The Army’s newest edition of Field Manual 3-0: Operations, planned for release in October, introduces multidomain operations as the Army’s operational concept and guides the way Army forces conduct operations in a complex and dynamic world while facing capable and aggressive adversaries.
Field Manual (FM) 3-0: Operations describes how Army forces work with other services to conduct operations that achieve military objectives and fulfill policy aims. This includes how the Army contributes land power to the joint force and how it integrates joint capabilities into ground operations. FM 3-0 drives change across the Army, including changes to most other doctrinal publications and resulting changes to how Army forces train and fight. It also has wider-reaching influence on joint and multinational doctrine.
The Army is shifting its readiness focus to large-scale combat operations to account for growing threats posed by global adversaries, particularly China and Russia. The 2017 FM 3-0 codified this shift in focus and included many multidomain ideas then under development. Since then, armed conflicts across the world have demonstrated new ways for using emerging technologies. China and Russia have continued to develop their capabilities to contest the joint force around the global commons, which could deny U.S. Army forces access to strategically important geographic areas. In short, the world has changed significantly, and how the Army conducts operations needed to change, too.
The most significant update in FM 3-0 is introduction of multidomain operations as the Army’s operational concept. Multidomain operations, as defined in the new version of FM 3-0, are the combined arms employment of joint and Army capabilities to create and exploit relative advantages that achieve objectives, defeat enemy forces and consolidate gains on behalf of joint force commanders.
Put another way, multidomain operations are the way Army forces use not just ground-based Army capabilities, but also capabilities from air, sea, space and cyberspace in mutually supporting ways as part of a unified whole.
Army forces enable, and are enabled by, other services in support of a theater strategy that achieves national objectives.
Unlike operations over the past two decades, when fighting against an evenly matched enemy, it will not be enough to simply be aware of other capabilities. Commanders and staffs will need to integrate a broader range of capabilities and synchronize their application against the enemy to achieve greater effects than if they were applied separately.
In many ways, multidomain operations are not new. Army forces have employed capabilities from land, sea and air domains for more than a century, from observation balloons to aircraft, missiles and satellites. Air and maritime capabilities have long enabled successful operations on land, and the land domain has directly contributed to the viability of maritime operations for centuries.
Additionally, Army forces have employed space and cyberspace capabilities, two critical elements of multidomain operations, for more than two decades.
Distinct to the current environment, though, is that it has been decades since air-ground operations and close cooperation between land and naval forces have been effectively challenged by a threat. Additionally, Army forces have never employed space and cyberspace capabilities against an opponent that could contest their use, nor have Army forces faced an enemy that could employ their own capabilities in those domains against us.
Multidomain operations as described in the new FM 3-0 incorporate proven aspects of the original multidomain operations concept combined with previous doctrine and other developments, while omitting aspects of the concept that will require further consideration, experimentation and refinement. The concept and doctrine are related, but not the same. Those familiar with the original concept may have a head start in understanding the new FM 3-0, but there have been necessary, significant modifications during the process of adapting the conceptual theory into proven doctrine.
Multidomain operations focus on more than the moment of employment against an enemy. As the Army’s operational concept, multidomain operations apply to all Army operations. This means multidomain operations apply not just during armed conflict but also when responding to a crisis or when the Army is supporting the joint force to achieve national objectives during competition against other nation-state adversaries.
Multidomain operations apply to brigades and below, not just echelons above brigade. Although much of the discussion regarding multidomain operations is about operational-level defeat of enemy anti-access/area denial capabilities, the doctrine has major implications for forces at all echelons. Even when tactical formations do not directly control capabilities from multiple domains, they rely on effects in all domains created by higher headquarters.
Furthermore, lower echelons must operate within range of enemy capabilities encompassing most, if not all, domains. These include ubiquitous detection, long-range fires, forms of information warfare, and electromagnetic warfare capabilities.
Multidomain operations apply to both offense and defense. Considerations for both are addressed throughout FM 3-0, with sections dedicated to each in the armed conflict chapter. Army forces are postured forward across the world and must be able to defend against adversary aggression. Army forces that cannot defend cannot win in large-scale combat operations against a peer threat.
