Although each branch of the U.S. military has a domain and operational strategy all its own, the realities of modern warfare have seen the lines blurring between the types of tasks, and even environments, assets from each branch have found themselves assigned in recent decades. Now, as the Department of Defense looks toward a future full of a very different type of fighting than America has seen throughout the war on terror, they now plan to blur those lines even further.
While it does make sense for each branch to develop its own combat practices, those isolated lanes of development can present issues on the battlefield in a 21st century conflict. Software developed by individual contracts and fielded by single branches often can’t communicate with similar suites employed by other branches, for instance. As a result, the Defense Department has been working to find ways to integrate disparate systems in a manner that would permit leveraging data collected by any asset to be used in the battle space of the future.
The effort to marry the data feeds of different systems into actionable intelligence has already produced notable fruit, including the use of Navy F/A-18s to identify targets for land-based weapons platforms in Alaska during the recent Noble Eagle exercises. Maybe the Navy found the integration of heavy artillery into their combat suite a little too appealing to leave at that, because now they’re aiming to place U.S. Army artillery on the decks of their ships.
“Innovation is taking existing things and modifying them to do something new,” Maj. Gen. John Ferrari, Director, Program Analysis and Evaluation, told reporters. That’s the basis of the Pentagon’s new “cross-domain fires” strategy, which is currently putting together experimental “teams” that combine air defense units, ground combat units, cyber units and artillery units in unique, branch-crossing ways – like planting an Excalibur 155m artillery gun on the deck of Navy warships to expand its options in the battle space.
“Part of what we do is integrate with the Navy. The Naval threat for the Pacific is one of the major threats, so the Army is doing multi-domain battle. The Pacific is inherently Joint. There is very little that we do that is not done with other services,” Ferrari said.
The Navy is already experimenting with using long range, GPS guided munitions in their 5 inch deck guns, but adding army assets could provide a number of additional advantages. Platforms like the Army’s Tactical Missile Systems rocket, Multiple Launch Rocket Systems or GPS-guided artillery like the aforementioned Excalibur are already battle tested and fielded in an operational capacity. Army personnel are already trained in the use and maintenance of these platforms, so assigning soldiers to man artillery on the deck of a ship would mean a notable increase in the vessel’s firepower at very little expense, as compared to designing and deploying entirely new and Navy-specific weapons platforms.
In effect, adding Army weapons systems to a Navy ship would mean forcing a shift in a potential enemy’s attack or defense strategies, as it would become harder to predict exactly what capabilities an encroaching U.S. ship may be packing.
“Mixing all presents multiple dilemmas for the enemy,” is how one senior defense official described it.
While integrating weapons platforms can increase the options afforded to theater commanders, the more important element of the cross-domain enterprise is streamlining the way in which data is collected and utilized across different offensive and defensive platforms. By sharing information collected by sea, ground and air assets in real time, commanders can not only strategize using the full breadth of the assets in a battle space, but even individual units can respond more quickly and effectively to the enemy.
“It (Multi-Domain Battle) expands the targeting landscape based on the extended ranges and lethality delivered at range by integrated air defenses, cross-domain fire support, and cyber/electronic warfare systems,” Former TRADOC Commander Gen. David Perkins wrote in a paper called, “Multi-Domain Battle: Evolution of Combined Arms for the 21st Century 2025-2040.”
“AirLand Battle started developing the concept of ‘extended battlefield.’ Multi-Domain battle endeavors to integrate capabilities in such a way that to counteract one, the enemy must become more vulnerable to another, creating and exploiting temporary windows of advantage,’ Perkins continued.
In 21st century warfare, having the most advanced or powerful weapons platforms may no longer be enough to secure victory – but instead, it may be how well those systems, and the personnel tasked with manning them, are able to coordinate with another, across branches and potentially, even across national militaries.
The Navy is already working with Army artillery units, among others, to establish procedures for the combined use of Army and Navy assets aboard warships, and expects to put some of these new capabilities on display this summer in the planned international RIMPAC exercises set to take place in the Pacific.
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense
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