Small Wars Journal

An Advanced Engagement Battlespace: Tactical, Operational and Strategic Implications for the Future Operational Environment

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 12:23am

An Advanced Engagement Battlespace: Tactical, Operational and Strategic Implications for the Future Operational Environment

TRADOC G2 Operational Environment Assessment

The Army Chief of Staff GEN Mark Milley has challenged the Army and its external stakeholders to fundamentally reassess their assumptions on warfare’s future character. Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) has adroitly reshaped its ongoing study of the future Operational Environment out to 2050, as well as its Campaign of Learning and 2025 Maneuvers.

Recent TRADOC G-2’s Mad Scientist projects have explored the Strategic Security Environment, Dense Urban Operations, the future of Cyber Operations, and Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy.  It has updated its Operational Environment forecast with a focus on the future character of warfare. The Army Capability Integration Center’s (ARCIC) Unified Quest events have addressed similar topics and their implications for future operations.  The Army Staff, particularly DAMO-SS and the CSA’s Strategic Studies Group, has independently examined the future character of warfare. There is converging and compelling consensus that significant discontinuities in the character of warfare are imminent; indeed, perhaps already upon us. The following Unified Quest report is representative:

“… sensors are ubiquitous, multi-domain and capable of discreetly and accurately locating and targeting any and everything moving in the battlespace. Similarly, advances in lethal, smart weapons systems, mostly autonomous, and munitions enable precision, real-time, effective attack and destruction of discreet targets in all domains throughout the battlespace. Integrating these sensor / shooter combinations will be holistic, integrated mission command systems that ensure real-time situational understanding, decision making and execution, much of which will be autonomous.” 1

Although this forecast is typical of many others, there is no similar consensus on how to name this future battlespace. The Unified Quest participants described a “Hyperactive Battlefield” wherein advanced technologies enable dramatically faster, more intense, and lethal operations.2   The Army University Press has established a web site devoted to the future of war called “The New Extended Battlefield.”3  The US Army-Marine Corps Warfighter Talks of May 2017 cited the same phenomenon but – perhaps focused on the compression of the cause and effect linkages rather than their geographical distribution -- declared a “Compressed Battlefield.”4  The recently published TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-6 “The US Army Functional Concept for Movement and Maneuver” cites a “Hyperactive Environment” due to the plethora of technologies, systems, and their interactions. Citing examples from the maritime domain, GEN(R) John Allen and Amir Husain used the label “Hyperwar” to describe the unparalleled speed enabled by automated decision making and the concurrency of action leveraging artificial intelligence and machine cognition.5

These consistent assessments, despite their diverse labels, share a premise that advances in sensing, precision attack, and decision-making will fundamentally alter the character of future conflict engagements.  Such a premise warrants closer examination, since the ability to win engagements is essential to successful campaigns and achieving military objectives.6  In the spirit of objective intelligence analysis this paper will eschew any attempt to attach a name to these “battlefields” or “wars” and simply label these phenomena “Advanced Engagements.”  Advanced Engagements will be:

compressed in time, as the speed of weapon delivery and their associated effects accelerate enormously;

extended in space, in many cases to a global extent, via precision long-range strike and interconnectedness, particularly in the information environment;

far more lethal, by virtue of ubiquitous sensors, proliferated precision, high kinetic energy weapons and advanced area munitions;

routinely interconnected – and contested -- across the multiple

domains of air, land, sea, space and cyber;

interactive across the multiple dimensions of conflict, not only across every domain in the physical dimension, but also the cognitive dimension of information operations, and even the moral dimension of belief and values.

The context of these phenomena is particularly important: Advanced Engagements will be available to both peer and non-peer competitors. The imminent risk that U.S. land forces will experience the consequences of such engagements, vice merely inflict them, poses the most significant potential discontinuity in its future experience of the character of warfare.

Whereas the TRADOC G2’s recent update of the Operational Environment deduced the fundamental competitions that will characterize the future character of warfare from significant trends in the strategic security environment, this paper will leverage that work to induce the tactical, operational, and strategic implications of Advanced Engagements as described above. These alternative deductive and inductive approaches will render similar conclusions, but with complementary insights that enrich our forecast of the future operational environment.

Advanced Engagements: Tactical Implications

Competing Complexes: The Reconnaissance / Strike Contest

Russian military theorists first imagined “reconnaissance / strike complexes” in the 1970s, but watched enviously as the US military fielded the sensors, weapons and command and control capabilities that first realized the Soviet vision.  Now, in an era where enabling technologies will proliferate Advanced Engagement capability to most competitors, the United States has lost its monopoly over reconnaissance / strike, and a new series of competitions is underway.

Finders vs Hiders.  Most competitors will access space-based surveillance, networked advanced radars, multi-purpose drones in a wide range of form factors, and a vast array of sensors that are far cheaper than the technology and techniques that defeat them.7   These ubiquitous finders extend to the civilian sector, where sensors might include noncombatants equipped with smart phone technology.  Commercial imagery services, a robust and now quite mature Internet of Things, and easy access to almost unlimited processing power will generate a battlespace of ubiquitous finders and an unprecedented level of global transparency.  Hiding from advanced sensors – where practicable -- will require dramatic reduction of heat, electromagnetic, and optical signatures. Traditional hider techniques such as camouflage, deception, and concealment will have to extend to “cross-domain obscuration”8 in the cyber domain and the electro-magnetic spectrum. Canny competitors will monitor their own emissions in real-time to understand and mitigate their vulnerabilities in the ‘battle of signatures.’9

Strikers vs Shielders. The finder-hider competition closely couples to the simultaneous maturation – and proliferation – of the precision strike regime.

Combatants – including many non-state entities – will leverage multiple manifestations of precision strike: kinetic weapons, hypersonic weapons, hyper-kinetic munitions, railguns, directed energy, and cyber. With operational reach ranging from tactical to global, the application of their impact from one domain into another will be routine.

Striker techniques include both point precision and area suppression: where hiders are particularly effective, strikers resort to area suppression weapons such as thermobarics, cluster munitions, smart minefields, and even tactical nuclear weapons.10 Successful combatants will devise shields via intercept missiles, railguns, lasers, jamming – enabled by electronic warfare and directed energy systems that disable the opposing network of finders. The art of the shield between peer competitors, however, will be the allocation of such assets -- in locations, at ranges, and against targets -- that maximize their relative effectiveness.  Relative range, the size and tempo of weapon salvos, swarming algorithms, and the ability to speed and / or harden striker or shielder components will be key discriminators.

Dormancy, Movement, and Dispersal. For a hider to reliably defeat a finder, it generally must not move or emit – in any portion of the spectrum.  Such dormancy would necessitate going to ground for cover and concealment from overhead sensors, and complete electro-magnetic passivity. Alternately “hiding in the open” within complex terrain clutter and near-constant relocation might be feasible, provided such relocation could outpace future recon / strike targeting cycles.  The potency of adversary Advanced Engagement capabilities will pose a severe penalty on massed forces and a pervasive demand to disperse for survival.  At the same time, some assets – and some points in the battlespace – simply must be preserved and protected. Combatants should anticipate a battlespace geometry of isolated, combined arms, non-contiguous shields protecting key assets and formations – surrounded by vast, non- shielded areas wherein dormancy or movement is the only practical solution.

From Bypass to Bastion: The Race for Complex Urban Terrain. Large urban areas will be attractive to combatants seeking to hide and take advantage of the overhead cover of extensive underground spaces, and urban clutter’s relatively high noise-to-signal ratio.11 Dreaded in the past, urban operations will become the default environment: not only a necessity, but also an opportunity.  Cities will have massive resources that can be directed for war, such as computer controlled machine shops, 3D manufacturing facilities, small scale chip foundries, and a dense array of consumer electronics, wireless nodes, and commercial and private fiber networks.  Cities will also pose opportunities for foraging, e.g. water, energy, 3D printing materials, and both communication and transportation assets.

Not Your Father’s Recon / Strike Complex. The recon / strike phenomenon will not only proliferate, it will progressively improve.  The enhanced range, precision and proliferation of Advanced Engagements will render recon / strike effects that are vastly more lethal.12   Advanced Engagements will also enable a recon / strike complex that is stunningly faster, in many cases collapsing the decision-action cycle to mere milliseconds with automated, human-on-the-loop sensors.13 AI-enabled visual recognition will identify and classify military targets far faster than humans can.  The decisive edge may accrue to the side with more autonomous decision-action concurrency.14

The future recon / strike ‘complex,’ although extended to more domains, may paradoxically be ‘less complex’ and redesigned for “disintermediation.”15  Legacy recon / strike complexes depend on a series of orchestrated and carefully constrained intermediary linkages: processes, relationships, and communications architectures designed and optimized for specific combinations of sensors and shooters.  A game- changing capability may accrue to competitors who can design systems that minimize these intermediaries to adroitly link “any sensor / best shooter” combinations on an area basis, regardless of asset ownership, echelon or domain.16

Most importantly, the future recon / strike competition will be central to the tactical fight. Winning it may not assure an operation’s success; but losing it will ensure failure.

