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Over the Horizon (OTH): General Saltzman, We appreciate your time today as we strive to create a space where people can bring and further these types of discussions. We wanted to get your thoughts on the Air Force’s view on the new Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concept. We saw you were tapped by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Goldfein, to be the point man for multi-domain Command and Control. Can you define how you see your role, and how you see MDO progressing within the Air Force?
General Saltzman (GS): In order to support my quest to support him in MDO, we kicked off an Enterprise Capabilities Collaboration Team (an ECCT for those not familiar); it is a part of strategic development planning. Before we dive right into analysis of alternatives, writing of requirements, and buying systems to do various missions, it might be good for us to step back and say “how is it that we envision doing this mission in the future”? Our first ECCT dealt with air superiority. Given the proliferation of new Anti-Access/Anti-Denial (Area Denial?) capabilities like missile systems and advanced fighters, how do we plan on gaining air superiority in the future?” The result of that ECCT was a series of capabilities, requirements/needs, and different concepts of operations.
The Chief was happy with the result, so the follow-on ECCT is what we really need to do next, which is command and control (C2). And not just plain old C2, I want us to think about Multi-Domain C2. So, my job is to organize the Air Force’s thinking about the future of war. It is going to require a Multi-Domain mindset, so what do we need to invest in now so that we have a C2 structure that will then be able to coordinate the effort that we call MDO. The Chief gave me a year to organize our thoughts. I plan to bring the experts together in a series of working groups, round tables, exercises, technology demos, you name it. I have all of those tools at my disposal.
In November, I’ll [give an] out-brief [to] senior Air Force leadership at the annual Strategic Planning Choices brief. There, they [will] agree or disagree [with] the investment options I laid out, and modify as they see fit. But those investments will be both materiel and non-materiel. It won’t just be about hardware or software, but also changes to the way we train, educate, perhaps different policies. Anything that helps contribute to the broader ability to accomplish Multi-Domain C2 is on the table. So, once the senior leadership make their decisions, I’ll be required to put the choices into a flight plan, or roadmap, so that we time phase how we are going about this construct. Then I will turn it over to the broader Air Force where it’ll go through the Air Force Requirements Oversight Council (AFROC) process, now called the Capabilities Development Council, to define the requirements, do the Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) and push it further up the process where it will enter the traditional Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) staffing process for non-materiel solutions.
So that’s quick overview of what my role is in that focus area. In short, it’s about organizing thoughts around MDO and how we C2 and providing a series of recommendations, and investment options towards materiel/non-materiel solutions to put that system in place.
OTH: As a follow-on, it is interesting to see the use of words such as MDO come into vogue. Many are discussing whether older terms like joint warfare and combined arms equate to the same thing as MDO. Some are arguing the Air Force has been doing Multi-Domain Operations since our inception. So what, from your point of view, is the bumper sticker showing MDO is meaningfully different from previous concepts?
GS: Sure, those are good comparisons, so let’s talk about Combined Arms (CA). From my vantage point, which won’t be the doctrinal answer, CA is using the assets you have, in some cases from different functions or different domains. Whether its artillery, armor, infantry, aviation, those are the traditional arms we’re talking because a lot of times we talk about combined arms in terms of the Army sense of things. But, the assets are all used towards a single campaign, the ground campaign. The Army uses aviation assets, but they do so in support of the ground campaign. They have a Combined Arms approach to prosecute that ground campaign. Likewise, the Navy uses aviation assets, they use surface ships, they even have ground forces, but it is all in pursuit of the maritime campaign.
If you want to consider joint, that’s a good point too, but that’s where multiple services come together to contest multiple domains to provide a Joint Forces Commander effects to achieve objectives. When we are talking MDO, and this is again constrained to our [the Air Force’s] problem set, we are talking about a single service combining effects to gain or maintain superiority in multiple domains. Adaptive Domain Control is the term we are using now instead of the “superiority” language we were using.
