Small Wars Journal

Beyond the Gray Zone: Special Operations in Multidomain Battle

Beyond the Gray Zone: Special Operations in Multidomain Battle by James E. Hayes III - Joint Force Quarterly

In their quest to alter the post–Cold War world order, revisionist nations such as Russia, China, and Iran are increasing their military capabilities to challenge the traditional U.S. supremacy in arms. These potential adversaries are also linking their growing military power to a willingness to employ it in an integrated fashion with informational, economic, political, and technological means to achieve their objectives, often while remaining below the threshold of a decisive U.S. response. To counter this new threat paradigm, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps have developed a joint operational approach known as multidomain battle (MDB). Although it remains in the conceptual phase, both Services envision MDB as the combined arms concept for the 21st century based on the assumption that future near-peer adversaries will contest U.S. superiority in all domains: on land, at sea, in the air, and throughout the electromagnetic spectrum.1 MDB’s animating principle, therefore, is the employment of ground forces to gain temporary windows of advantage against a near-peer foe in order to enable other components of the U.S. joint force.

In their evolution of the MDB concept, Army and Marine senior leaders assume that U.S. special operations forces (SOF) will play a critical, albeit currently undefined, role. This is a valid assumption given the lessons learned from the past 15 years of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, not the least of which is the idea that conventional and SOF formations must operate in an integrated and interdependent manner in order to ensure success on the modern battlefield. Integration and interdependence lie at the heart of MDB, as the concept envisions SOF conducting activities in support of conventional forces and vice versa. But what specifically should we expect SOF to do within the context of MDB? What unique function could SOF play in assisting the joint force to counter this new threat paradigm? …

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