An Evolving Attack / Defense Dynamic

A New Chapter in an Old Story.  Offense vs Defense is a timeless competition, but Advanced Engagements will signal a new era that -- at least in the land domain -- will favor the defense. With peer competitors robustly – but equivalently -- equipped with finders and strikers, the combatant who moves is detected and therefore disadvantaged. A defensive stance favors stationary hiders protected by more robust shields and passive sensors that are difficult to detect.

Inversion in the Information Dimension. Perversely, the offense vs defense competition inverts in the information dimension of conflict.  Here, offensive information action is generally ascendant, and indeed an adversary might leverage the information dimension, particularly cyber activity, to set the conditions to overcome the defense advantages of the physical realm.

Mastering the Movement Conundrum.  Peer competitors will employ recon / strike complexes that identify and destroy targets so quickly that wide areas of the battlespace will become a movement “no man’s land.”17 The ultimate necessity to seize the initiative and take offensive action will remain intrinsic to the nature of the war, but such action and its associated movement will expose attacking forces to the advantages of defending forces.  Although some surmise that constant movement might defeat Advanced Engagement capabilities, that assumption is untested against future recon / strike cycle speeds.

Tactical Pulsing.  Combatants may address the movement conundrum by sudden, extreme pulses of violent offensive action, carefully integrated across multiple domains. Building on careful preparation in the cyber domain and informational dimension, the objective will be a rapid, fait accompli in the physical realm that can be preserved through a quick transition to a highly leveraged defensive stance – where defenders can impose debilitating costs.  Operational art will be measured in the duration, reach, and sequencing of these paroxysms of intense, hyperactive violence.

Unprecedented Speed; Elusive Resolution.  Ironically, the speed of battle will not accelerate its decisiveness. Because competitors face near-peers and / or enduring and persistent, global ideological networks, engagement effects are transitory and exploitation is difficult.  Advanced engagements will be fast but campaigns may very well be protracted.

A Contest to Communicate

A Multi-Domain Disruption Duel.  Competitors will view opposing networks as key vulnerabilities and will seek persistent and pervasive attacks to degrade enemy communication links,18 while preserving their own. They will attack communication links with long long-range weapons and cyber effects throughout the depth of the battlespace.  Irregular or special purpose forces enabled by improved technologies will exacerbate the normal rear areas vulnerabilities.19   This duel will be decisively disruptive if one or more of the competitors achieve quantum-based communications.

 Disconnect on Demand.  Digital and electromagnetic systems pose a capability

/ vulnerability conundrum: the greater the reliance on them, the greater vulnerability to disruption, diversion, and destruction. Paradoxically, then, disconnection enhances communication assurance (and hiding) to the extent that it can isolate units or areas from external, hostile interference. Units may intentionally “go dark,” eschewing connection and access to external resources to facilitate security and internal communication assurance.  Alternately, external headquarters may choose to disconnect the networks of units over-run on a non-contiguous battlespace.

Layers versus Linkages. Legacy command and control capabilities frequently combine specific nodes such as sensors or radios linked to associated networks for a particular function. This stove-piped approach will not scale well as nodes and networks proliferate: customized, specialized linkages are fragile, vulnerable to targeted disruption, lack agility, and are difficult to manage in the aggregate.20

Future architectures may design communication, sensor, and fires layers; each layer optimized to pass data and function among nearby, redundant components, and able to flexibly interact with the best available component of other layers via standardized interfaces – regardless of echelon or ownership. Such a capability will be key to the extensive “disintermediation” necessary to rapidly coordinate and deconflict Advanced Engagements across multiple domains.21

Dealing with Degradation.  In the face of the Advanced Engagements of peer competitors, adversaries should expect periods of significant communication degradation in future operating environments. Combined with the natural consequences of battlefield dispersion, this will entail degraded situational awareness and battlespace coordination.22  Forces therefore – particularly U.S. forces – will rediscover the uncertainty inherent to war. To keep the situation changing faster than an enemy can effectively respond, such recognition should lead to an increased need for speed of action and the prioritization of timely action at low levels over thorough understanding at higher levels.  Other techniques to deal with degradation will include decentralized decision-making, migrating substantial capabilities to lower levels, and removing intermediaries between units and assets capable of mutual support.23 24

The Resilience Requirement.  Competitors will seek resilient, assured communication through redundant, heterogeneous networks employing innovative techniques such as cognitive radios for dynamic spectrum access,25 low power and highly directional transmissions over multiple segments of the electromagnetic spectrum, to include the light (laser) portion. Given the capability / vulnerability conundrum of global connectivity, an entire force must be resilient -- capable of thwarting or absorbing attacks and disruption attempts throughout its depth.

