Advanced Multi-Domain Combat Training

By Robbin Laird

As my colleague Ed Timperlake often reminds me, the legendary Admiral Arleigh Burke underscored that training started with the core requirement – know your platform. Training clearly must start with ensuring that the warrior knows how to fight effectively from the ground up with the platform he operates from.

But training today, knowing your platform is clearly not enough. What the U.S. military is shaping is a distributed but integratable force. They are taking their resources, dispersing them and operating with a mix and match modular task force capability.  Learning to fight with a distributed force is part of the new training challenge. Being able to cross-link platforms within evolving task force packages is another part of the challenge.

In a 2020 interview with Lt. Jonathan Gosselin, a P-8 Weapons and Tactics Instructor at the Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance Weapons School, during my visit to Jax Navy, the challenge of learning cross-platform targeting was highlighted as an example of the new training challenge posed by shaping maritime kill webs. When he first deployed, the P-8 was an anomaly. Now it is deployed to all of the COCOMS worldwide. The P-8 global fleet provides ISR, ASW, and Surface Warfare products to the combatant commanders. In his current position, he serves as an innovation, cross-functional team lead where he works with innovation experts, defense industry, and the Navy to shape projects which are then generated for implementation by industry. He works as well on process changes where advances in TTPs can be enabled as well.

For Lt. Gosselin, at the heart of the effort is really understanding, training for and executing third party targeting. He argued that moving from a stove-piped mentality where one is both the sensor and the shooter, to a kill web perspective where the P-8 could provide the sensors for a firing solution, or whether the P-8 would deliver a weapon provided by another asset to perform the firing solution is at the heart of the change.

In effect, dynamic targeting across a distributed integrated force is the goal. As Lt. Gosselin put it: “We’re talking about taking targeting data from one domain and quickly shifting to another, just like that. I have killed a target under sea. I am now going to go ahead and work the surface target and being able to understand the weapon-sensor pairing network and being able to call in fires from different entities using commander’s intent to engage the target. That’s what we’re trying to do. Get our operators to understand that it is not just a one-piece answer. There may be a time when you have to transfer the action to another shooter.”

To do so, he is engaging significantly with the Triton squadron as well to shape a way ahead for kill web dynamic targeting. Lt. Gosselin noted: “With the P-8 and Triton we are able to expand our envelope of SA. We can take that and now take the baseline concepts from what the P-3 did and apply them to a more advanced tactics, techniques, and procedures in the form of integrating with the B-21, the B-1, the F-18’s, the F-35 joint strike fighter in a dynamic targeting kill web.”

And with regard to the cultural shift, this is what he added: “It’s important to talk not about how can I defeat this target, but really it should be, how can we defeat this target? Let’s break ourselves out of this stovepipe and understand that I may not always be the best shooter. I may be the best sensor, but I’m not be the best shooter.”[1]

Another key focus going forward for the joint and coalition force is learning how to leverage flexible basing as a key requirement for distributed integrated operations. For example, with the return of the high-end fight, and the challenge of delivering tailored military capabilities to ensure escalation dominance in the maritime domain, a broadened focus on maneuver warfare in the maritime space has emerged For North Atlantic defense, Second and Sixth fleets are working with the joint force and allies to shape distributed forces which can integrate to deal with various Russian threats, from the hybrid to the gray zone to high-end warfare.

But distributed operations which can deliver an integrated effect is an art form which requires significant training as well as capabilities to deliver C2 at the tactical edge.  But they also provide for connectivity among the pieces on the chessboard to provide for the kind of escalation dominance crisis to full spectrum crisis management. With the development of flexible multi-mission platforms, there is an ability to flex between offensive and defensive operations within the distributed battlespace. It is clearly challenging to operate such a force, delegate decision making at the tactical edge, but still be able to ensure strategic and area wide tactical decision-making.

The strategic thrust of integrating modern systems is to create a grid that can operate in an area as a seamless whole, able to strike or defend simultaneously. This is enabled by the evolution of C2 and ISR systems. By shaping an evolving ISR enabled C2 systems inextricably intertwined with platforms and assets, which provide for kill web integratable forces, an attack and defense enterprise can operate to deter aggressors and adversaries or to conduct successful military operations.

How do you train to do this effectively?

[1] Robbin Laird, “O.K. I am a P-8 Operator: But How do I Train to Work in a Kill Web,” Second Line of Defense (June 29. 2020),

This report examines how this question is being answered today.

For a PDF version of the report, see below:

Advanced Training

For an e-book version of the report, see below: