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Multi-Domain Integration & the Future of Defence Procurement (Part III)

Hannah Croft
Hannah Croft 11 Dec 2020
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Australian nav ras ai strategy

Multi-Domain Diffusion – How the UK and its partners are aligning in Defence ‘Innovation’ and ‘Transformation’

'Innovation and transformation are inextricably linked with diffusion. All three processes shape the strategic environment.'

Recommended reading for Lockdown V.2: ‘The Diffusion of Military Technology and Ideas’ (2003). I stumbled upon it whilst mulling whether the Multi-Domain concept and associated procurement changes in the US constituted a ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ and, if it does, how such a revolution might manifest in other nations. The book explores the factors that affect the scope, pace and consequences of the diffusion of military concepts, organisational forms and technological innovations in the Information Age (but the 2003 version, you know, when the Game Boy Advance SP came out), and highlights the challenges facing decision-makers as they seek to adopt new concepts and technologies.

Yet, as noted by the book’s editors, the success of one country’s own RMA will be affected ‘not only by the ability to acquire information about innovations observed elsewhere or encountered on the battlefield but also by how successfully the innovation can be incorporated into existing organisations, institutions, and practices’. The UK and its partners and allies have identified AI and other ‘multi-domain’ technologies as crucial to their future force development. But how this concept and its associated technologies are incorporated into their existing organisations, institutions and practices will be crucial (and this challenge will, hopefully, be explored in the upcoming Integrated Review). In my last piece I explored some of the organisational changes taking place in the US - let’s now look at how these multi-domain concepts and technological innovations have diffused to other partners and allies.

The multi-domain concept was already beginning to influence strategic thinking and plans in Australia way back in 2016. The RAAF’s biennial Air Power Conference, with its theme ‘Multi-Domain Integration – Enabling Future Joint Success’, provides a useful insight into the ADF’s understanding of the concept back then, and how it would relate to future force design (you can read the summaries here - it’s lockdown, you’ve got the time).

Air Vice Marshal Mel Hupfeld, then Acting Chief of Capability Development Group, would link innovation, transformation and diffusion together when talking about how multi-domain integration would mean that ‘the future joint force will need to leverage advanced technology and have high levels of systems integration across our own force’. He identified three core areas to realise this strategic vision, the most important being a ‘Champion for Joint Capabilities and Force Design’. Noting that ‘collaborative joint operations across domains will require particular capabilities that are not resident in a single Service or even within a single piece of equipment or platform’, the AVM announced that two new functions under the Vice Chief of the Defence Force —Joint Force Design and Joint Capability Management and Integration – would ensure that the joint perspective was ‘well-represented’ in future force development discussions. The restructuring would also allow the new functions to procure and manage enabling technologies, particularly C4ISR, EW and cyber security, and the Government’s CIO to partner with the VCDF in developing ‘enterprise wide frameworks for information architecture, standards and master data management’.

How would these organisational and conceptual changes manifest in programmes and R&D spending? Well, one year later the pre-tender phase of the Australian Department of Defence’s AIR 6500 Joint Battle Management and Integrated Air and Missile Defence System opened. Led by Lockheed Martin Australia, AIR 6500 seeks to integrate platforms, systems and sensors across all domains. Things have progressed further in 2020. The Army published its Accelerated Warfare initiative, which introduced new capability focus areas, including robotic and autonomous systems, cyber, information advantage and ‘smarter and smaller distributed systems’. Currently, the RAAF is developing cheaper AI-enabled unmanned aircraft as part of Boeing’s Loyal Wingman programme, this year the Navy launched its RAS AI (Robotics, Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence) Strategy, and the Department of Defence updated its S&T Strategy to introduce eight ‘STaR Shots’, concentrating its strategic research efforts on areas such as agile C2, resilient multi-mission space and quantum assured PNT.

Australian nav ras ai strategy

Other allies have followed suit. In 2018, Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) outlined its new ‘Multidomain Defense Force’ as an organizing concept for future operations in and from space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum. In spending and organisational terms, this has meant new budget for space capabilities and the establishment of a Space Domain Planning Section, a Cyber Protection Unit inside the Ground Self-Defense Force, the design of an AI-enabled cyber security system and the acquisition of a Network Electronic Warfare System and stronger tactical communications capabilities.

The multi-domain concept has become more influential in Europe and within NATO, too. NATO’s 2019 Joint Air & Space Power Conference was aptly titled ‘Shaping NATO for Multi-Domain Operations of the Future’, and its 2018 ‘Framework for Future Alliance Operations’ report referenced the need for forces to have ‘the ability to identify and use a network of military and non-military partners to help sustain multi-domain operations’. NATO’s would also publish its Joint Air Power Strategy paper in 2018, which included a section on ‘Joint Air Power Employment in a Multi-Domain Environment’, highlighting that ‘advances in machine learning, human machine interfaces, and data clouds, all offer the potential to enable the evolution of JAP [Joint Air Power] across an information centric, multi-domain construct’.

