WASHINGTON: With one eye on China and another on North Korea, US Army Pacific is injecting cyber warfare and new joint tactics into every wargame it can. At least 30 forthcoming exercises — culminating in the massive RIMPAC 2018 — will train troops on aspects of Multi-Domain Battle, the land Army’s effort to extend its reach into the other “domains” of air, sea, space, and cyberspace. Meanwhile, USARPAC simulations of the concept test near-future weapons such as ship-killer missiles and cruise missile-killing cannon.
“The big advantage we have in the Pacific is we’ve got a boss that is pushing us,” said Gen. Robert Brown, the USARPAC commander, during a visit to Washington last week. That’s Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris, a fan of Multi-Domain Battle. Harris has got PACOM’s components — Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine — working together as Brown has never seen before, the general said.
There’s a real sense of urgency on Multi-Domain Battle in the Pacific, too Brown told the Center for a New American Security. “This isn’t something 10 years from now,” he said. “If Kim Jong-un goes south tomorrow, I will need some of this tomorrow.”
A land war in North Korea is Gen. Brown’s top concern. That’s where the US Army has stood ready to “fight tonight” since 1953. But Pyongyang’s investments in nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, drones, cyber attack, and special forces might make a second Korean War murderously more complex than the first. That type of threat drives much of Multi-Domain Battle’s emphasis on air, missile, and cyber defense.
Further south rises the new threat of a naval war with China. Today that’s primarily the Navy’s problem, with the Marines and Air Force in important supporting roles, while the Army plays an essential but unglamorous part in running supply lines and communications for all four services. But with Adm. Harris’s enthusiastic urging, Multi-Domain Battle envisions ground-based batteries of anti-aircraft, anti-missile, and anti-ship weapons, supported by long-range sensors and jammers, that can strike targets well out to sea. Islands defended by such Army batteries (or Marine Corps outposts) could serve as unsinkable anvils, with the Navy and the Air Force as the highly mobile hammers.
The goal is “a Multi-Domain Battle task force that can provide ballistic missile defense, short-range air defense, cyber, (and) can be mobile and protect itself,” Brown said.
“It is nice to have longer range and be able to affect other domains. It’s, in many cases, a game changer,” Brown told me after his public talk. “In our early tabletops and experimentation and … it has made a difference.” The long-term goal, he said, is to incorporate these new technologies into real-world exercises.
There are lots of things the Army needs to buy. “Number one is Electronic Warfare (EW),” Brown said, detecting, jamming, and deceiving enemy sensors and communications while protecting one’s own. The general envisions “thousands” of cheap decoys generating signals to hide the true locations of Army radars, for example. Another priority is Short-Range Air Defense (SHORAD), made newly relevant in the age of drones. Both SHORAD and EW suffered massive cutbacks after 1991 and will take years to recover.
But there is plenty the Army can do right now to train itself for Multi-Domain Battle, said Brown. “I never had to worry about cyber (as a young officer),” Brown said. “A company commander from just a few years ago never had to worry that much about cyber, never had to worry that much about space (or) the sea.”
Now USARPAC is adding those other domains to what had been land-only exercises. Army officers must manage liaisons from the other services, coordinate operations across domains, and deal with cyber threats. Making the most of these new tools requires new training and a new mindset, Brown said: “Some of the older leaders in the military would say we need to go back to the basics, but the basics have changed.”
Leadership for the Digital Age
How many domains — land, sea, air, space, cyberspace, electromagnetic, human — can a commander manage at once? “There’s a fine line where you don’t want to overload them too much,” Brown acknowledged, “but I think the younger guys can handle it easily. The folks that are overloaded are the old thinkers, the old guys, those of us forty and above, and we tend to slow them down like crazy.”
That said, the young digital natives have weaknesses of their own. “I’ve had aides, that, when they couldn’t use their app on the phone, they couldn’t navigate their way out of a paper bag,” Brown said. So Army training exercises increasingly kick away the digital crutch. Just as one of Brown’s units, the Alaska-based 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, was about to launch its main offensive at the National Training Center, “the world-class cyber OPFOR (Opposing Force) took out all their coms,” he said. “They had to go back to manual means….It was painful.”
Even when they do have access to all their digital tools, the younger generation have a lower tolerance for frustration and failure, Brown said, and they need older mentors to help them gain perspective. “This generation is more afraid of failure than I’ve ever seen, (because) when they fail, it goes everywhere,” he said. “It’s on Facebook, it’s on Twitter.”
That same glut of digital data makes a difference on the battlefield. “When I was young , the fog of war was not enough information,” Brown recalled. “What’s the fog of war now? Too much information.”
13 years ago, then-Colonel Brown took command of one of the Army’s newly created Stryker brigades, the first units designed from the ground up to exploit wireless networks and computerized command and control. At first, Brown’s staff would get carried away by their marvelous new technology and drown him in “stacks” of data — when he might have 15 minutes to make a decision. Brown and his officers had to retrain themselves to themselves to winnow through information, not just harvest it.
The Stryker experience gave also gave Brown a new appreciation for initiative. After he ditched his initial “very prescriptive” orders and let his company commanders experiment with the new unit, “we learned a ton from that,” he told me. “I can remember experts sitting there saying, ‘No! You can’t do that! You can’t use that engineer Stryker that way!’… and then they’d go, ‘Oh, I guess you can.'”
Such bottom-up improvisation became a necessity amidst the guerrilla warfare of Afghanistan an Iraq — a cultural revolution in the chronically bureaucratic Army — and is now a central tenet of Multi-Domain Battle. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley has even said soldiers must develop “the willingness to disobey specific orders.”
“To be effective in multiple domains, it’s tough…PhD-level work,” said Brown. “You have to have people who you can empower to be effective. You cannot use command and control.” In fact, the Army has formally abandoned the traditional term “command and control,” which emphasized superiors enforcing subordinates’ compliance to orders. The new doctrine of “mission command” instead emphasizes superiors inculcating a shared vision of the mission and unleashing subordinates’ creativity to accomplish it. “We changed our leadership philosophy,” said Brown, “and that is a key part of multi-domain battle.”
Embracing initiative this way is a competitive advantage for Americans, Brown said. On a recent trip to China to visit the People’s Liberation Army, he was very impressed in many ways: “Very tough soldiers, amazing equipment,” and in some areas, such as electronic warfare and long-range weapons, “they have surpassed us.”
But the crucial difference is that “they cannot empower their non-commissioned officers or soldiers the way we do,” Brown said. “I maintain that an E-5 Sergeant, the lowest-level sergeant in our Army, does what a colonel does in their army, and better.”