We are at an inflection point in the evolution of warfare. While technology is rapidly increasing pace, it is also creating an expansion into multiple, parallel domains, and giving enemy forces more options for both disruption and defense. Technology advances are a key factor to successes spanning the spectrum from humanitarian efforts to complex anti-access/area-denial environments. However, technology is only an enabler, and mindsets must change to allow the technology to be a tool for success, and not ignored due to antiquated doctrine, policies, and guidance.
MDC2 represents a new way of thinking about how to coordinate force employment across multiple warfighting domains, and bridging capabilities from old and new technologies. MDC2 itself is not a new technology, but rather a mindset for operational planning, and creating systems that can more easily talk and coordinate with each other. Successful MDC2 will require tendrils and communications links that allow seamless situational awareness, and cross-coordination of planning efforts across existing horizontal and vertical boundaries.
Past human capability has restricted warfare to only a few environments, or “domains”. Land, followed by sea, then subsurface, then air. New battlespace domains are emerging rapidly. Space remained a peaceful environment for decades, but now faces a constantly growing threat with the potential to impose or be subjected to damaging effects. Cyber represents an even more radical shift - hidden, unpredictable, it changes faster than humans can monitor, and can be utilized for wide-reaching effects on top of and within all other domains.
Historically, communication limitations drove warfighters in each of the domains to operate and communicate independently at the tactical level, coordinating primarily at a strategic level. We can no longer successfully execute operations as a set of independent campaigns. The shift to MDC2 enables integrated objectives, capabilities, timing, and planning from the strategic through operational levels; it continues on down to tactical employment, and fosters cross-coordination during execution. We need to rethink command relationships to promote agility across domains during planning and execution. Any given domain may provide enabling functions in support of another domain, or deliver effects designed to channel the enemy towards a domain where we can achieve desired effects. And the roles may reverse within minutes or seconds.
Cyber brings new challenges in identification and response to events. Before responding to any attack we need to identify the source within seconds. We also must differentiate between state and non-state actors, between attacks on national assets and attacks on civilians/businesses. The cross-talk between domains must be fluid and constant. Intelligence sources cannot be binned by domain, agency or time, but rather must be constantly blended so that decision-makers in all domains share temporally relative situational awareness. Every level of decision-maker, from commanders to critical planners, constantly need current situational awareness of plans, operational execution, and observed opponent activity occurring simultaneously in all domains. Today’s operations demand actions and responses far more quickly, and cannot wait for traditional interactions, such as phone calls and emails, to adjust. MDC2 capabilities must be an integral part of the C2 (command and control) tools of the future. It is no longer simply a method of coordination, but a necessity to rapidly assemble the situational awareness necessary to identify and implement the best option to achieve a timely effect.
MDC2 for effects that are planned well in advance is currently performed on disparate systems, predominantly air-gapped with little integration and understanding between domains. Our military expends excessive manpower performing manual coordination and data exchange, completely dependent on liaison personnel at almost every organization. This inefficient process mostly works for one-off strikes, where events are pre-planned and there are limited competing operations drawing on resources. But in the advent of multiple simultaneous operations or open conflict (even in its smallest form) with unpredictability and the need to rapidly react, this approach quickly falters.
The speed of operations differs significantly by domain. On the upper end, maneuvers in space can be extremely expensive in both time and limited resources. At the other end, cyber effects can happen at millisecond scales, at nearly zero marginal cost. Traditional warfighting domains lie in-between, but are under constant demand for increased speed. When various domain solutions offer equal success, timing becomes a deciding factor. The ability to dictate tempo by implementing faster than an opponent can react remains a primal key, and is even more critical in an era of diminishing operational resources.
The rise of social media and cyber capabilities have greatly empowered enemy forces. We can no longer depend on overwhelming force and financial dominance to defeat hostiles. Many of our opponents are also unencumbered by the bureaucratic acquisition or testing cycles currently driving many US programs. Our adversaries realize that the ability to locate a weakness, exploit the environment, communicate on social media, and quickly execute, greatly enhances their chances of success. They understand that the risk of operating outside of cumbersome acquire/test/develop cycles is worth the speed of execution. Our luxury of wielding an overwhelming military force has long hidden our inefficiencies. We take years to build requirements up to extremely detailed specifications, years choosing a contractor, years in development, then further years in integration, test, and certification cycles – before we even begin deployment.