It is time for the U.S. military to end its focus on domains. We need to kill the concept entirely within military programing, planning and execution in order to achieve true integration.
Humans have learned to wage war in every space we occupy. We’ve even learned how to fight in environments we occupy only via electric current and light pulses. At some point we began labeling these specific maneuver spaces as domains, and in so doing we made multidomain operations unachievable. Instead of joint all-domain concepts, we need joint all-capability effects.
In general, domains can be categorized on the way in which warfare is conducted. Knowing how submarines move and understanding the unique consideration of weapons systems based on physics are important factors. Knowing how thrust and lift overcomes gravity and drag to create flight, and how we can manipulate that, is important. Understanding that space flight is controlled falling using gravity and altitude as factors for effectiveness is important. However, by dividing these concepts into domains, we put barriers to them.
In reality, all of our domains are the same. There is a physical space controlled by physics that needs to be understood and accounted for. This should not be the barrier to integration it has become.
Fiefdoms and stovepipe specializations inspired the Goldwater-Nichols Act. We reformed our joint military around domains — stovepipes by another name. We continue to split domains and “identify” new ones, further isolating capabilities.
U.S. military operations can be divided into six domains depending on your perspective: subsurface naval, surface naval, ground (which is just another surface), air, space and cyberspace.
As we expanded domains, conflicts arise first on the relevance, and then on the ownership of those domains. We continue not to learn. All domains are warfighting domains because all domains are simply a continuation of our world that can be contested for control of resources. Dividing capabilities based on physics for development is one thing, but dividing execution of effects into domains is entirely different.
Warfare requires the achievement of objectives, regardless of the physical space in which the target and the shooter exist. All of the services have weapons requiring coordination across a spectrum of physical spaces. Both the Army — our primary ground domain force — and the Navy — our primary sea domain force — have weapons that launch from the surface, travel through the air and impact a target on the surface. The Navy and the Air Force both have weapons that launch from below the surface, travel through air and space, and impact targets on the surface. A single agency responsible for that coordination makes perfect sense, but focusing on that physical space is a dead end.
Ending our military fixation on domains and domain integration will be necessary to push beyond stovepipe programs and concepts. Instead of talking to the physical domain of release or impact, let’s get back to talking about effects integration. We tried to fix the integration problem by forcing services to work together, but maintained the defining factors of which those services divide lines of effort: domains.
No matter how you categorize the end result (effect), the kill mechanism (the weapon) and the delivery system (the platform), the military’s objective is either to enhance our position or degrade the position of our adversary. Planning outside of the concept of domain allows for conversations without ownership of the effect. The location of the target compared to the location of the platform is irrelevant. A satellite communications jammer isn’t targeting a satellite — it’s targeting information. Who owns the information domain?
Let’s stop overcomplicating war. It is a series of effects created by weapons employed from platforms to achieve objectives. Every war in history has followed these concepts.
A target can exist in or on the subsurface, surface, air, space or information realm. That target can be struck with an effect originating from the subsurface, surface, air, space or information realm. Select an effect to achieve an objective, browse the category of capabilities and employ. Set up communication to ensure deconfliction and effectiveness.
The Department of Defense needs to recommit itself to effects-based warfare and focus on the reason for which the department exists: dead bad guys and broken things, or mitigated bad guys and incapable things at a minimum. That is our military objective.
We will fight tomorrow across a spectrum of effects, not a spectrum of domains. This is not advocacy for the end of services; rather, it’s advocacy for services to stop thinking of our military as a set of isolated domains. The time has come to create a permanent, destructive effect on domains and focus on why a weapon is used instead of the physical spaces being occupied.
U.S. Space Force Maj. Mark Crimm is a defense fellow taking part in the Air University Legislative Fellowship program. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not necessarily the views of the U.S. Defense Department or the Department of the Air Force.