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