Key US Military Concepts

Multi-domain operations

The first in the review will be the concept of multi-domain (that is, in many areas) operations. It is described in detail in a hundred-page document published in December 2018 by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command. [i] In the preface written by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, Mark Milley, it is explicitly stated that “strategic competitors like Russia and China are synthesising emerging technologies with their analysis of military doctrine and operations.

They are deploying capabilities to fight the US through multiple layers of stand-off in all domains – space, cyber, air, sea, and land. The military problem we face is defeating multiple layers of stand-off in all domains in order to maintain the coherence of our operations.”

In fact, the Pentagon has designated its opponents – Russia and China. Although Russia is modernising its armed forces for the purpose of defence, the United States looks at it with its own logic and believes that this is preparation for a military conflict of the near future. Hence also the current statements about Moscow’s imminent invasion of Ukraine.

Naturally, Russia is not going to attack anyone, but the United States is already preparing to break the defence capability of our country by military methods, for which, among other things, this charter was issued. It is repeatedly emphasised that “for the purpose of this document, Russia serves as the pacing threat.” [ii]

What is the implementation of multi-domain operations in theory?

The central idea is that it is precisely the US Army, as an element of the United Forces, that conducts Multi-domain operations in order to win the competition; if necessary, army units penetrate and disable enemy anti-access/area denial/A2/AD systems and use the resulting freedom of manoeuvre to achieve strategic goals (victory), and after that they are forced to return to competition on more favourable terms for themselves.

In other words, we are talking about conducting special operations and sabotage in fact in the rear of the opposing or in the territory controlled by it. The US has a separate special operations command, so it is somewhat strange to see the transfer of their priorities to army units.

The document states that the principles of multi-domain operations are based on the fact that the army solves problems arising from Chinese and Russian operations in conditions of competition and conflict, applying three interrelated principles: a verified arrangement of forces, multi-domain formations and convergence.

A verified power position is a combination of a position and the ability to manoeuvre at strategic distances. Multi-domain formations have the potential, capabilities, and stamina needed to operate in multiple domains in contested spaces against an almost equal opponent.

Convergence is the rapid and continuous integration of capabilities in all areas, the electromagnetic spectrum and the information environment, which optimises the effects for superiority over the enemy through inter-domain synergy and multiple forms of attack, all provided by mission command and disciplined initiative. The three principles of the solution are complementary and common to all multi-domain operations, although how they are implemented will vary depending on the level and depend on the specific operational situation.

According to the authors, the combined forces should defeat opponents and achieve strategic goals in conditions of competition, armed conflicts and during the return to competition. This passage recalls the older field regulations of the US Army that war is waged not only during an armed conflict, but also before it, in a state of peace and after returning to it. At the same time, not only in relation to enemies, but also allies and neutral forces. In the new document, the state of the world is changed to competition.

The document mentions Russia 159 times, and China (Chinese) – 82, that is, two times less. At the same time, other countries that American analysts like to link with the presence or interests of Russia, such as Syria and Georgia, are used once, and Ukraine – three. Taiwan is not mentioned at all.

This indirectly indicates that the protection of Ukraine or Georgia (as well as Taiwan) is not of interest to the United States as partners who need to be helped. The real goal is to create such capable armed forces that will be able to break the defence of Russia and (or) China.

It describes in some detail what actions Russia is conducting and can conduct in the event of an armed conflict. It is noted that “the operational centre of gravity for Russian actions in competition is the close integration of information warfare, unconventional warfare, and conventional forces. The ability to employ all elements in a coordinated manner provides Russia with an escalation advantage, in which any friendly reaction risks a more powerful response.

Within competition, the most extreme escalation is the transition to armed conflict, which favours an adversary with the ability to conduct a fait accompli attack with their conventional forces. The demonstrated ability to accomplish a fait accompli provides credibility to Russian information narratives.

The combination of information warfare, unconventional warfare, and conventional and nuclear forces provides Russia with political and military standoff within which they can secure strategic objectives short of armed conflict with the US.

Information warfare and unconventional warfare contribute to the destabilisation of regional security, but are insufficient in themselves to achieve all Russian strategic objectives. The escalation advantage provided by conventional forces supplements information warfare and unconventional warfare, enabling Russia to maintain the initiative in competition.” [iii]

The mention of fait accompli clearly refers to the events of 2014 and the return of Crimea to Russia. And the use of the term “centre of gravity” indicates the continuation of the use of the discourse characteristic of the US military-strategic thought of the 90s. In general, there are many pages devoted to Russia, which describe the technical military and political capabilities from the point of view of the American military. In addition to Russia and China, North Korea and Iran are mentioned as threats.

