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Advancing Decision-Centric Warfare: Gaining Advantage Through Force Design and Mission Integration
Caption: An MQ-9 Sea Guardian unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft system flies over Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Coronado. (U.S. Navy)
(U.S. Navy)

Advancing Decision-Centric Warfare: Gaining Advantage Through Force Design and Mission Integration

Bryan Clark, Dan Patt & Timothy A. Walton

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Advancements in digital communication and virtualization are creating opportunities and challenges for integrating military capabilities similar to those associated with the emerging Internet of Things. Contemporary discussion in the Department of Defense (DoD) frames the military use case for integration as multi-domain operations, in which capabilities from different services and operating environments are combined to achieve a common objective. However, this paradigm merely perpetuates long-standing approaches to joint operations and misses the fundamental shift underway toward the centrality of information and decision-making in warfare. Attrition is receding as a mechanism to achieve national security objectives as computing and communication innovations enable military forces to gain a decision-making advantage through capability arrangement and orchestration that improves their own adaptability and creates uncertainty for opponents. To exploit this emerging opportunity, commanders in the field will need the ability to identify and implement new force combinations, communications paths, and courses of action.

This report describes a new model for joint force design and integration, where elements of military capability are able to be composed and tailored to the needs of specific operational challenges close to the time of use. Combined with appropriate command and control processes and systems, this model of mission integration has the potential to provide military advantage against capable adversaries through the surprise generated from force composition and recombination. Mission integration could also reduce the cost of operations and modernization by enabling aggregation of less-expensive weapons systems to realize capabilities provided today by large multimission platforms or formations.

However, institutional challenges will hinder implementation of mission integration. The plodding, supply-side processes of the Department of Defense are built on predictability and homogeneity of forces, in which weapon system performance and quantity are critical parameters. Supply-focused capability development and integration worked when the US military was broadly superior to its potential opponents following the Cold War. Today, US forces face peer competitors and must adopt more agile approaches to deliver and deploy capabilities. In addition to supply-side improvements in interoperability and decision-support tools to recompose forces, achieving mission-tailored adaptability will require demand-side customization of military capabilities such as radio waveforms, sensor packages, decision aids, warhead characteristics, or electromagnetic warfare algorithms to address evolving threats. Unfortunately, the Pentagon’s centralized industrial base and forecast-centric requirements and budgeting processes do not afford the flexibility to deliver this kind of heterogeneity at scale.

This study uses an operational challenge vignette to describe a plausible pathway to implement mission integration that illustrates how clever and sustained force recomposition could fundamentally alter an adversary’s strategic calculus without developing a new weapon system. The vignette and associated analysis highlight specific recommendations for the Department of Defense to fund and explore the concept of mission integration, and to take an evolutionary approach to modernizing its institutional processes to exploit the opportunities afforded by changing technology and the emerging character of warfare.

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