Understanding FM 3-0 does not require an understanding of artificial intelligence, autonomous drones and other high-tech topics. As is typical with doctrine, FM 3-0 is an evolution of previous doctrine and operational concepts. Much stays the same, but there are some new areas for emphasis and one key new term—convergence. New technologies will continue to drive change, and Army leaders should continuously seek ways for technology to improve operations. Doctrine, however, will not address emerging technologies until these technologies allow the Army to demonstrably improve current processes or do completely new things.
FM 3-0 will drive changes to branch and warfighting function doctrine, which in turn will drive updates to how soldiers from any echelon train and fight. It will be incorporated into professional military education for officers, warrant officers and NCOs. It also will inform updated training requirements to ensure that units are ready to meet current and near-term challenges.
Understanding and effectively applying multidomain operations will take time, education and training. Effective application of the doctrine requires a thorough knowledge of how available ground-based capabilities achieve objectives in the air, maritime, space and cyberspace domains, and how the capabilities of other services or commands enable the achievement of objectives by land forces. This, in turn, means not only understanding capabilities, but also understanding joint objectives well enough to know how Army forces fit in.
The nature of required expertise will depend on available capabilities from other services, multinational militaries and other partner organizations. As an example, a division commander and staff will need to not only thoroughly understand the division’s capabilities, the enemy’s capabilities and what external capabilities can be leveraged, but they also must thoroughly understand what their joint, multinational and civilian counterparts can bring to the fight and how the division can help these entities achieve their own objectives.
A key aspect of FM 3-0 is its new model for the operational environment. FM 3-0 categorizes operational environments into domains: land, air, maritime, space and cyberspace. Each domain requires a unique set of warfighting capabilities and skills.
Every domain is understood through three dimensions: physical, informational and human. The physical dimension encompasses material characteristics and capabilities. The information dimension is the content, data and processes that individuals, groups and information systems use to communicate. The human dimension encompasses people and the interaction between individuals and groups, how they understand information and events, make decisions, generate will and act. Army forces mainly operate through the physical dimension, influence through the information dimension and produce victory in the human dimension.
This model gives commanders a clear, concise structure to describe the operational environment that applies broadly—at all echelons, in any context and in any geographic area. Each dimension influences the others, and understanding all three is essential when trying to see yourself, see the enemy and understand the operational environment.
Army forces create, maintain and exploit advantages relative to an adversary or enemy in each dimension. Some advantages may take years to develop and depend upon relationships built with partners over time. Others may be achieved suddenly and require decisive leadership in uncertain conditions to be effectively exploited. These advantages are essential against an evenly matched enemy and may be the difference between victory and defeat.
This first version of Multi-Domain Operations doctrine is just the next step in the evolution of operations doctrine. Army forces will continue to incorporate lessons learned from experimentation, training and operations. Technology will continue to increase the agility, convergence, endurance and depth that multidomain operations seek to achieve, and the doctrine will continue to adapt to the capabilities of Army forces. All Army leaders will play a role and have an opportunity to shape the way Army warfighting adapts.
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Gen. Gary Brito is the 18th commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. Previously, he served as the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel. He has also served in a variety of command and staff assignments, including multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and several assignments within TRADOC.
Lt. Col. James Chester is a doctrine author in the Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was one of the authors of Field Manual 3-0: Operations. Previously, he served as a battalion executive officer supporting the U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Army South. He also served in Germany, Iraq, the Republic of Korea and throughout the U.S. He has a master’s degree in public policy and management from the University of Pittsburgh.
Lt. Col. Matt Farmer, U.S. Army retired, is a doctrine author and analyst in the Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate, and was one of the authors of FM 3-0. He commanded the U.N. Command Security Battalion, Panmunjeom, Republic of Korea, from 2016 to 2018. He also served in Kosovo, Egypt, the Baltics, Iraq and Afghanistan. He has master’s degrees from the National Intelligence University and the School of Advanced Military Studies.