Domain v multi domain

An infographic from a 2018 NATO STO SAS-143 Research Task Group that is exploring 'the nature and challenges of agile multi-domain C2 in the context of operations where militaries need to work civilian government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and others entities'

In the same year, the Royal Netherlands Army published a strategy paper in 2018 stating that the RNLA of the future ‘will endorse the ideas of multi-domain operations’, whilst just this year the Spanish CCDC (Joint Centre for Concept Development) published a concept note on MDO, recommending that Spanish defence forces ‘use the term “operaciones multi-dominio”, borrowed from English “multidomain operations”’.

The UK’s multi-domain journey looks to have started in 2017 with the publication of two papers from the Defence Concepts and Development Centre (DCDC). In the Future Force Joint Concept Note 1/17, the authors asserted that ‘integrating information and physical activity across all domains – cyber, space, maritime, land and air – within a full spectrum and multinational approach will be the prerequisite to future success’, whilst its report on Command and Control discussed how emerging technologies will underpin new C2 systems and practices:

Advances in data-to-decision technology, exploitation of efficient and effective human machine interfaces, data-to-decision and cloud solutions all offer the potential to enable the evolution of C2 from its current form to an information-centric foundation and migrate from a single to multi-domain C2 construct.

One year on, the RAF would reform its No. 11 Group, becoming ‘the RAF’s first multi-domain operations group’, whilst the newly appointed CDS, General Carter, in a 2018 Defence Select Committee session on the next Modernising Defence Programme, advised that future strategy would need to ‘focus through the prism of five domains—space, cyber, maritime, land and air—with information as an ingredient running all the way through all five domains’. In other (his) words, UK Defence would need to become ‘more domain-based rather than Service-based’.

Perhaps the most significant organisational ‘innovation’ in UK Defence was the dissolution of Joint Forces Command and the delivery organisation Information Systems & Services (ISS), and the standing up of Strategic Command and Defence Digital in December 2019. Strategic Command has been tasked with directing ‘cyber, special forces and multi-domain integration’, whilst Defence Digital, under the leadership of MOD CIO Charles Forte and military interlocuter Major General Tom Copinger Symes, is focused on delivering the ‘digital backbone’ of the future, integrated multi-domain force. It may well be StratCom and Defence Digital (and jHub) are thus able to provide the ‘domain-based’ thinking required to deliver capability across all three of the services in the coming months and years, however I’m uncertain as to how it will tie in to and shape decision-making inside central plans and policy (Defence Innovation Unit, Defence Data Management Strategy), delivery organisations (DE&S), innovation accelerators (DASA, Dstl) or service specific ‘hubs’ (NavyX, the new Army BattleLab etc). Ah, the complexity of the ‘ecosystem’.

Defence digital tenets

Of course, we’ll have a better sense of what these organisational and changes and new conceptual frameworks will mean for the UK in practical spending terms (what to sunrise, what to sunset) once the Integrated Review has been released. Nevertheless, it’s worth emphasising again this intersection between innovation, transformation and diffusion. If we are really going through a RMA of sorts, then we should ramp up our collaboration with other nations to guide decision-making and share lessons learnt as we seek to successfully incorporate innovation into our own organisations, thinking processes and military operations.

The acceleration of technological development and actions of peer competitors presents significant challenges, yes, but it also presents a moment ripe for strategic and conceptual alignment between partner nations, as is already evident in the diffusion of the multi-domain concept. New initiatives such as the recent US–UK Artificial Intelligence R&D Agreement and the 13-nation AI Partnership for Defense will increase the likelihood of successful incorporation of key technologies as well as provide opportunities for more joined up development of requisite legal, moral and ethical policies relating to the use of new technologies in the battlespace. The US Army’s plans for its 2022 iteration of Project Convergence – which will see allies and partners participate in an AI and cloud-enabled multi-domain exercise – will also be an important diffusion enhancer.

Where we could see this develop further would be the involvement of industry, S&T and academia at the international ‘diffusion’ level. Notwithstanding the global pandemic we currently find ourselves in, industry and innovators (cough, Rowden) must continue to exchange ideas (remember to unmute on Zoom) and create pathways for collaboration and support of cross-nation future force development. The defence industrial base is far more diverse, dynamic and global than it ever was, and open source platforms and the ease of information transfer means that more effective, safe and sustainable innovations can occur.