At a minimum, the Air Force is responsible for the adaptive space and air domain control, or superiority, to use the old terms. So how do we integrate our capabilities to create multiple dilemmas for the enemy so that we can achieve our objectives? That is how it is slightly different than Combined Arms, [which focuses] on a single domain, or Joint Warfare with multiple services coming together to achieve objectives. This is an Air Force lens looking at what we call Multi-Domain Operations, but how do we get the most out of our Air, Space, and Cyber capabilities to have adaptive domain control of at least air and space, and probably to a degree, cyber, to achieve effects across those domains?
The big difference in my opinion, is in the past we used space and cyber capabilities to enhance air operations but that’s not going to be sufficient in the future. It’s not just going to be integrating capabilities to support one domain. We are going to have to achieve space superiority. We are going to have to use air and cyber capabilities to do that. We will need some level of domain control in cyber, and we’ll probably use space and air capabilities to do that as well. So, because we have an integrated approach, an MDO approach, we can create multiple dilemmas for the adversary across the broad spectrum of domains so they do not know where the attack vector is coming from. If they deny us access to a target through one domain, we can broadly achieve effects through another domain. So, that where it’s a little different from Combined Arms and Joint Warfare.
OTH: After looking at how other services use the term MDO, each service, including the Army and the Navy do seem to allude to a service-lens view of MDO. Given the different lenses through which each service views MDO, is there any joint office or inter-service working group set up to coordinate what MDO looks like across different service lines of operation or perhaps to set a standard for the terms or expectations?
GS: Whether you look at it from a service prospective, with its focus on organizing, training, equipping or whether from a joint warfighter perspective, those questions still matter because things still have to come together for the joint fight. You have to be joint and be coalition ready, it can’t be developed in a vacuum. One step we’ve taken internally is that one of my ECCT working groups is interoperability focused. It’s led by a British officer. Additionally, I have an Australian officer, an army officer and a navy officer that make up that working group. I’ve charged them with looking at everything we discuss through their service or country lens and tell me where there is going to be problems with interoperability, problems with coordination, problems with integration.
I need to call those out at the beginning so that in the design phase, in the conceptual phase, we don’t bake in problems or seams that’ll cause issues down the road. Nothing we build will be able to be seamlessly integrated with our coalition partners and other services, but I will also tell you the J3 and J5 guys are discussing these concepts. They know that command and control, whether you say it’s multi-domain or not, is an issue for all the services and that we’re pursing various descriptions of our future C2 capability.
The Joint Staff is keeping their eye on it closely, we have J39 representatives on our team to lash everything together and make sure no one builds anything that is so custom that it doesn’t fit into the joint fight as a whole. At this point its coordination and collaboration, but we understand it could create seams if we’re not careful, so we’re kind of tracking to that point.
OTH. As you mentioned, you have Joint Staff helping and the inter-service members on your staff, but have you had direct conversations with the Department of Army or Navy or are you working through the Joint Staff for that coordination?
GS: So the short answer is both, but mostly we are looking internally as “what is it the AF wants to do” and we’ve embedded the other services and Joint Staff into our effort. They can keep us apprised of anything we do that runs counter to what they think the other services or Joint Staff is doing. So it’s mostly an inward look at this point, but I’ll tell you that I’m going to brief the annual warfighters talks and in April I’m attending the Air Force/Navy warfighter talks and I’ll discuss MDC2 efforts. So at that level we are engaging with the service directly. And I’ll do the same at the Air Force/Army talks, and at the Air Force/National Reconnaissance Office talks. We try to stay linked at the senior levels of leadership wherever we can.
Below is the second part of the interview with BGen Saltzman.
OTH: Some have expressed concern about services working towards stovepipe capabilities within the service that doesn’t necessarily bear fruit for the joint fight. Do you envision these working groups and the interagency construct beginning to break this down or do you foresee remaining concern we’ll have to work through regardless of the MDO effort.