However, what do the developers of multi-domain operations suggest for a hypothetical scenario of war with Russia and China?

Firstly, it is the need to conduct an independent manoeuvre, while at the same time continuing operations in a controversial situation as part of a campaign in the theatre of operations. “Independent manoeuvre alludes to formation possessing the capacity, capability, and empowered initiative to operate under the constraints of the operational environment.

Multidomain formations possess organic capabilities to sustain and protect themselves until they regain contact with adjacent and supporting units. They are enabled by capabilities such as reduced visual and electromagnetic signatures, redundant channels for communications hardened against enemy interference, reduced logistics demand, enhanced medical support, multiple sustainment networks, robust manoeuvre support capability and capacity, and multi-domain obscuration capabilities.

Brigades, divisions, and corps, specifically, require organic mission command, ISR, and sustainment capabilities to maintain offensive operations for several days despite highly contested lines of communications.” [iv]

Secondly, it is an inter-domain combat fire. “The ability to employ cross-domain fires provides options to commanders and builds resilience within the Joint Force to overcome temporary functional separation imposed by enemy anti-access and area denial systems.

Beyond modernised air and missile defence and long-range ground fire capabilities, multi-domain formations deliver cross-domain fire capabilities through aviation systems; advanced protection systems, layered air defence and reconnaissance, EW devices; multi-spectral sensor-fused munitions; and cyberspace, space, and information related capabilities.

Cross-domain fires include the ISR capabilities required to employ them, which can comprise a mixture of organic capabilities and access to external assets. Cross-domain fires combine with necessary advancements in mobility and lethality in future air and ground platforms, communications networks, and data processing (speed and volume) to provide the capabilities for cross-domain manoeuvre.” [v]

It also talks about improving the qualities of the staff. There is clearly a noticeable bias in new technologies and an emphasis on the necessary knowledge in the personnel. “Biotechnical sensors monitoring the status and changes in human performance augment commanders’ understanding of their units, inform decisions about the tempo and intensity of operations, and assist units in sustaining and regenerating physical and psychological strength. Man-machine interfaces, enabled by artificial intelligence and highspeed data processing, improve human decision making in both speed and accuracy. Employing multi-domain capabilities requires the Army to attract, train, retain, and employ leaders and Soldiers who collectively possess a significant breadth and depth of technical and professional expertise.” [vi]

The document focuses on convergence and cross-domain synergy, which reflects the earlier strategies of the US Department of Defence.

“The Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) proposes employing cross-domain synergy – the complementary vice merely additive employment of capabilities in different domains such that each enhances the effectiveness and compensates for the vulnerabilities of the others – to establish superiority in some combination of domains that will provide the freedom of action required by the mission.” [vii]

The concept of access for combined operations provides for a greater degree of integration between domains and at lower levels than ever before.

Exploiting cross-domain synergy at increasingly lower levels will be essential to create a pace that is often crucial to exploiting fleeting local opportunities to disrupt an enemy system. JOAC also envisions a greater degree and more flexible integration of space and cyberspace operations into traditional air, sea and ground combat space than ever before.

This concept, in turn, builds on the earlier Capstone Concept for Joint Operations (CCJO).[viii]

It describes a future operating environment characterised by uncertainty, complexity, and rapid change. As a solution to these conditions, CCJO offers a process of operational adaptation that includes a dynamic combination of four broad categories of military activities: combat operations, security, interaction and emergency relief, recovery.

Directly during the conduct of hostilities, a bet is placed on neutralising the enemy’s long-range combat systems (air defence systems, ballistic missile installations), tracking the manoeuvre of troops, quickly collecting and processing data from different areas, striking at the intelligence capabilities of the other side and attacking targets from different spheres (that is, the synchronous use of various types of troops and weapons).

Retired Army General David Perkins, who was the head of the Training and Doctrine Command, said in an interview that the concept of a multi-domain battle used to be called “old wine in a new bottle” or “air-land battle on steroids”.

A fairly close doctrine is the Joint Command and Control of All Domains (JADC2), a concept of the US Department of Defence for connecting sensors of all military services – the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and space forces – into a single network. Traditionally, each of the military services developed its own tactical network, which was incompatible with the networks of other services (i.e. army networks could not interact with the networks of the Navy or the Air Force).

