The Stack Archive

U.S. military prepares for future wars with multi-domain tests and new institute

Thu 2 Feb 2017

Last week senior leaders gathered at Twickenham in the UK to outline, in the form of a white paper, future possible methods of ‘multi-domain’ warfare – a vision that seeks to reduce the traditional delineations between the various divisions in the U.S. military, and create new tactical scenarios that extend beyond traditional intra-branch cooperation.

Meanwhile, in Newport, Rhode Island, the U.S. Naval War College yesterday inaugurated the Institute for Future Warfare Studies (IFWS), a new research and development department within the institute, looking to prognosticate and anticipate the nature and logistics of armed combat further than the usual three or four years of most military labs.

The concept of multi-domain warfare envisages tight integration and more active resource control between all types of military personnel, effectively promising that soldiers on the ground might have more direct access to use land-based, cyber or even EMP resources in the furthering of military objectives, or of backing up other units.

In a keynote speech at the International Armored Vehicles conference, Gen. David Perkins, head of the Army Training and Doctrine Command, commented: “A concept is an idea, and now we have to operationalize it and get feedback from the folks that [will] actually use it.” And continued “Let’s take what we have now and use it better…Where are our shortcomings? Can we highlight them through exercises and help inform our requirements for the future.”

But Perkins is well aware of how slowly the military edges towards change, having observed that it took eight years for the Army to systematise an approach to air and land operations in the wake of lessons from the Vietnam conflict. He further notes that the changes multi-domain warfare proposes are rather more abstract than usual requisition requests – and that Congress may need persuading that new integrations of existing infrastructure is in itself a discrete and valuable proposition.

“We’re trying to take those resources and spread them out to capabilities, and the system is not set up to deliver resources like that,” he observes. “It delivers resources for things, not capabilities. How do you start changing the bureaucracy and processes to align with producing what we actually need?”

The multi-domain approach will be further tested in the spring, in the Pacific theatre.

Over at Newport, President Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harley is looking beyond even the brand new current administration, in terms of how wars of the future will be fought, commenting: “What differentiates us from other activities that are looking at these issues is the time horizon…Most of the other groups are looking at a one to two, maybe three-year time horizon because they are talking about today’s problems. Our charter indicates we will be looking 30 years out.”

The mission, as Harley sees it, is to ‘futurize’ the Navy, and the school will operate in conjunction with experts in the field of cyber warfare, among other areas.”

The United States military infrastructure is no doubt waiting with bated breath to see to what extent Donald Trump will honour among the most populist and popular of his pledges – to augment and ‘rebuild’ U.S. armed forces. His policy commitments to emphasising the importance of cyber warfare, and to adding a million new soldiers to a massively reflated national force are a far cry from the systemic penny-pinching with which the military has attempted to contend in the last several years.

The sheer scope of the augmentation – which includes returning the Navy to a strength of 350 warships, the Air Force to a strength of 1200 fighters aircraft and the Marines to 36 battalions, along with a slew of R&D projects – promises almost unprecedented lucrative contracts for the likes of Raytheon and Lockheed, among many other suppliers and trickle-down contractors.

But it’s a big toybox, and it might take even Trump a little while to rummage his way round to this massive military commitment, which the President promises will be paid for by ‘cutting red tape’ in Washington. For now, the U.S. armed forces are still on ‘Obama-time’ – a round of economy-seeking research methodologies that can nonetheless hope to appease public concern, particularly regarding cyber-warfare.

General Perkins describes a conflict situation he was in which, for him, illustrated the need for multi-domain tactics, wherein he solved a cyber issue by directing an infantry company to the building where the problem was located. “That was a multi-domain battle solution…It wasn’t a bunch of computer scientists busting down the door and taking care of this problem; it was a bunch of infantrymen.”

Perkins, inevitably, envisages heavy use of autonomous vehicles in future wars, but is wary of ‘prototyped’ and over-specific solutions: “I think what you’re going to have is no more one-trick ponies,…You can’t just have a vehicle that does this, and that’s all it does…I think what you’re absolutely going to find are combat vehicles that have multiple purposes and can operate in multiple modes.”

It will be interesting to see how the military’s sense of economy is challenged by the promised reversal of President Obama’s reductionist era – and whether necessity has indeed, in recent years, actually been a useful engine of invention for the United States armed forces.


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