Warfighting concepts shape our views on past, present and future wars. They contain an implicit criticism of past approaches, while offering proposals to avoid earlier mistakes and/ or to address current challenges. Today the dominant concept within NATO and other technologically advanced militaries is multi-domain operations (MDO). MDO aim to combine and coordinate effects from across military and sometimes non-military actions. Different militaries stress the need to act across military services and to better coordinate with civilian authorities. They highlight how sensors, communication technologies augur in a new way of warfighting, but often fail to articulate the mechanisms that could lead to the defeat of the opponent.
This study, by Strategic Analyst Davis Ellison and HCSS Director of Research Tim Sweijs, examines whether and how the adoption of MDO concepts can help armed forces achieve military success. The report argues that MDO could break away from the worst patterns of past conceptual work, though this will require concerted changes in prevailing approaches. As such, this study provides an intellectual framework as well as a set of guidelines that strategists and force developers can use to better assess and qualify MDO-type approaches across different countries, and, importantly, how such concepts can best be further developed.
Based on a historical review of Western warfighting concepts over the past fifty years, complemented by interviews with defence planners and experts and field visits, this study assesses MDO’s promise as a warfighting concept through a framework of factors. The framework comprises the following six factors: (1) clarity of language, (2) regime fit, (3) technological maturity, (4) threat specificity, (5) theory of success, and (6) risk consideration.
The framework is applied to the state of MDO development in Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, NATO, Taiwan, the UK, and the US. These cases were selected in the context of the present study’s applicability to the Dutch land force’s development, but the lessons contained in this paper have a wider application to the armed forces of small and middle powers as well as great powers.
Authors: Davis Ellison and Tim Sweijs
The research for this report has been conducted within a framework agreement between HCSS and the Royal Netherlands Army. Responsibility for the contents of the report rests solely with the authors and does not constitute, nor should be construed as, an endorsement by the Royal Netherlands Army.