Defence Department officials argued that future conflicts could require decisions to be made within hours, minutes, or potentially seconds compared to the current multi-day process of analysing the operating environment and issuing commands. They also stated that the existing management and management architecture of the Ministry is insufficient to meet the demands of the National Defence Strategy.

In a US Congressional study on this topic, the technology of the ride-sharing service Uber is given as an analogy. “Uber combines two different apps—one for riders and a second for drivers. Using the respective users’ positions, the Uber algorithm determines the optimal match based on distance, travel time, and passengers (among other variables).

The application then provides directions for drivers to follow to deliver passengers to their destination. Uber relies on cellular and Wi-Fi networks to transmit data to match riders and provide driving instructions.” [ix]

And combined operations in all domains (JADO) is an evolution of the concept of multi-domain operations (MDO). It says that “JADO incorporates the massive potential of a truly integrated force (the focus of MDO) and updates the concept by incorporating a few crucial aspects of how NATO aspires to conduct future operations. JADO shifts the focus from ‘multi-domain’, which individual services have been operating in for decades, and places it back on tackling the challenges of joint operations.

Additionally, considering the entanglement of systems and interconnected capabilities spanning the domains in today’s state-of-the-art militaries, it can be argued that our traditional structuring of services based on their principle operating domain may not be very useful in many future scenarios.

It is likely the victor will emerge as the force able to manoeuvre easily in and through all domains in a synchronised manner at a speed which the opponent cannot match. With these considerations in mind, it is easy to conclude that placing too much weight on the domain reduces emphasis on the joint challenge of multiple services seamlessly working together across all domains.” [x]

Mosaic Warfare

In 2017, a new concept of “mosaic warfare” was announced in the United States. The term was coined by Thomas J. Burns, former director of DARPA’s Office of Strategic Technology, and his former deputy Dan Patt.

This theory is fundamentally different from the traditional “system of systems” model, which Burns and Patt consider erroneous, since it often inherently limits adaptability, scalability and compatibility.

In an interview, Patt said: “The term ‘system of systems’ is often used to describe capabilities, which were designed from conception to work together and function as a whole, even though there are multiple constituent parts – similar to the concept of a puzzle, where many specifically-designed pieces fit together uniquely to form a complete image.

Applying classical engineering and validation processes to a ‘system of systems’ can lead to an inability to make future adaptations to the system, since each part is uniquely designed and integrated to fill a specific role, as well as lengthy engineering development timelines needed to address how each change affects the whole system.

Mosaic warfare envisions a bottom-up composition capability, where individual elements (existing or new systems), like individual tiles in a mosaic, are combined to create an effect in ways not previously contemplated, potentially dynamically. This concept is intended to revolutionise time cycles and adaptability of military capability.” [xi]

The key point will be the unification of manned and unmanned units, the separation of capabilities and the provision of commanders with the ability to freely cause actions from the sea, land or air, depending on the situation and regardless of which of the armed forces provides such an opportunity.

An example in the field of aviation is a series of unmanned aerial vehicles accompanying a typical combat formation of four fighters. One of the slave robots may be there solely to jam radars or use other means of electronic warfare.

The other may have a payload for the weapon. The third may have a sensor package, and the fourth may act as a decoy. Instead of four dots on the radar, the enemy sees eight, and he has no idea what opportunities each of them provides. [xii]

In another example, the special operations group “A” behind enemy lines discovers a previously unknown object for launching surface-to-air missiles. He reports his location by radio, and the command and control system automatically searches for the best means to destroy the target. It can be the nearest army brigade, a submarine or a patrol fighter. A command is sent, and the best platform for completing the task is called for the strike.

The problem is that each of these platforms is currently created for its own specific mission. Another challenge is getting a lot of diverse, flexible elements to work together.

It seems that the concept itself was born out of problems with the incompatibility of some military equipment in the United States. For example, the non-mobile F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike aircraft produced by the same Lockheed Martin company turned out to have incompatible data transmission channels.

In general, according to its idea, mosaic warfare is similar to other fashionable concepts about combat operations, such as “systems of systems” or joint multi-domain operations.

The course of confrontation

In general, we see quite similar models that differ in some details. As is stated in one recent study, “Future warfare concepts like Mosaic, joint all domain command and control (JADC2), and the Air Force’s advanced battle management system (ABMS) will all rely upon information networks and advanced, software-based integration programs as their operational foundation.

