U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) Commander Admiral Harry Harris is the latest to call for increasing integration of the U.S. Army into battle network development in the Pacific. Last week at the West 2017 conference, Admiral Harris argued for integration of U.S. Army operated anti-ship cruise missiles into the Navy’s fire control network architecture. He also suggested tighter integration of the Army’s extensive air defense capabilities into the broader Navy network.
Admiral Harris’ comments accord with the concept of Multi-Domain Battle, which the Army and Marine Corps have pushed over the last year as an answer to concerns over their ability to contribute to a high intensity war in the Western Pacific. At its core, Multi-Domain Battle hopes to enable the U.S. military to do what China’s PLA has already done; integrate land-based assets into an A2/AD battle in which sea and air assets predominate. The United States has enough bases in the Western Pacific to usefully employ long-range missiles, sensors, and other assets in an A2/AD fight; it requires an operational concept, an organizational commitment, and a forward looking procurement strategy to turn the Army’s potential contribution into a reality.
There’s nothing at all wrong with multi-domain battle; the U.S. military should attempt to leverage every capability it has in the Western Pacific, and can certainly benefit from integrating Army assets into the broader plan, even if the Army’s plan carries the whiff of inter-service struggle. And this, at its core is the problem; the extant structure of the U.S. military weighs heavily against long-term efforts at creating a multi-domain battle capability.
Unfortunately, the U.S. military has convinced itself that it is institutionally organized around separate “domains” of conflict; the land, the sea, and the air. Thus, “multi-domain battle” integrates the capabilities of the air service, the sea service, and the land service, just as the now-defunct “Air Sea Battle” integrated the air and the sea services. Conversely, the 1980s era AirLand Battle (which AirSea Battle self-consciously evoked) was primarily an Army based operational doctrine that drew in and integrated air assets as necessary, based on technological realities and campaign goals. And in truth, the initial division of the U.S. services in 1947 had less to do with a strict “domain” logic than with an overarching “campaign” reasoning; services exist because they can independently plan and execute war-winning campaigns, not because they represent a particular kind of space. The strict division of air assets between the Army and Air Force came later, and has never really taken hold in the Navy.
It is this structure that makes initiatives such as “AirSea Battle” and “Multi-Domain Battle” non-obvious, but necessary. Of course the Army should be integrated into battle planning in the Pacific; of course the Air Force and Navy should work together. But the way that the U.S. divides up its military assets makes necessary the development of programs, buzzwords, and bureaucratic offices in order to make the obvious a reality. To be sure, the U.S. military has taken a variety of steps to enhance jointness since the 1980s. In many cases, these steps have remedied (or sometimes papered over) the kinds of inter-service conflicts that plagued the United States during earlier periods. But until the United States carefully reconsiders its service structure in light of modern technological realities, it will still need concepts like “multi-domain battle” to bridge inter-service gaps.