Gen. David G. Perkins, commander at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command , took an opportunity while speaking at the “Land Forces in the Pacific: Advancing Joint and Multi-National Integration” conference last week to present his vision of the future of U.S. warfare. Multi-Domain Battle, or MDB, represents what the general feels is the most effective way to make use of existing military equipment and personnel in a 21st century battlefield.
In short, the strategy behind the MDB concept is simple: streamline the utilization of the five combat domains (air, sea, land, space, and cyber) in a joint coalition effort between sister services and even partner nations.
When a crisis occurs in a land domain, the Army or Marine Corps is considered the “owner” of that domain and is expected to respond in a traditional manner, perhaps with mortars or howitzers. If a crisis occurs at sea, the Navy is viewed as owning that domain, so a ship or sub-surface solution is applied.” General Perkins explained.
This division of responsibility was originally intended to keep the branches working within their areas of expertise, but by blurring these lines, the general points out, the U.S. can offer a broader range of strategic options to commanders in theater, and make existing defensive forces even more formidable.
In a hypothetical situation, the general explained how MDB could be used to bring the full military force of the United States to bear against enemy ships pursuing U.S. Naval vessels. Under existing strategy, the Navy would be left to address the threat of pursuing vessels on their own, but through an MDB coalition of forces, other branches could come to the aid of Naval ships in a manner that would be difficult to counter by opponents.
The enemy knows the whereabouts of U.S. ships that might come to the aid of friendly vessels. What the combatants not aware of are the presence of Army howitzers or missile batteries, located on islands in the area, which are armed with anti-ship precision fires.” The General explained. “So now, the enemy isn’t just worried about the U.S. Navy — they’re also worried about the U.S. Army, which can emplace its guns in hard-to-detect areas on land.”
By blurring the areas of responsibility for each branch, combat commanders would have “multiple options” while the enemy would be faced with “multiple dilemmas.”
Expanding the concepts behind MDB would also allow for a more successful integration of the defensive capabilities of allied nations using the same principles of cooperation and intersecting vectors of fire, if you will.
Royal Australian Army Maj. Gen. Roger Noble, who is on loan to the U.S. Army as deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, provided an example of how partner nation-based MDB strategies may play out.
While attached to the 101st Airborne Division last year, Noble was assisting the Iraqi army in its efforts to defeat ISIS. During the fighting, the U.S. Army wanted to use offensive cyber capabilities to support a mission that remains classified. However, the Army did not have the proper permission, nor the authority, to be able to actually use the capabilities it possessed in such a manner. Allies Australia and the UK did however, so the Army relied on their cyber capabilities to carry out the mission.
By using the assets available at the time that were provided by partnered nations, the coalition was able to successfully carry out their mission, the General explained.
Many detractors from the idea of utilizing an MDB based strategy worry that it will require technological updating of equipment and training that could be too costly to prove viable, but Perkins emphasized that the concepts employed by MDB don’t necessarily require the most modern of hardware.
For example, a small Pacific nation without a large navy might have a number of small, shallow-water vessels that could contribute to force protection in areas where U.S. and coalition forces are operating.” Perkins said. “Or, some small nation with hardly any assets at all might have land located in a strategic area from which land, air and naval power of the coalition forces might be projected. Everyone, he assured, has something to bring to the fight.”
Both Generals explained that the MDB strategy is already in use on battlefields around the world, but that they’re working to improve upon the concept. Perkins said he’s been working with Gen. Robert B. Brown, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, to establish an MDB task force “to try to take stuff we have in the Army now and repurpose it,” he explained. For example, USARPAC has equipment that could be used in anti-access, area denial, he said.
I want to see the Army shoot down a missile, fired from a plane that launched from a ship,” Brown’s boss, Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander, U.S. Pacific Command, said of the MDB strategy. “Then, I want to see the Army shoot down the aircraft that launched the missile and then I want the Army to sink that ship.”
As far as Perkins is concerned, incorporating the MDB strategy force-wide will be expensive and time-consuming, but also required in order to stay on top of threats posed by potential adversaries.
“I’m convinced this is the way to fight, particularly when you don’t have a clear advantage over our adversaries,” he said. “Adversaries are now fielding new weapons in quantities approaching the zombie apocalypse.”
Image courtesy of the U.S. Army