Advanced Decision Making

Recon / Strike effectiveness is a function of its sensors, shooters, their connections, and the targeting process driving decisions. Therefore, in a contest between peer competitors with comparable capabilities, advantage will fall to the one that is better integrated and makes better and faster decisions.26

Cross Domain Maneuver and Synchronization.27 Even without the speed, reach and lethality of peer competitor Advanced Engagement capabilities, cross-domain maneuver would pose daunting challenges for future decision making. Expanding upon legacy notions of combined arms and joint synergy, cross-domain maneuver combines movement and application of mutually supporting lethal and nonlethal capabilities in all domains to generate overmatch, present multiple dilemmas to the enemy, and enable joint force freedom of movement and action.28  As sensors, networks and weapons extend their reach and effectiveness, effective cross-domain synchronization will demand complex reasoning and the ability to visualize a dynamic battlespace cluttered by a bewildering array of sensors, shooters and entities of interest.

Reason vs Reaction. The speed of many Advanced Engagements – laser systems, hypersonic weapons, cyber-attacks – will far exceed the reaction ability of normal humans.  Significant battle processes will be highly automated and supervised by cognitively augmented humans and man-machine “centaur” teams. The planning paradox for the offense is that overcoming defensive advantages will demand very careful planning, condition setting, and synchronization.  On the defense, however, faced with bewilderingly short reaction windows, decision processes will be increasingly automated and even autonomous. The venerable Observe – Orient – Decide – Act (OODA) loop will acquire interesting asymmetries between defense and offense.

In the Loop” to “On the Loop” and … “Out of the Loop?”  Some posit a future of “infinite distributed command and control capacity” wherein artificial intelligence will correct human deficiencies with respect to speed, attention and diligence.29  Such competitive decision-making might ultimately hinge on superior algorithmic warfare.

Others estimate that only human judgment can create military art, but such judgment can be improved through hybrid solution approaches that combine carefully selected, educated and trained individuals, cognitive human performance enhancements, and machine learning tools.30  The proper allocation of human judgement within, on, or outside OODA loops will be key to future tactical success.

Mission Command vs Conditions Command.  Mission Command endures, but in the dynamic, non-contiguous battlespace of Advanced Engagements a Commander’s original intent rarely persists for extended periods.  The contest to communicate, including periods of intentional disconnection, will preclude continuous updates of a Commander’s intent. The rapid presentation of threats and opportunities rewards “Conditions Command”: execution based on independent recognition of required conditions, rather than positive higher confirmation or refinement of the original mission.

The Continuum of Control.  Some would argue that we cannot prudently plan to win by knowing more than the enemy, but through superior uncertainty management and fighting through friction. This would entail decentralization of decision-making (and capabilities) to the lowest possible level and a disposition for action vice planning.

Although Mission Command has occupied a prominent pedestal in the Army’s pantheon of C2 ideas, and something akin to Conditions Command may eventually supersede it, synchronization is still a very important component of modern warfare.  Synchronization will be even more important as we attempt to scale up combined arms synergy across multiple domains and services.31  The challenge will be for land forces to develop, train and execute an appropriate “continuum of control.”32

Advanced Engagements: Operational Implications

The Global Battlefield

Peer competitor land forces will have global reach as Advanced Engagements expand the battlefield both physically and virtually.  There will be more cyber and space tools, more adversaries with long-range strike, and more global interconnectedness.

Advance Engagements will enable adversaries to affect each other at extreme depth, from overseas theaters to respective homelands.33  The scope of warfare’s lethality is similarly expanded by massed precision munitions, smart mines, robotic swarms, nuclear warfare, biological and chemical attack, and wide area electromagnetic interdiction.34 The Army and the Marine Corps are already exploring alternative, extended battlefield frameworks to reflect this reality.35

Cultural great powers based on transregional ideologies are capable of projecting considerable power in the informational and moral domains as well.  Usually separated by vast geographic distances, they project power from a substantial and extensive base leveraging demographic / economic advantages, technological prowess, and a far- reaching communications and transportation infrastructure. The relative parity of the size, reach and lethality of great powers – together with innate defensive advantages -- will minimize opportunities for rapid and decisive conflict resolution between peer competitors contesting vital interests.36

A logical consequence of global battlefields is that our current joint command and control approach will evolve.  Rather than focusing primarily on allocation of available forces forward to theater commanders, the Joint Staff will increasingly find itself in an active synchronizing and integrating role for military action across the globe.

The Death of Domain Dominance

A legacy feature of joint operational art has been to leverage an advantaged domain. The task of Joint Force commanders, for example, might be to first assert or establish air dominance, and then leverage that dominance to augment land operations. It was not unusual to speak of ‘maritime supremacy’ or “aero-space supremacy.’  Such supremacy, or even dominance, will not be feasible in an era of peer competitors capable of Advanced Engagements.  Such engagements have the speed and reach that routinely extend their effects from one domain into another, such as when a ground-based SA-400 air defense system precludes flight over East Ukraine.  Advanced Engagements make “domain dominance” an inherently multi-domain problem.

Therefore, lasting dominance in any single domain will be elusive, and commanders must leverage temporary, localized windows of superiority.  As Advanced Engagements extend their physical capability to both find and strike, armies cannot limit their planning and operations merely to the land domain. Each domain’s unique physics still constrains platforms and tactics, but the highest art of combined arms warfare will be to generate effects from one domain against another: leveraging their relative advantages and mitigating their innate vulnerabilities. Land forces will contribute to the provision of temporary windows of advantage in all domains.37

Organizing for Joint / Combined Arms Synergy: How Low Can You Go?

How will units isolated across a non-contiguous battlespace and contending with a degraded communications environment generate combined arms synergy?  One way might be to embed those capabilities at lower echelons.38 The consequences of Advanced Engagements will reinforce this option, migrating combined arms capabilities to even lower levels.39   Whether that organization is by organic design or task organization is a moot point: on a battlespace physically and virtually isolated, the components of combined arms synergy must be readily at hand.

This phenomenon will not negate the role of higher headquarters, which will organize and resource joint, combined arms operations.  In the past, the scarcity of standing joint headquarters and the difficulty of staffing ad hoc, new ones compelled theater commanders to widen the scope – and minimize the number -- of such headquarters whenever practical.  In the face of peer competitors capable of Advanced Engagements, however, any prudent commander will want to proliferate these essential multidomain C2 assets. JFHQs will be “standing” by default; they will also be smaller, mobile, and redundant throughout an area of operations.40

Multidimensional Campaigns

Conflicts have always had physical, informational, and moral dimensions.  Past commanders typically focused on the physical domains; informational / cognitive action was restricted to limited media channels, and the moral dimension – the domain of belief and values – was the purview of culture and political / ideological action over extended periods. Advanced Engagements will change this, and soon.  Because of increased connectivity and the momentum of human interaction enabled by it, battlefield events will shape – and be shaped by -- the global information environment.41 42

Competitors will fight for information on a global scale, engaging with well-crafted ideas and narratives combined with pervasive and globally-reaching cyber, electronic warfare, information operations, and psychological warfare tools that can “range” any element of opposing social and political systems.  The intention will be to confuse leaders, paralyze decision-making, and deny the ability to target. The intention will also be to influence perceptions beyond the battlefield.

Coercion through the cognitive dimension is not only possible, but often the first (and decisive) recourse in conflict, and will be an ongoing, persistent activity between opposing powers within targeted societies.  Operational commanders will contribute to perception management in the cognitive dimension as a core element of military campaigns.”43 44 Because of its speed, volume and ubiquity, information will be weaponized, directly through cyber techniques or implicitly through social media techniques.45 46   There will be a recognized premium for understanding and appreciation of the belief systems that motivate actors in the moral dimension of conflict. Successful operational commanders will recognize the need for multidimensional campaigns and hold ‘narrative’ in equal regard with ‘networks’ or ‘nukes’.47

Advanced Projection and Sustainment

Our current projection and sustainment approaches evolved during periods of maritime and aerospace supremacy that generated very permissive environments for these functions. Those environments in turn encouraged techniques that maximized efficiency and economies of scale. Units were disaggregated for maximum transportation efficiency; for decades, we have afforded only minimum protections to our strategic lines of communication.  As Advanced Engagements contest the commons and impose a reconfigured battlespace, these functions must adapt.