Success in tomorrow’s conflicts will largely depend on how warfighters are able to harness and adapt everything from mission systems on aircraft to sensor packages, networks, and decision aides To prevail in a dynamic and contested battle-space, warfighters must be able to reprogram and reconfigure their weapon systems, sensors, and networks.” [xiii]

It is possible that in the near future these doctrines and concepts will be transformed into something new. Work on this is already underway. The study of the Atlantic Council (an undesirable organisation in the Russian Federation), prepared as a draft for the future national defence strategy of the United States and published in December 2021, identifies four key points that, according to the authors, should be accepted as an imperative for the United States and NATO partners.

“The DoD needs to compete now and engage in offensive hybrid warfare actions. The United States must respond where competition with China and Russia is taking place today, primarily by playing an enhanced role in grey-zone competition. Accordingly, the Pentagon must embrace the paradigm of competition as a continuum from cooperation through competition to armed conflict.

But embracing the continuum is not enough; the DoD, working with interagency partners where appropriate, must defend more aggressively and take offensive actions in the gray zone, consistent with American values. Seizing the Advantage articulates the concept of a competition continuum and advances recommendations for the DoD to shape the information environment and compete in cyberspace.

Future warfighting must be joint, combined, and across all domains. Conflict in the future will require better integration of all US military services and will take place on land, at sea, in air, space, and cyberspace, and across the electromagnetic spectrum.

It must also be conducted in close coordination with allies and partners, who collectively comprise one of the United States’ greatest advantages vis-à-vis its major-power competitors. A new operational concept that embraces this future battlefield is necessary.

Seizing the Advantage introduces the “Combined Warfighting Concept” (CWC), an all-domain, joint, and combined warfighting concept that embraces the role, capabilities, and capacity of allies and partners from the start..

The DoD must build the force to dominate armed conflict of the future. The future battlefield will be data-centric, networked, and fast-paced. Both the United States and its strategic competitors are heavily investing in revolutionary kinetic and non-kinetic weapons, including hypersonic delivery vehicles, autonomous combat systems, directed energy, and cyber tools.

While these weapons will make it easier to neutralise or destroy targets, finding those targets will be the more pressing challenge. Therefore wars of the future are likely to be won by the side that can best harness available data across all domains and deny the adversary the ability to do the same. Seizing the Advantage articulates clear investment priorities to build that force—and divestment priorities to afford it.

The DoD must rebalance its force posture from Central Command-centric to a more globally oriented model. As the United States shifts its overall focus from counterterrorism to strategic competition, its global force posture must shift accordingly. The era of numerous, long rotational deployments to the Central Command Area of Responsibility is over.

As an alternative, Seizing the Advantage introduces a balanced, differentiated, “latticed” posture model that would move needed asset types to the Indo-Pacific and Europe, and rely on a more tightly linked defence structure with allies and partners, thereby mitigating risk from the US rebalance.” [xiv]

In general, if the technical re-equipment of the US armed forces is a routine issue of defence capability, which depends on new types of weapons, then geopolitical accents about a possible theatre of operations and future opponents are a political choice. And the current doctrines indicate that Washington is set for confrontation.


[I] The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028. TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1. U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, December 6, 2018.

[ii] Ididem. Р. vi.

[iii] Ididem. Р. 11.

[iv] Ididem. Р. 19.

[v] Ididem.

[vi] Ididem. Р. 20.

[vii] Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC). Department of Defence, 17 January 2012.

[viii] Department of Defence, Capstone Concept for Joint Operations, v3.0, 15 Jan 2009.

[ix] Joint All-Domain Command and Control(JADC2). Congressional Research Service, July 1, 2021.

[x] All-Domain Operations in a Combined Environment.

[xi] Stew Magnuson. DARPA Pushes ‘Mosaic Warfare’ Concept // National Defence, 11/16/2018.

[xii] Brad D. Williams. DARPA’s ‘mosaic warfare’ concept turns complexity into asymmetric advantage // Fifth Domain, August 14, 2017.

[xiii] David A. Deptula, Heather Penney. Speed is Life: Accelerating the Air Force’s Ability to Adapt and Win. Policy Paper, Vol. 28, July 2021. Р. 1.

[xiv] Clementine G. Starling, Lt Col Tyson K. Wetzel, and Christian S. Trotti. SEIZING THE ADVANTAGE: A Vision for the Next US National Defence Strategy. Washington: Atlantic Council. December 2021. Р. 21.

By Leonid Savin
Source: Katehon think tank. Geopolitics & Tradition

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