Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.
A recent YouTube video features Chief of Staff of the Air Force (CSAF) General David Goldfein explaining multi domain operations (MDO) via vignette. Beyond dominating domains, MDO seeks to present multiple dilemmas to opponents. Integration is essential as platforms mesh in networks of command and control.
The CSAF concludes a masterful presentation with, “maybe, just maybe, our adversaries will pause long enough to question whether they can accomplish their political objectives by taking us on.” At that point I thought, that’s the military part of competing and prevailing which we need to ensure. Then I thought, but it’s not enough.
A strategic question comes to mind: how can we broaden Gen Goldfein’s call to arms to a call for superior integration of effects?
What if our government worked as a team to develop and integrate more than military coalitions? Such as security coalitions within the US government and beyond, as appropriate. We need to win both wars and battles. Not in my lane is a defeatist refrain.
An answer to this fundamental question resides in former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) Gen Joseph Dunford ‘s recent letter concerning professional military education.
In a memorandum to all military services, the CJCS outlined six special areas of emphasis (SAE). All of them have a common motivator: a more competitive security environment. Each SAE proposes to boost competitiveness in different ways. I will briefly interpret and comment on each SAE from a perspective of achieving superior integration via combinations of effects.
Interpretation: the first SAE, Return to Great Power Competition, calls for more: agile, large-scale, high-end, innovative and lethal capabilities; and thinking about how we study warfare.
Comment: “great power” means any actor that has a strategy that achieves superior effects even if waged with singularly lesser military capabilities.
Interpretation: the second SAE, and focus of this Note, is Globally Integrated Operations in the Information Environment (IE), which calls for expanding how we integrate information with physical activities to gain an information advantage over adversaries and to operate proactively.
Comment: information needs to be integrated with both physical and psychological (cognitive and informational, p. 2) activities to craft superior combined effects—diplomatic, political, informational, military, economic, social, financial, infrastructural, legal, and so forth…whatever framework fits the context.
Interpretation: The third SAE, Strategic Deterrence in the 21st Century, refers to a transformed geopolitical and military context for deterrence, and calls for deterring multiple nuclear-armed adversaries.
Comment: if “strategic” is presumed to mean nuclear-armed, rather than defined in terms of effects achieved, we become blind to innovative employment of unanticipated ways and means.
Interpretation: The fourth SAE, Modern Electromagnetic Spectrum Battlefield, refers to widespread use of the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) to challenge military freedom of maneuver and calls for greater awareness to retain access and deny same to adversaries.
Comment: EMS is more than an enabler of other capabilities as it can produce effects of its own that, combined with other effects, produce more competitive synergies.
Interpretation: The fifth SAE, Space as a Warfighting Domain, emphasizes space combat objectives and calls for warfighting in space.
Comment: the way we strive to maintain space superiority has information effects of its own that must be considered to achieve optimal effects.
Interpretation: The sixth SAE, Ability to Provide Clear and Concise Military Advice Recommendations, focuses exclusively on the military instrument of power.
Comment: confining military members’ advice to military implications of complex problems bans military judgment from political-military, military-economic, military-social, and other interrelations essential to effective military operations.
Reflecting on the preceding comments and relating them to one another, I propose the following four recommendations:
- To create superior strategies, we need a language of strategy and operations that emphasizes creating superior strategic dilemmas.
- “Strategic” needs to be defined in terms of the significance of effects, effects which result from the integration of diverse capabilities and which must be at the quality of superior relevance.
- “Deterrence” should be part of a more holistic strategy that generates preventive and causative, psychological and physical, and confrontational and cooperative effects, respectively: deterrence and compellence, defense and coercion; and dissuasion and persuasion, security and inducement.
- Information effects, whether generated kinetically or non-kinetically, are ultimately what influences behavior (human and machine) and so must be a primary consideration in strategy.
In conclusion, globally integrated operations in a pervasive and uncertain IE can lead superior strategies that win wars not just battles. We are well into complex, hybrid, grey zone warfare that dynamically blends confrontation with competition. Victory in the form of relative advantages tends to be temporary, requiring a systematic yet supple all-domains all-effects approach. We have to be able to produce all types of effects and in superior combinations to compete against other relatively-great powers.
Healthy civil-military relations are key to developing strategies that integrate all elements of power in accordance with our political-legal frameworks and ethics. The issues are contentious. Traditions need to adapt to new threats, which raises ponderous policy questions.
Meanwhile, each military service’s combat commands and sub-cultures can be expected to respond to the need for broad effects with different levels of commitment. As a result, the reality of an all-encompassing information environment is variously grasped and exploited. Cultural change is needed, which tends to be slow. Contemporary threats do not afford us that luxury.
Multi domain operations are crucial to realizing an even greater diversity of effects whose integration wins complex wars, while we prepare for such wars and before they become massively destructive wars.