That adaptation will include force projection over multiple paths, to and through multiple improved and unimproved entry points.  Multimodal distribution requires delivering smaller, tailored packages of supplies via numerous transportation modes and the quick transition of supply packages across those nodes. Transfer points closer to the battle area must be more mobile and distributed.48 Major force projection hubs are prime candidates for robust shields – or, where necessary – innovative dispersed and mobile logistic asset configurations.49

The non-contiguous battlefield geometries pose daunting land force sustainment challenges. Sustainment can no longer be a continuous background function wherein supplies and services move freely over long lines of communication that span contiguous rear areas.  At risk from Advanced Engagements, sustainment will become an overt, integrated combined arms activity that pulses and protects support packages across non-contiguous battlespace. A successful sustainment pulse resets a unit’s “expiration clock,” but that clock inexorably counts down until the next sustainment pulse is required. Demand reduction will be key to extending that expiration clock, particularly if consumption (or local production) profiles for fuel, water, and other stocks can reduce demands for supply, storage, and distribution.50

Total asset visibility should allow highly mobile forces to draw supplies and support from the totality of the supply system, rather than at predetermined endpoints. With multiple, mobile distributed stores of supplies, the optimal logistic node can pulse the requisite support to the force in need. This “any customer, best supporter” idea is similar to the “any sensor, best shooter” concept described earlier, as it ‘disintermediates’ and flattens the supply system.51

The mobility and survivability of sustainment assets must match that of the units they support. Sustainment forces will require increased organic lethality and protection, such as counter- UAS ability, to remain undetected and avoid enemy targeting.52

Advanced Engagements: Strategic Implications

Precarious Stability

It is highly unlikely that Advanced Engagements, even when distributed among peer competitors, will usher in an era of prolonged strategic stability.  Advanced Engagement capabilities will themselves be destabilizing as the “haves” coerce the “have nots.” The proliferation of Advanced Engagement capabilities, together with their low barriers to entry and access, will facilitate the continuous subversion of competitors via the activation and direction of local irregular proxy forces and global media, information warfare, lawfare, and cyber-attacks.

Terms like Regular and Irregular Warfare will lose their distinction. All competitors – peer and non-peer alike – will combine alternating combinations of these approaches, or hybrid amalgamations of both. The spectrum of conflict will range from peaceful, legal activities through violent, mass upheavals and civil wars to traditional state-on-state, unlimited warfare.53

Long range, strategic Advanced Engagement strikers – taken together with cyber technology and ever more ubiquitous finders -- are significantly destabilizing.  One of the former linchpins of strategic deterrence -- survivable, mobile missiles – will be less effective in the light of advanced sensing capabilities. This ratchets up the rewards for shooting first, lowers the tolerance of reactive intelligence and decision processes, and lowers the confidence in reduced nuclear arsenals. Recognizing the advantages of a mobilized defense, moreover, desperate first users may be tempted to “use it or lose it,” risking all with a sudden, but massive, strategic surprise.

It is always possible, that new “big things” will emerge to fundamentally disrupt this future character of warfare.54 What is not probable, however, is that in a world of great interconnectivity and distributed technologies the “next big thing” will lead to sustained and prolonged dominance for any particular power.55 56

The Symmetry Illusion

It would be a mistake to presume that an era of peer competitor Advanced Engagements will render symmetry as a dominant characteristic of future conflict. Because of the plethora of entities, as well as the additional domains and dimensions of conflict, “peer” competitors will have such a range of combinations at their disposal that it is improbable that their interplay will be symmetric in any way.  We already see, for example, potential competitors developing doctrines that – compared to the United States – have far more emphasis on informational and / or moral dimension of conflict.57

Even within the physical realm, asymmetries will abound. Tactical nuclear weapons have a range and lethality that qualify them as Advanced Engagements, but the policy, doctrine, and employment capabilities are wildly disparate across the current nuclear powers. Many Advanced Engagement capabilities, moreover, will have nuclear-like consequences: chemical weapons, novel and very dangerous biological weapons derived from revolutionary advances in commercial biotechnology, offensive cyber systems, counter-space, and long-range precision conventional strike assets.

