It is clear that strategic shift for U.S. forces is focused on what we have referred to as shaping an integrated distributed force.
The new Sec Def, Mark Esper, has prioritized defense efforts in the Pacific as a key anchor to the Great Power strategy. In particular, given the withdrawal from the INF treaty, a key focus is upon the building of new conventional longer-range missiles deployed throughout the US and allied Pacific defense perimeter.
This entails interactive technological, force structure and geographical deployment dynamics. We have argued that a new basing structure combined with a capability to deploy and operate an integrated distributed force is at the heart of the strategic shift, and not only in the Pacific.
This is a key part of the effort to shape a full spectrum crisis management capability whose con-ops is shaped to deal with adversary operations within what some call the “gray zone” or within the “hybrid warfare” area
The nature of the threat facing the liberal democracies was well put by a senior Finnish official: “The timeline for early warning is shorter; the threshold for the use of force is lower.”
What is unfolding is that capabilities traditionally associated with high end warfare are being drawn upon for lower threshold conflicts, designed to achieve political effect without firing a shot.
Higher end capabilities being developed by China are Russia are becoming tools to achieve political-military objectives throughout the diplomatic engagement spectrum.
This means that not only do the liberal democracies need to shape more effective higher end capabilities but they need to learn how to use force packages which are making up a higher end, higher tempo or higher intensity capability as part of a range of both military operations but proactive engagement to shape peer adversary behavior.
In today’s world, this is what full spectrum crisis management is all about. It is not simply about escalation ladders; it is about the capability to operate tailored task forces within a crisis setting to dominate and prevail within that crisis. If that stops the level of escalation that is one way of looking at it. But in today’s world, it is not just about that but it is about the ability to operate and prevail within a diversity of crises which might not be located on what one might consider an escalation ladder.
They are very likely to be diffuse within which the authoritarian powers are using surrogates and we and our allies are trying to prevail in a more open setting which we are required to do as liberal democracies.
This means that a core legacy from the land wars and COIN efforts needs to be jettisoned if we are to succeed – namely, the OODLA loop. The OODA loop is changing with the new technologies which allow distributed operators to become empowered to decide in the tactical decision-making situation.
But the legalistic approach to hierarchical approval to distributed decisions simply will take away the advantages of the new distributed approach and give the advantage to our authoritarian adversaries.
For the USMC-USN team are shaping a way ahead in part through their joint Advanced Naval Technology Exercises (ANTX).
Recently, Megan Eckstein wrote about these exercises and how Marine Corps and Naval leaders involved in the process viewed the role of the exercises.
“With a focus on maneuver, force protection and logistics, Maj. Gen. Mark Wise, the deputy commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and assistant deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for combat development and integration said the event was meant to address some of the top challenges that new concepts – Expeditionary Advance Base Operations, Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment, and Distributed Maritime Operations – will present the naval force.”
What was highlighted in the exercises were technologies which would allow the distributed force to operate in a contested environment.
“Technologies that showed promise included autonomous logistics vehicles that could move small and large packages of goods around in the air, on the ocean surface and on ground; command and control systems that push more information to lower echelons operating away from headquarters; meshed communications systems that would keep Marines connected even in a satellite-denied environment; and water-purification and other “foraging” capabilities that would reduce the need for water, energy and other supplies to be moved around the battlefield.”
Clearly, reworking C2 in this environment is a major task, challenge and focus of attention.
“The days of having this big COP, common operational picture, at only one location and trying to push some information out, those days are really coming to an end. We’re pushing that kind of level of information, down to targeting quality information, all the way to the user. So you’re able to make decisions much much faster because everyone has a fairly good picture of what’s going on,” Wise said.
“Now what we’re able to do is take that form factor and put it on something that might be the size of an MRZR that fits in the back of a MV-22 and goes with that Marine rifle company or squad into the battlespace. And all the sudden that guy has got the same situational awareness that the three-star general has at the [Marine Expeditionary Force] headquarters,” he continued.
“Now, that MEF commander’s looking at it and so is that young captain who may be maneuvering the the battlespace,” and if the captain is equipped with both commander’s intent and an accurate and detailed common operational picture, small unit leaders can make much better decisions.
The featured photo shows a Gyrene Engineering Management (GEM) vehicle integrated atmospheric water generator. The GEM equipment is a modular, scalable, dual-use water-energy system that uses onboard water generating capabilities that are coupled with an exportable power pack enabling combat operators to conduct small unit, decentralized logistics and distributed operations. It has the ability to extract water from the air and purify, filter and desalinate fresh, brackish or saltwater sources. US Navy photo.
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