GS: I appreciate the concern, and I think it’s always a good question to ask so we never get complacent in trying to pay attention to those things because if we are not careful, we will be the Air Force folks doing Air Force things forgetting about the joint aspects of it. So I think it’s a good reminder to continuously ask those questions. But here is what I’ll explain also, from working in detail on this. This is complicated business and where the joint warfighter really gains value is when services bring capability that’s ready to go and is powerful. Services are designed to do the organizing, training and equipping functions, so I’m particularly primed to think about MDC2 from the those three perspectives. How do we need to organize as an Air Force to provide multi-domain capabilities? Second, how do we train our forces so they can provide multi-domain capability? Finally, how are we equipping our forces so they can do it? That’s a service responsibility and we have to be true to that responsibility rather than saying “everything’s about joint, so let’s start at joint and work backwards”. That slows down the process.
Nevertheless, when you build Air Force capability you know it’s going to be in a joint war fight so you have to do this integration, you have to work it out at the design phase so you are building in those hooks so that it can seamlessly come together. But if you just say I’m going to run a joint program by the Joint Staff, with one big command and control system for everybody, it doesn’t get the most out of what each individual service brings to bear with their expertise in their domain. That way, you get a substandard product because it has too many compromises and not enough specialization relative to those domains. It’s a balancing act to make sure you get it properly integrated.
I’m pretty comfortable attacking this from a service standpoint and then putting the hooks in so I don’t miss anything from a joint perspective. And that’s what I feel like I’ve tried to build from a structural standpoint. But this can’t be really designed, in my personal opinion, as a joint project because you get too many compromises that water it down and make it less effective in your own domain. We are not a unified defense service for good reason. There are good reasons to have air experts, naval experts, and ground experts. Separate services build culture and competency in their domain, then organize their thoughts and capabilities, and then bring that to the joint fight. There is goodness in that. We can’t do that in a vacuum, but we also don’t just want to over-aggregate everything into one big joint force, because you will lose some of those capabilities when you start to abandon the service culture.
OTH: The next question may be a bit pre-mature since the ECCT just stood up, but in your view what would be the 3 top systems or programs that would be a necessity to enable MDO or enable MDC2 constructs?
GS: It is definitely premature to speak to specific systems, but what I can do is give you more general answers on types of technology that we think are going to be key enablers. The first one is some sort of cloud-based data structure. Separating data out from the sensors that collect it, from the algorithms that process it, from the software and hardware that manage it, is essential. Data should be data and it should live somewhere where any number of relevant people have access to it in real time. The idea of cloud computing opens that up. Once you put your data in one available cloud now you can start applying big data analytics, you can apply machine-to-machine processing so you can start to accelerate your situational awareness and operational decision making. So I think one general category of technology we’ll pursue is putting that data into a cloud-based structure for storage and processing. Other government agencies have started this and found some real advantages to it.
The second broad technology is what I call software applications that help decision makers to make faster decisions. So if you want to call that decision support software, ok. We’ll have so much access to data, how will the decision makers know what is relevant versus what’s not relevant. How is it going to be identified to the decision maker in a timely way? How will they know the menu of options or what the 2nd and 3rd order effects will be? Those are all the things that slow down decision making, and if we can leverage technology, machine-to-machine interfaces, artificial intelligence, better visualization tools, and similar things that have seen in the commercial sector that can queue up choices and decision support to the right decision makers. These capabilities will be very helpful to us as we try to compress that OODA loop. It’s also important to not just think of this as the operational commander that makes decisions. The guy at the CAOC that needs to build the tanker support plan, they are a decision maker. Guys building the Airspace Control Plan also. There are folks doing AFFOR business, battle managers in the back of an E-3, or space guys making Space Situational Awareness tasking decisions. There are a myriad of decisions to be made in a MDC2, it’s not just about helping the 3-star making rapid decisions. Everyone in the cycle needs to be making rapid decisions, so that decision support software is an important technology.
