Bridge Builders to Make Multi-Domain Operations Work

By George Hart

To achieve dominance in the networked age, the U.S. Air Force must build organizational expertise that can foster a culture that lives and breathes multi-domain integration. Air, space, cyber, and the information environment are currently too complex to effectively command and control effects across geographic and global commands. Authorities are also a hindrance in effective operations, and expertise to leverage capabilities is an additional challenge that can no longer use industrial age manpower techniques to solve. Establishing “Integration Officers” at the 4-6 year career timeline would allow for operational depth and provide a new approach to addressing decades of lessons identified to achieve long-term transformation. Investment in a teams of teams approach will foster trust from senior leaders to delegate authorities and increase the timing and tempo of commander’s guidance across domains. Building a schoolhouse focused on operational warfare across disciplines would lead to transformative change in how we view operational centers and the technology required to maintain local and global operations. Long-term, this proposal would equip the tactical warfighters with the tools and guidance to better integrate with other domains that are traditionally stovepiped, serving as a model for sister services.


OBSERVE: The Problem


The Air Force thrives in sub-cultures. During the post WWII period, bomber generals and their sub-culture led the Air Force. Operation Desert Storm gave rise to the Fighter Generals; and 9/11 led to the rise of SOF and the Intel community as new, dominant sub-cultures. Though sometimes seen as a stovepipe, sub-cultures are a strength in the USAF. Unlike the Marines, sub-cultures are a part of the USAF heritage, enabling innovation through diverse thought. These small groups are more responsive, advancing the capabilities of both man and machine beyond anyone’s imagination. To achieve the requirements of the Networked Age and demands for a third offset, effective command and control across all domains, warfighting functions, communication elements requires a new type of expertise that is organized, trained and equipped to handle this new reality as a team of teams.

Integrating domains typically occurs at the operational level of warfare, where partners from Joint, Coalition, and trans-regional organizations work with the Numbered Air Force (NAF) Commander dual-hatted as the Commander, Air Force Forces (COMAFFOR) and Coalition Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC). The Air and Space Operations Centers (AOC) and NAF staff typically coordinate the integration of these dynamic external elements. Yet AOCs and NAF staffs historically lack a common culture or the ability to effectively integrate or sustain these partnerships across horizontal and vertical seams. Too often, Airmen are novices in operational warfare, receiving just enough training to perform duties.


Multi-domain operations are complex. Numerous Over the Horizon articles highlight this complexity. Complexity is compounded by disparities in authorities, cultures, languages, and security throughout both the Joint and Coalition arenas. It will not be enough to simply understand domains. We need experts that can master functions of warfare because they have been habitually trained to integrate multi-domain capabilities. It is cognitively too taxing to require a single Airmen to master air, space AND cyber, but we must have a common lexicon and basic understanding to effectively communicate across these domains, especially if it is thought of as an iterative process. Further, we cannot achieve effective domain integration without integrating existing specialized stovepipes under our current organization.


Integrating requires teamwork, and that teamwork must become habitual. Airmen should balance their expertise with a team they can trust and network across enterprises at a speed that will not wait for commanders to weigh-in. Building trust will become the bedrock of this sub-culture, translating commander’s guidance and empowering operations centers to carry out the mission. Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Goldfein described this in his letter to Airmen:

“This evolution in our command-and-control capabilities requires new thinking, new training, and perhaps new technologies or new ways to use older technology. We will need to integrate real-time information from a variety of sources – some non-traditional – and evaluate that information as fast as systems can process it. If an enemy blocks actions in one domain, we quickly “call an audible” to change the play and attack or defend from another… The elements to make command and control work are situational awareness, rapid decision-making, and the ability to direct forces to achieve commander’s intent.”– CSAF, General David Goldfein


ORIENT: Breaking down our operational requirements

Regardless of Service or warfighting component, there are six functions that a commander must have to achieve success within a domain: offense, defense, control, communication, sustainment, and intelligence. Figure 1 visualizes these six functions in relation to the current component command structure. Offense and defense are obvious capabilities, but they require the ability to “control” the force through effective “communications,” updating commander’s intent or disseminating new orders. Updated information refines planning and execution from intelligence sources, enhancing:  offense, defense, sustainment, control and coordination functions. Lastly, a commander must account for the sustainment of his or her force, and change plans based on the timing and location of resources. These functions can be applied to all current Department of Defense defined warfighting domains: air, land, maritime, space, and cyberspace.

There are three additional elements that cut across all of these domains and must also be deliberately integrated: the cognitive human dimension, the physical electromagnetic spectrum (EMS), and liaison (LNO) teams that connect disparate organizations.

