To take the concept beyond white papers and white boards, the Army has built a Multi-Domain Task Force, which saw its first field experiments last year during the world’s largest maritime military exercise, Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC.
The concept looks at how the Army, its sister services and allies will penetrate the more sophisticated defenses of adversaries and travel along the continuum of conflict while maintaining superiority and advantage. It means using longer range fires, better missile defense, an impenetrable network and highly refined small unit capabilities. And it means all of that in more domains at once than any commander has ever had to consider.
Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley with Army Futures Command is at the leading edge of testing and refining that concept, which many top thinkers believe will be the framework upon which future battles will be fought and won.
The exercise included an array of precision strikes on land and at sea, coordinated through a network using all four services and some allied partners. This culminated in an Army-led attack using long-range artillery, air assault and shore-based missiles to sink the decommissioned USS Racine.
And it was a year of tabletop war games and exercises that preceded the sinking, and a 500-troop staff to exploit “enemy” weaknesses to create a bubble of time to strike.
But the task forces, while important at this stage, are not designed to hang around for decades from now.
At some point, the task forces will simply dissolve into the way the Army does business, he said.
“You’ll have these capabilities at echelon throughout the entire theater,” Wesley said.
In the near future even company commanders will become used to thinking in all domains and using data, cloud computing, sensors, nodes, networks and firing platforms across all of the services and partner nations, he said.
Wesley told Army Times that two more task forces will pilot the new concepts and experiment with both those ideas and new concepts.
The next one will likely form and begin work in Europe, to gauge how best to counter Russian military aggression overt, covert and otherwise. And another task force will be added to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command as that force expands its role in global security.
You can’t effectively prosecute a campaign using MDO if it’s not joint, Wesley said. Different domains can be applied to create the window of opportunity.
Imagine the Army effectively securing airspace and waterways by long-range precision fires or air missile defense. It’s turning everything on its head.
“I think it’s fair to say in the future MDO is at the tactical level,” Wesley said.
He emphasized at the company and battalion level, it’s still about combined arms at the lowest tactical level.
MDO just lets the maneuver force continue to do combined arms maneuver.
Now what will be distinct is reliance on the tactical level to think, assess and employ all domains when necessary, he said. So the thinking will be for tactical-level commanders to see opportunities for all domains to be integrated, or leverage the benefits of other domains in their tactical space. But in the end a battalion will maneuver like a battalion.
That makes operations more dispersed and leaders must call on support from a much wider area.
“I think it’s fair to say that the most significant distinction will come at the operational and strategic level,” Wesley said. “There are a couple of reasons I say that. Great powers in the current and future era will be much more significant than they were in the past.”
Operational and theater-level commanders must compete daily to enable any kind of penetration or in order to enable conflict.
It’s a constant cycle.
“What soldiers will see is after the Army gets these MDTFs out into theater and then geographic combatant commanders recognize the virtues that they bring to their capacity and as we learn and as we go through total Army analysis what you’ll see is that we’ll start building out those echelons we’ve talked about,” Wesley said.
“You’ll need to have a theater fires command, you’ll need to have an operational fires command. You’ll need to have cyber capacity at echelon. You’ll need to have access to space assets at echelon.”
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.