The third basic technology we know we have to pursue is force direction, so we’ll need situational awareness from big data analytics, we’ll have to make rapid operational decisions, using machines to help us in a decision support role and then we’ll have to direct forces. Our adversaries are going to attempt to deny us that capability, and so we’ll need assured communications in a denied environment. That’s everything from protected datalinks, to satellite communications, to broadcasts to point-to-point communications. It is all the RF signatures that take place. Those communications need to be assured, we’ll have to come up with new waveforms, new security standards to protect the data, low probability of intercept. All of that is going to have to be brought to bear, and that will take some new technologies and new innovations so we can be sure we can do that in a highly contested environment. Those are the 3 broad areas we are focusing on.
OTH: What realignments, or other explicit actions does the Air Force need to take to further an MDO or MDC2 from concept to reality. Would a Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) still work? Or would you need a multi-domain CAOC that has not just an air component but also perhaps portions of Space and Cyber components. Will we need an evolution or revolution in our frameworks?
GS: Good question, but again I won’t have a definite answer – yet – but, I can provide a peek under the tent to see what direction we are going. We’ll at least start the debate on what the decision space may be; we are still defined in an industrial age model in terms of our facilities, our processes, and our structures. It’s very linear, it’s centered on the commander, and it’s very nodal-based with fixed battle rhythms. There needs to be a far more networked capability, and that goes back to big data and being able to communicate as transparent as possible between the nodes. More specific to your point, the Air Force needs to decide at what point we integrate our MDO capabilities.
If we have the luxury to only worry about one domain, let’s say the navy in the maritime domain, and you’ll use surface, subsurface and aviation assets all packaged in the Carrier Strike Group to provide a force to a JFC for the purpose of Maritime Domain Control. If you think of the way the Air Force does it, we send an air component to the Joint Force Commander (JFC) then we send our space and cyber guys to US Strategic Command. Then the assumption is once they are in the joint force, the supporting/supported relationship will be written so that those forces are integrated. So we defer integration to the combatant commanders. Is that how we want to do it? Do we want to integrate air, space, cyber units into task forces? The task force can train together, integrate together, and develop concepts and equipment as a team. We can then present that Task Force to a JFC, call it generically “airpower,” or do we like the construct we have? The airmen on either side of the command structure are given the tools so they can develop collaborative planning. There isn’t a clear answer at this point, we’ll have to debate it, and do table top exercises to weigh the pros and cons of any one of those kinds of structures. That’s the purpose of organizing our thoughts, so those higher up in the pay scale can make those decisions.
OTH: Follow-up question: what’s your gut feeling; do you think the MAJCOM or Functional Combatant Commander levels are receptive to radical departures of the current construct?
GS: No one is ever receptive to radical departures. That’s the nature of human beings. Also, they have good reason not to be. We are currently in a war. We can’t afford to add risk in current operations. The overriding concern will not be over turfs, honestly. I engage with these 4 star commanders pretty routinely, and I’m always impressed. Service or command parochialism is not present. It’s risk to the ongoing mission that’s the overriding consideration. I’ve been very pleased at that level of discourse.
If there is a way to smartly organize for future combat operations without inducing risk in current ops, our senior leadership wants to hear it, because they know warfare 15 years from now will not look like today. If we don’t adapt, we won’t be ready for it. I think everyone out there should be proud that the current senior leadership is far more concerned with smart ways to adapt while minimizing risk to the ongoing fight than they are about turf battles. It just doesn’t come up. I’m hopeful that as we lay out options and find ways to adapt and progress to the future mission without creating risk in current ops, that the leadership will support it and make decision and move on.
OTH: Thank you. We appreciate your time today as we look deeper into how the services see this Multi-Domain concept advancing.
GS: Absolutely, thank you.
Brigadier General B. Chance “Salty” Saltzman serves as the Director of Future Operations, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S Air Force, Washington, D.C. The directorate provides senior Air Force leaders and Air Force major commands vision, expertise and staff support to fully integrate and synchronize air, space and cyberspace capabilities across the spectrum of conflict.
This interview was conducted by Brandon Davenport, Senior Editor, and Sean Atkins, Editor-in-Chief of Over the Horizon, on March 10th, 2017.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.