Many lump cognitive warfare into the role of intelligence work. While it can be an aspect of intelligence, understanding how the enemy thinks is an important nuance to affecting the human domain, and requires a specialization that must be acknowledged and resourced. Similarly, the Department of Defense recognizes and values the EMS as an operating environment. Integrating EMS expertise will strengthen USAF utilization and control across air, space and cyber. With regard to LNO teams, in General McCrystal’s Team of Teams, he highlights the need to have the right liaisons across organizations and empowered networks to build trust in various communities. He states:

“Organizations must be networked, not siloed, in order to succeed. Their goal must shift from efficiency to sustained organizational adaptability. Small teams are more adaptable than large. Common traits in effective, adaptable teams: trust, common purpose, shared awareness, and the empowerment of the individual members to act.”

LNO teams build connectivity between organizations. A trusted LNO team can carry out commander’s intent without asking for permission. They can open lines of communications with new organizations and are often the most effective element to achieving a component’s requirements with other organizations.


DECIDE: Proposed Solution: Build a culture

“The strength of the culture, and not its size or resources, determines an organization’s ability to adapt to the times, overcome adversity and pioneer new innovations. When conditions are right, when a strong circle of safety is present and felt by all, we do what we do best. We act in a manner for which we are designed. We pull together.” – Simon Sinek

Integration Officers should be drawn from applicable career fields to capitalize on their tactical experience, but be focused on operational sub-specializations to increase the depth of critical operational skillsets. By having a common training experience, previously stovepiped career fields will gain trust across specialties that will foster a common purpose and understanding as they train together in small teams to grow needed depth in operational warfighting. Education, training, and application as Integration Officers will strengthen MDO planning and execution; enabling multi-domain expertise to component commanders and translating their intent back to home communities. Being part of the integration team would ensure that space and cyber Integration Officers have a habitual relationship with the rest of the Integration Officer team.

Additionally, the USAF needs to reexamine how it organizes, trains and equips not just the AOCs, but all operational units. This includes standardizing command and control across USAF service retained space and cyberspace units.  It is important to understand that operational warfighting is not just an extension of tactical planning, but rather a capability that requires expertise that can seamlessly leverage capabilities across multiple domains at high velocity. Better integration at the operational level must be both agile and resilient, and able to achieve a sustained and dynamic operational tempo. Perhaps a possible way to do this would be to change the AOC in name and meaning to an “Airpower Operation Center”. This reframe could act as a forcing function to re-evaluate the manning and organization required to build an agile integrated multi-domain approach that better leverages external centers of excellence across the air domain.

John Boyd’s OODA loop should be the common driving force in integrating operational warfighting education. Observe and Orient elements will dominate operational weight of effort to empower tactical elements to achieve commander’s intent. Operational warfighting would be reorganized as a learning system to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity.  AOCs of the future will not require the manpower intensive tasks of today. Forward deployed footprints can be reduced in many areas of responsibility.

The timing of this proposed officer development would look to have applicants apply at the four to six year point which would correspond to their first or second operational duty assignment. It would operate similarly to a Regional Area Specialist (RAS), but earlier in one’s career. This timing would account for aircrew training requirements and allow all officers to return to their “tactical” home for at least one tour after their LNO time.


Act: Implementation

To implement this concept, an Integration schoolhouse should be developed. The schoolhouse would create an application process to attract and motivate personnel. A one-year course could balance education, training, research, and application by participating in multiple exercises that already exist and are funded. These experiences coupled together will refine the Integration officers’ readiness as a team. The school would provide depth in both functional areas and integration to create a common experience, developing a foundation of Airmen that can build a team of teams network. Integration Officers would have functional expertise and a common language to tackle wicked operational problems. This concept would look to capitalized on the recent success of the Multi-Domain Operations Strategist program within the Air Command and Staff College and expand it to meet operational C2 educational and training needs of our warfighters.

The Integration Officer development places additional challenges to force management.  Existing career field managers would have to choose between developing their officers tactically through USAF Warfare Center schools (or their equivalent) or vector them operationally as Integration Officers. However, integration officers would return to their core field for at least one tour after their initial LNO assignment, infusing their knowledge across the force. Although the Integration Officer track presents added man power burden, it would result in a more enriched career field.

The experience gained from this manner of education and force development will foster broader integration across the operational Air Force as these officers return to their primary fields. It will provide a catalyst to change legacy processes into ones that have commonality across the force. Commonality in language, communication connectivity, planning, and coordinating with other functions will become easier and more natural over time.



The Air Force requires thinkers who can grasp the growing complexity of strategic and operational problems, discern how to engage them with tactical effects, and establish norms to ease vertical and horizontal communications across the total force.  Integrating functions and domains requires its own specialization that can capitalize on tactical understanding as well as build depth to empower component commanders to achieve operational effects. This specialization would solve a cultural gap in our command and control core function that is much needed.


George “Jungle” Hart is a career intelligence officer and has served in a variety of positions at the tactical and operational levels of warfighting. He is a graduate of the US Air Force Weapons School. Most recently he was assigned to the Air Force Lessons Learned Directorate, focused on operational and tactical seams in command and control.

All views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force, or the Department of Defense.

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