Imaging a drone vehicle navigating through rigorous terrain and taking enemy fire. What if this drone could use high-fidelity, long-range sensors to find hidden enemies protected by advanced air defenses not easily-detectable by overhead air sensors? In a matter of seconds Navy destroyers off the coast and Air Force F-22 and B-21 pilots flying miles away receive images, video and intelligence data directly from the ground drone. As a result, the armed, unmanned combat vehicle moves forward to attack while, at the very same time, Navy ships launch Tomahawks to destroy the enemy troop fortifications, B-21s change course to go attack the enemy air defenses and F-22’s fly within range to drop an all-weather, precision-guided “Stormbreaker” bombs on enemy forces from nearly forty-miles away.
As this unfolds, perhaps long-range B-21 sensors locate approaching enemy aircraft and instantly pass target information to the arriving F-22s which use upgraded AIM-9X air-to-air missiles to attack the enemy fighter jets, clearing the way for more coordinated air-ground-sea strikes.
Taken yet a step further, perhaps an Air Force drone, operating under the control of a nearby F-35 crew, sees additional, previously undetected enemy ground targets from the air. That F-35-controlled drone could instantly cueing ground commanders thirty-km away to fire course-correcting, precision-guided “shaped trajectory” Excalibur 155mm artillery rounds at enemy forces.
This kind of coordinated “joint-attack” then opens up an air and ground corridor for mechanized ground convoys, infantry and less-stealthy planes to quickly advance the attack.
“When you consider some of the combined effects on the battlefield, we are trying to take a networked view,” Major General Christopher Azzano, Commander of the Air Force Test Center, told The National Interest in an interview.
While a combat scenario with this level of multi-domain “meshed” information sharing, might not yet be fully possible, it precisely represents the Pentagon’s emerging Multi-Domain Operations warfare strategy. This kind of warfare is envisioned as the future and also reflects, more specifically, the Air Force’s fast-evolving modern Air Dominance strategy.
The Air Force concept, recently emphasized in a new “Change or Lose” strategy document published by Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Brown, aims to establish “information dominance” and broadly network “sensors and shooters.”
Making the point that Airmen are often the “first to respond to emerging crises,” Brown’s strategic document states that weapons networking and cyber-hardened information-sharing are needed to achieve “greater integration across the services.”
Finding difficult or otherwise unreachable targets through integration, as pointed to by Brown’s document, is a mission current Air Force commanders are moving quickly to execute.
“We are trying to find and destroy mobile, agile, intelligent hard to find targets such as mobile anti satellite systems, mobile directed energy systems, mobile long range fires and mobile integrated air defenses [that] in many cases they are shooting at ports and airfields which are easy to find,” Air Force General James Holmes, Commander, Air Combat Command told the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies earlier this year in a special interview series.
Brown’s strategic document advances and further refines the Air Force components to emerging “Joint All Domain Command and Control” effort intended to link sensors, shooters and information systems across the services.
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff General Steven Wilson says his service is now deeply immersed in coordinated technical work with Army and Navy weapons developers for the purpose of advancing multi-domain attack networking.
“JADC2 is not just for the Air Force but the entire Department. We need to get the right software to the cloud to network and connect the force. How do I connect the force and build this internet of things to allow every platform to connect with every other platform?” Wilson asked, during a video interview with The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.