Over the past thirty years, the United States and its core allies have gone through three phases of innovation with regard to conventional forces.
The first was air-land battle designed for the European theater and executed in the 1991 Iraqi War.
The second was the innovations associated with the land wars and the joint force support for COIN operations.
The third which is unfolding now is designed to deal with 21st century high intensity operations which can be conducted by peer competitors.
This new phase might be called shaping, exercising and building an integrated distributed force.
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 and 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 a diversity of crises which might not be located on what one might consider an escalation ladder.
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 legacy 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.
What is changing is that the force we are shaping to operate in the littorals has expansive reach beyond the presence force in the littorals themselves. If you are not present; you are not present. We have to start by having enough platforms to be able to operate in areas of interest.
But what changes with the integrated distributed ops approach is what a presence force can now mean.
Historically, a presence force is about what is organically included within that presence force; now we are looking at reach or scalability of force. We are looking at economy of force whereby what is operating directly in the area of interest is part of distributed force.
The presence force however small needs to be well integrated but not just in terms of itself but its ability to operate via C2 or ISR connectors to an enhanced capability. But that enhanced capability needs to be deployed in order to be tailorable to the presence force and to provide enhanced lethality and effectiveness appropriate to the political action needed to be taken.
This rests really on a significant rework of C2 in order for a distributed force to have the flexibility to operate not just within a limited geographical area but to expand its ability to operate by reaching beyond the geographical boundaries of what the organic presence force is capable of doing by itself.
We have updated our earlier report on C2 Innovations and Transformation.C2 Innovations and Transformation January 2020
And for an e-book version of the report, see the following: