The Buzz

Cross-Domain Fires: US Military's Master Plan to Win the Wars of the Future

“Imagine this. An F-18 Hornet acquires a target at sea, an enemy ship, and then passes the track data through Link-16 to any potential shooter with the right munitions and within range of the enemy ship. That information is passed through a gateway to several potential shooters on land such as the Paladin or High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS.”  -- Adm. Harry Harris, Pacific Commander. 

The emerging concept for warfighting is aimed at vigorously increasing “cross-domain” fires wherein air assets provide fires for ground attack weapons fire support of air forces in real time. This concept also includes Army rockets and artillery to destroy maritime targets such as ships off the coastline, just as sea and air force assets attack targets on land. 

The above quote, spoken by Adm. Harris, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, refers to the fast-increasing emphasis upon using air, land and sea weapons and technology through faster, more lethal networking and coordination.

While posited at a theoretical prospect, Harris explained that this kind of “cross-domain” fires has already been demonstrated and is now gaining momentum within senior Pentagon circles.

A 6,000-personnel strong joint-training exercise last year called Northern Edge, hosted by Alaskan Command above mountain ranges and the Gulf of Alaska, used networking technology to quickly send targeting coordinates from a fighter jet to land-based weapons. 

Major participating units include U.S. Pacific Command, Alaskan Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pacific Air Forces, Marine Corps Forces Pacific, U.S. Army Pacific, Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command, Air Force Materiel Command, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command and U.S. Naval Reserve.

When it comes to networking technology, one example involves the use of something called Joint Range Extension Applications Protocol, or "JREAP."

(This first appeared in Scout Warrior here.)

 “That enables tactical data messages to be transmitted long distances, over the internet, effectively extending the range of the Link-16. Because of the internet, JREAP-C tracking data can then be passed The JREAP-C “cloud” is necessary because Link-16 is already over-subscribed,” Harris explained.  “The Paladin or HIMARS then kills that enemy ship from the land.”

While Harris, a high-level Navy admiral, made these remarks recently at the LANPAC Symposium 2016: “Role of Land Forces in Ensuring Access To Shared Domains,” the sea-service is closely coordinating the strategy, tactics and approaches of cross-domain fires with the Army and Air Force, senior officials explained.

“The Army does surface to surface fires. The fact that one end of the surface is wet is not the most significant thing. We have to use all the joint assets of a cross domain effort,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-9,Training and Doctrine Command, told Scout Warrior in an interview. “We can use land forces to open gaps in air defenses and then hold it. Then use the Air Force.”

Cross-domain tactics are far more impactful than merely sustaining information sharing; the idea includes leveraging quickly-networking for information, targeting and location of friendlies and adversaries.   

 Also, Smith elaborated that electronic and satellite communications technologies such as GPS are increasingly themselves vulnerable to enemy attack. For this reason, Army developers continue to work on communications technologies which can function in a degraded mode as well as in what’s called a “denied” environment. Given the pace of global technological change, cross-domain operations will increasingly involve cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum.

“If the network is your greatest advantage, it can become your greatest vulnerability so you have to have many options. The notion of cross-domain operations should not be limited to single fires,” Smith said.

“We need to improve how we project power from land into the other domains – air, sea, space and cyberspace. All domains are becoming more congested and contested," he added. 

If you want to stop a cyber-attack, put a 120mm tank round through the server and the operator of the cyber attack will stop,” he explained. 

 An increased use of cross-domain fires would bring a commensurate need to de-conflict frequencies, communications and fires between different domains, protecting things like space, land and air assets.

At the same time, integrating fire-control technology is essential to these operations, as geographical, tactical and targeting information needs to be processed, integrated and coordinated with land-based firing assets such as artillery, HIMARS rockets or Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or GMLRS.

“Just because you can send me information does not mean I know how to process the information in time to strike a target,” Smith elaborated."There is much work to be done." 

In some instances, the U.S. military may need to give up warhead capability to gain additional range for weapons attacking maritime targets with a small, longer-range explosive as a necessary trade, Smith added.

Air-Ground-Sea interoperability designed to facilitate “cross-domain” fires is not new, but this modern warfare phenomenon is growing. The Army Operating Concept in 2014 highlighted future warfighting as Joint Combined Arms Maneuver where U.S. forces,operating in multiple domains, cause multiple dilemmas for the enemy and offer options to U.S. Commanders. The emphasis for expanding the approach is rapidly gaining traction amid fast-moving global technological trends. 

Historic Precedent: