WASHINGTON — In an era of great power competition and an age of information warfare, the Army Modernization Strategy is preparing the service to fight across multiple domains on a global scale by 2035. And it offers a systematic approach to make that happen.
The Army rolled out its concept of Multi-Domain Battle at the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in 2016. The next year, the service announced it would focus on six top priorities to rapidly modernize the force: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, the network, air and missile defense, and soldier lethality.
It also stood up a new four-star command — Army Futures Command — to take on those modernization efforts, followed by the establishment of eight cross-functional teams to manage each priority, plus two overarching development needs: position, navigation and timing as well as a synthetic training environment.
The Army delivered a preliminary modernization strategy in 2018, mandated by Congress, that laid out the materiel solutions to modernize the force. That same year, shortly after the AUSA conference, the Army came out with a refined version of its Multi-Domain Battle concept, changing the name to Multi-Domain Operations, or MDO, to better reflect the service’s acknowledgement that military missions would be focused on deterrence and operating below the level of armed conflict. The Army is working to make the concept official doctrine.
The Army Modernization Strategy, or AMS, now puts it all together, along with a 21st century talent-management process and refined plans for training an MDO force on equipment needed for the future fight and a transition from the industrial age to the information age.
“I think it’s probably worthwhile talking about how we see modernization and kind of how we see it over time,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told Defense News in an Oct. 2 interview just ahead of AUSA.
“A good example of that that I’ve been thinking about is going back to the United States Army coming out of Vietnam. It’s about 1975 through 1985,” McConville said. “What happened in the Army then is we came up with new doctrine; we called it “AirLand Battle.” We came up with new organizations. There were the Ranger battalions, the 160th, we created organizations that we needed for that time frame. We came up with a new way to train. We stood up the national training center, and we eventually built the joint readiness training center so we could train our troops. We came up with the big five [programs — M1 Abrams tank, M2 Bradley vehicle, Patriot missile, Black Hawk helicopter and Apache helicopter] — as far as materiel solutions, and we went to the all-volunteer force.”
The Army is undergoing another transformation like it did post-Vietnam as it shifts its laser-focused of fighting insurgents and terrorists over the past 15-odd years to great power competition with Russia and China, as laid out in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. This means new doctrine, new equipment, new training, new organization and new processes.
“Today we’re going to have the Multi-Domain Operations concept. We’re going to change that to doctrine. Where we had new organizations, like the Ranger battalions, we’re standing up multidomain task forces. We’re standing up multidomain-capable organizations. We just stood up the security force assistance brigades, and we’re going to continue to do that,” McConville said.
“I can envision us standing up organizations that are focused around providing long-range precision effects that can be used below the level of armed conflict in the areas of intelligence, information, cyber, electronic warfare and space.”
The big five has been replaced by the six modernization priorities, he explained, and the 21st century talent management system will no longer treat people like interchangeable parts. “They want us to recognize their talents," he said. "In fact, we want to compete for their talents in the future so we can man the all-volunteer force.”
The strategy will continue to evolve, McConville said. “The thing about strategy is some people will put together a pamphlet or glossy thing, but what you really want to do is take a look at where we’re resourcing … we aligned our resources to support our priorities,” he added. “We are doing some great things with materiel solutions, but the soldier will always remain the centerpiece of the Army. We equip people. We don’t man equipment.”
Getting to 2035
The Army is planning to conduct multidomain operations as part of an integrated and joint force in a single theater by 2028, and be ready to operate across “an array of scenarios in multiple theaters by 2035,” according to a Sept. 30 draft copy of the AMS obtained by Defense News.
The draft, as of Sept. 30, was subject to change and had yet to receive the signatures it needed to be considered finalized as of Oct. 7.
In the strategy, the Army establishes three “way points” or targets to ensure it will meet its goal. From fiscal 2020 to fiscal 2022, the service will start “initial” fielding of the cross-functional teams’ signature systems. The systems will be evaluated through testing, experimentation and analysis to validate their utility in a multidomain operational environment, according to the draft document.
The Army will start adjusting the global force posture beginning in FY22.
Then in FY23 through FY25, the Army will begin adapting its formations and organizations to incorporate the modernized equipment needed for multidomain ops. Additionally, training will shift to a robust combination of live, synthetic and virtual environments, and the service will transform training centers to represent the future battlefield.
Training and Doctrine Command will transform the MDO concept into doctrine, and facilities around the world will be modernized to prepare for a “calibrated force posture" required for multidomain ops, the draft document read. A calibrated force posture is “a combination of forward presence, expeditionary capability, and access to joint, national, and partner capabilities.”
FY22 through FY25 “are critical windows for us as a force because a lot of these prototypes, if successful, will start transitioning to [low-rate initial production],” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told Defense News in an Oct. 7 interview.
It’s the service’s ambition to follow a certain timeline, McCarthy noted, but “I think we’ve got to be able to perform, and these weapon systems have to deliver, and [we have to determine] whether or not they’re scalable and then you start to buy LRIP tranches, so that’s a key window for us along this journey.”
Beyond FY25, the Army will undergo fundamental changes. Starting in FY26 and running through FY28, the Army will certify the first MDO force package. Force packages will consist of formations that are strategically positioned and will combine “networked manned and unmanned platforms, fires, electronic warfare, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, engineers, sustainment, communications and protection capabilities at all echelons from squad to theater.” And the Army has to “have enough expeditionary capacity available to provide follow-on forces to reinforce the theater if needed.”
The service will use lessons learned from MDO task forces in the Indo-Pacific and European theaters to guide the development of the force packages.
Training centers will be able to accept echelons from brigade through field army.
Major systems that will be fielded include the optionally manned fighting vehicle — which will begin replacing Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles — and the future attack reconnaissance aircraft.
In the final years leading up to 2035, the service will continue to make adjustments to ensure materiel, organization, force structure, training and personnel align to meet MDO requirements.
With the Army acknowledging it can no longer squander modernization in favor of being prepared for a fight today, the service will assume some readiness risk as it devotes more resources to modernization priorities.
Still, the Army must maintain a high level of readiness, according to the strategy. The Army will assume some risk in capability as it transitions from current systems to future ones. The transitions “will stress the Army’s logistical system. They will also stress the training enterprise,” the document read.
Risk in capability also grows if modernization initiatives don’t stay on schedule, as the systems are designed to be interdependent; a delay with one system could have a cascading effect.
The Army will also experience budgetary risk if funding decisions are delayed. Industry is only willing to invest in programs and competitions if the service commits it own funding. The strategy assumes Army budgets will stay flat.
By FY22, the service will shift its focus from current fleet investment to much heavier investment in its modernization priorities as initial fieldings of solutions begin.
“Funding is a key variable to our success,” McCarthy said. “So we’re watching that very closely beyond FY21. If you head down to the ’22 to ’26 time frame, the buying power of the Army reduces and we’re in a flat environment … but we work very hard at creating the trade space in our balance sheet to finance our ambition.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.