Such capabilities close the gap between “peer” and “non-peer,” so that even smaller regional competitors can constrain their adversaries’ freedom of action.

The Competition of Concepts and Capabilities

The most robust Advanced Engagement capabilities will be useless without equally effective concepts. Effective concepts retain and build on what is timeless and enduring: joint and combined arms warfare will be even more potent because of the increased potential for cross-domain synergy.  Maneuver warfare will be even more prized, albeit more complicated because of the inclusion of additional domains (particularly space and cyber) and dimensions (informational, moral).  Mission command will be more challenging and even more necessary.  Joint will be the default planning and employment mode and routinely extended to lower echelons. As always, the purpose will be seizure, retention and exploitation of the initiative.58

With new concepts will come a relook at the inevitable platform trades: mobility, survivability, and lethality.  An Advanced Engagement battlespace will pose the greatest challenges to survivability.59 Movement, dispersion, and signature reduction will not completely substitute for lack of protection. Assured protection everywhere, on the other hand, will not be feasible. The disaggregation of some legacy platforms and careful application of manned-unmanned teaming (UMT) for both sensors and strikers will enhance initial engagement survivability in a highly lethal battlespace.

Advanced Integration

An Advanced Engagement battlespace will certainly demand advanced integration. Such integration must not only accommodate relatively new domains such as space and cyber, it must also account for the increasing roles of the informational (cognitive) and moral dimensions of conflict. Special Operations Forces, conventional forces, interagency and multinational partners will find themselves operating together in ill-defined environments that require interoperability, integration, and interdependence beyond what is common today. The synchronization challenges will be far more daunting, because cause and effect must be orchestrated across multiple domains with very disparate considerations for speed and operational reach. Nonetheless, the rewards of success are substantial, with cross-domain synergy generating disproportionate outcomes for forces that understand it, plan for it, and can generate it.60 Such rewards will compel an advanced, far more integrated joint capability development process.61

Advanced Learning

If Advanced Engagements are simply faster, farther, and more lethal, can we safely presume that legacy solution approaches – albeit more refined, more integrated, and more practiced – will suffice?  Only with great peril to future operational outcomes. The aggregate tactical, operational and strategic implications of Advanced Engagements are more than incremental. Rather than simply “operating better,” the future challenge will be to “operate differently.”62

To be sure, we can only hope to succeed in an Advanced Engagements Battlespace if we are prepared for “advanced learning.”  Future competitors will seek to overcome their inexperience in generating joint synergy across the multiple domains and dimensions of conflict. Legacy great powers like our own must overcome the cognitive anchoring that blinds us to the impact of strategic trends, possibilities of alternative solutions and the vulnerabilities of our past demonstrated successes. Advanced Learning before and during conflict will be the ultimate discriminator. It is not too soon to begin.

End Notes

1 Jim Greer, “Multi-Domain Battle Concept Paper - Breaking out of Paralysis: Hutier Tactics in 2050,” Unpublished Paper, 2016.

2 TRADOC Briefing Extract, “FOE Wargame 2050, Possible Alternative Operational/Tactical Warfighting Environments.” 2017, exact date not known. The briefing also cites a potential “Cluttered Battlefield” of static elements, and allows that future battlespace may be a hybrid combination of cluttered and hyperactive environments.


4 Multi-Domain Battle Briefing, US Army – Marine Corps Warfighter Talks, 11 May 2017.

5 GEN John R Allen and Amir Husain, “On Hyperwar” Proceedings Magazine, U.S. Naval Institute, July 2017.

6 TP 525-3-6, “The US Army Functional Concept for Movement and Maneuver, 2020-2040,” Feb 2017.

7 Shawn Brimley, Center for a New American Security, While We Still Can: Arresting the Erosion of America’svMilitary Edge, (17 December 2015).

8 TP 525-3-6, Op Cit.

9 OE Paper

10 For the risk to great powers that choose to eschew cluster munitions, see the Mr. David Johnson and Mr. Ryan Boon, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments Research Brief, “Improved Conventional Munitions Policy” (7 March 2017).

11 TRADOC Paper, “The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare,” 2017.

12 CSA SSG, op cit.

13 CSA Strategic Studies Group (SSG) Cohort V, “Reconnaissance-Strike Battle: An Operational Concept for High-end War 2030-2050,” June 12, 2017.

