The US Army has created two “multi-domain” task force units, tasked with “advancing a warfare synergy between otherwise disparate spheres of attack,” in Europe and the Pacific, Fox News reported Wednesday. According to the report, the intention behind these task forces is to reduce the time spent on exchange of information between different military domains – i.e., water (Navy), land (Ground forces), air (Air Force), space etc.
While networking armies is the staple of today’s warfare, the Fox News report provides an insight into how far the reality is from those fancy pictures painted by the entertainment industry.
According to the Fox, “multi-domain” warfare is the logical evolution of network-based warfare, one in which a submarine can seamlessly transmit its sonar data to nearby ships, who can then designate targets to nearby aircraft. Not only that, but all submarines, ships and planes in the theatre of war are interconnected, sharing the same set of operational data.
Another example is a fighter jet working with a missile defense Aegis-like cruiser. The plane, flying over enemy territory, could detect a missile launch long before the cruiser does. In a network, the plane can share the information in a matter of seconds, allowing for a swift counter-missile launch. Even better: if one jet is downed, the information will still be shared by other jets in the area.
This cross-domain integration has existed in its most basic form long before the spread of networking and electronic data-sharing between military units, the most popular example being laser-guided bombs. A spotter on the ground – usually a member of some kind of Special Forces – covertly approaches a target and “paints” it with a laser beam; the beam allows a bomber to drop its payload with extreme precision. Anecdotal evidence suggested Russian bombers at times managed to destroy the beginning and the end of a bridge, trapping the target vehicle in between.
The idea is intuitive. On paper, it sounds like something that should have been implemented years ago, but it appears that in reality, it’s far more difficult to implement.
As the armed forces of almost every nation are divided into domains, information-sharing remains clunky. The Fox report indicates that the US Armed Forces so far have only achieved small-scale networking, but for a true multi-domain system to work, it must become a “system of systems.”
So far, the US military has only created two task force units – in Europe and the Pacific. While little detail on the units has been provided, they are likely only a testbed for a much larger, theatre-of-war system.
The two regions were chosen because, in the Pacific, the armed forces face “challenges presented by vast ocean areas and geographical variables such as the so-called ‘tyranny of distance,’” the Fox report says.
“A European wargame, by contrast, might explore cross-continental mobility, encountering mountainous terrain and attacking large land formations,” the report reads.
The US is not alone in their pursuit of information-based warfare. In 2011, the Russian Armed Forces turned heads with its new “Ratnik” gear, which included, among other things, a tablet computer allowing for almost videogame-like level of control and command. The Russian version of the ‘Combat Approved’ TV show disclosed that a unit commander can send commands by pressing buttons on the screen. It also includes a 2007 “Strelets” communication complex, which allows for automatic sharing of target coordinates between infantry and aviation, among other things. How far Russian tactical networking technology has advanced since that time, we can only speculate.