Multi-Domain Operations in the Future Battlespace

With armed conflict in Europe for the first time in more than two decades, heightened tensions on the China-India border, and a handful of other potential diplomatic and military hotspots evolving in East and Southeast Asia, the world has rarely been as dangerous as it is today – at least not since World War II.

The situation in Ukraine continues to pose a very real threat of spillover to the whole region; Tensions between China and Taiwan – simmering for years – are now on full display, with China reaffirming its commitment to take control of the island state by force if necessary. Emboldened by business in Europe, the danger of Beijing stepping up is real, especially given China’s withdrawal from cooperation with the United States on many levels.

News on the dispute between India and China is less dramatic, described as being in a state of uncertainty – relations between the two are neither improving nor deteriorating. Sri Lanka, a country with its own problems, is forced to cancel the visit of a Chinese ship under pressure from India. The Yuan Wang 5, the latest of China’s next-generation space pursuit ships, was scheduled to spend five days in the Chinese port of Hambantota, built and leased by China.

The ship monitors intercontinental ballistic missile, rocket and satellite launches and is a prime example of the evolution of warfare. Distributed, multi-domain and joint operations of all areas (MDO and JADO, respectively) are rapidly becoming the defining doctrines of this new era.

It is essentially the synchronization of aircraft, ground forces and vehicles, satellites and ships, their systems and all data sources. Together, they provide a “complete picture of the battlespace” and enable personnel – in theater or in command – to “quickly make decisions that lead to action”, says leading technology provider Lockhead Martin. Cyberspace is an essential part of this new era of combat; because the electromagnetic spectrum – a string of frequencies from radio to microwaves, visible light, x-rays and gamma rays that transmit data – can become with the United States, the United Kingdom and others who examine it more and more carefully.

For future MDOs, artificial intelligence and machine learning will play a key rolehelping to decipher the data, determine its operational relevance, and then present informed options for joint decision-making across all strands of the military.

For the United States, work on developing this capability is ongoing. The U.S. military said it aims to conduct operations in multiple contested domains and spaces to “overcome an adversary’s forces by presenting them with multiple operational and/or tactical dilemmas through the combined application of a posture of calibrated force; use of multi-domain training; and the convergence of capabilities across domains, environments and functions. »

The United States Navy and Air Force are working on new technologies and capabilities through programs such as Project Overmatch and Advanced Battle Management System, respectively. Together, the two forces have developed more than a dozen projects on which they collaborate, bringing together all areas to share and use information and assess and respond in synergy.

Gather it all

For the UK, MDO is also a work in progress. Explaining its views in a December 2021 blog post, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) Strategic Command said: “In the simplest terms, this is about making sure every part of defense can work seamlessly, with other government departments and UK allies. and partners, to achieve the desired result and defend our nation.

The US and UK are not alone as other allies – and of course adversaries – are developing these capabilities, many of which are doing so in an effort to better integrate with each other. However, one of the biggest hurdles is interoperability.

Among defense forces, both national and international, operations have traditionally been conducted over disparate and isolated networks, making the exchange of data and its use considerably more difficult, if not impossible.

Speaking via the company’s website in late 2021, Steve Jameson, Director of Solutions Architects at BAE Systems Intelligence & Security, said: “The US has shown this ability to share data across domains and with allied forces. However, we cannot do this at scale and quickly to address hundreds or thousands of targets due to lack of interoperability between different networks and manual data processing which slows down decision making and targeting.

BAE Systems says an example of this is the United States’ Link-16, a legacy system which, while allowing communications on most platforms, cannot support real-time coordination of the detection and effects against an agile threat – like the one MDO is supposed to face. “Data standards are a key part of solving this problem,” Jameson added.

The British MoD described the future battlespace as “more complex than ever” with multi-domain integration critical to its force structure. Credit: UK Ministry of Defense

In the UK, this problem is solved by what the MoD calls the Digital Backbone, a digital transformation program that will enable the sharing and communication of information regardless of the material used. “We need to make sure that all the data we collect on every platform we have – whether it’s a Satelliteaircraft, drone, ship or ground system – can be brought together to produce the most complete picture of what is happening,” the Strategic Command said.

For allies, interoperability is also crucial: how can the systems of different countries combine, especially since there are no “global” supply strategies? This was the subject of NATO’s first-ever Multi-Domain Operations Conference held in the UK in March 2022, bringing together over 200 delegates from 20 countries.

Speaking at NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation event, General Philippe Lavigne said this was a pivotal and transformative period in the alliance’s history as it faced competitors that had already proven to be functional in all areas. He added that NATO must have “rock-solid” processes to retain the advantage of war.

“NATO develops and aligns concepts such as MDOs so that Allied nations can work together seamlessly to defend our nations and our peoples,” he said. The organization says MDO means different things to different nations, so it must achieve effective consensus among 30 members, all with different approaches and varying abilities.

Learn to work and work to learn

The conference identified what NATO said were five key takeaways. The first “priority” was to develop the MDO as part of a broader military, diplomatic, informational and economic approach; then educate partners. Next, he says, the alliance needs to understand that the digital transformation of the MDO is “essential” to the foundation of the MDOs; learn events in Ukraine and continue to build capabilities and integrate them into “long-term warfare development”, in line with the 20-year vision for the development of the Allies’ Instrument of Military Power under the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept; and finally, defining a phased delivery approach, evolving from joint and interoperable forces and capabilities, while prioritizing rapid development in the cyber and space domains.

Right now, the key to all of this is training. NATO believes the exercise and training programs will “provide opportunities for experimentation”, which will be a “key activity to test the MDO vision and framework, develop our thinking and show nations that a new state of mind is necessary to enable multi-domain action”. said.

UK Strategic Command says it is looking for the technology to help plan and also train MDOs. “A unique synthetic training environment would allow full virtual mission rehearsal and incorporate simulators for all equipment such as aircraft, drones and cyber operations, involved.

Physical training environments are also essential for cultivating technologies and practices. A recent training exercise involving the US Air Force and the Navy underscored the importance of MDO. The biannual Virtual Shield event saw the first significant involvement of Joint All-Domain Command and Control, an umbrella program of the US Department of Defense aimed at bringing together all branches of the armed forces, using data feeds to support simultaneous and sequential operations.

The struggle is changing, and so are the ways in which services operate and respond. The war in Ukraine and earlier Russian actions in Syria have underscored the compelling need to reshape how adversaries and the threats they pose are neutralized. What the battlespace will look like and even where it will be in the years and decades to come, only time will tell. What we can say with certainty is that it will not look like today.