14 Allen and Husain, op cit.

15 CSA SSG, op cit.

16 CSA SSG, op cit.

17 TRADOC Briefing, “Character of Future Warfare,” National Conference Center, Leesburg, VA 7-10 Nov 2016.

18 Critical communication links will include access to precision positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) capabilities.

19 TP 525-3-6, op cit.

20 M.S. Marwick (Project Leader, Institute for Defense Analyses, “A Comprehensive Assessment of the Army’s Air-

Land Mobile Tactical Communications Network,” May 2017.

21 CSA SSG, op cit.

22 TP 525-3-6, op cit.

23 CSA SSG, op cit.

24 Marwick, op cit.

25 Simon Haykin, Life Fellow, IEEE. “Cognitive Radio: Brain-Empowered Wireless Communications,” IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications, VOL. 23, NO. 2, February 2005.

26 CSA SSG, op cit.

27 TRADOC Paper, “The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare,” 2017.

28 TP 525-3-6

29 Allen and Husain, op cit.

30 TRADOC Paper, “The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare,” 2017.

31 Conrad Crane, War on the Rocks, “Mission Command and Multi-Domain Battle Don’t Mix” 23 August 2017.

32 Conrad Crane, ibid.

33 CSA SSG, op cit.

34 TRADOC Paper, “The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare,” 2017

35 USA – USMC Briefing

36 TRADOC Paper, “The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare,” 2017. Mr. Gary Phillips (Director of the TRADOC Defense Intelligence Support Activity) has observed that both Corbett and Clausewitz cite the value of the object as a key discriminator in the potential duration of a conflict. It is more than the disparity of capabilities between the competitors.

37 TRADOC Paper, “The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare,” 2017

38 This trend began with the Army’s decision to use brigade combat teams, rather than divisions, as the Army’svbasic unit of action.

39 CSA SSG, op cit.

40 In the Cold War, tactical Joint Force HQs were generally built ‘ad hoc.’ Post-Cold War, the Army began to explore the possibility of Corps HQ serving as a Land Component HQ or even forming the base for a Joint Force HQ.  TRADOC Pamphlet 525-6 states that “EAB” (i.e. Division HQ and above) will routinely “organize and resource joint combined arms operations.” A headquarters’ potential for service as a joint command has progressively migrated lower.

41 CSA SSG, op cit.

42 CSA SSG, op cit.

43 TRADOC Paper, “The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare,” 2017

44 CSA SSG, op cit.

45 Army TRADOC G2, Mad Scientist 2016: The 2050 Cyber Army, (7 November 2016), p. 36.

46  operations-focus-on-the-information-environment?utm_source=The+Bridge&utm_campaign=baf23cb3fe-  RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_bcf191ca0f-baf23cb3fe-296376089

47 Mr. Paul Tompkins and Mr. Robert Leonhard, “The Science of Resistance,” Small Wars Journal (24 February 2017).

48 CSA SSG, op cit.

49 TRADOC Paper, “The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare,” 2017.

50 TP 525-3-6, op cit.

51 CSA SSG, op cit.

52 TP 525-3-6, op cit.

53 Tompkins and Leonhard, op cit.

54 CSA SSG, op cit.

55 Elsa B. Kania, “From the Third U.S. Offset to China’s First Offset: The Revolutionary Potential of Quantum Technologies.” 6 April 2017, The Strategy Bridge:  third-us-offset-to-chinas-first-offset?utm_source=The+Bridge&utm_campaign=2ed27fd9cc-  RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_bcf191ca0f-2ed27fd9cc-296376089

56 TRADOC Paper, “The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare,” 2017.

57 See Russian “New Generation Warfare,”, China’s Three Warfares, and radical Islam’s commitment to belief as the foundation for conflict.

58 TRADOC Paper, “The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare,” 2017

59 CSA SSG, op cit.

60 TRADOC Paper, “The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare,” 2017

61 GEN Robert Brown and GEN David Perkins, “Multi-Domain Battle: Tonight, Tomorrow and the Future Fight.” War on The Rocks, 18 August 2017.

62 James Greer, e-mail observation on Multi-Domain Battle, 2017.

About the Author(s)

The U.S. Army TRADOC G2 Mad Scientist Initiative is a U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) program that continually explores the future through collaborative partnerships and continuous dialogue with academia, industry and government. Through this initiative, the Army helps shape future land operations in its role as a thought leader in the future of warfare. The program consists of an All Partners Access Network (APAN) community of interest, a monthly online speaker series, and conferences with world-class experts at the nation's premier academic institutions.