Small Wars Journal

Cross-Domain Network Engagement: Geopolitical Competitors, Cross-domain Considerations and Multi-Domain Battle

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 11:40am

Cross-Domain Network Engagement: Geopolitical Competitors, Cross-domain Considerations and Multi-Domain Battle

Victor R. Morris


The character of war, strategy development and operational dilemmas change over time, therefore operational approaches must do the same. Joint Countering Threat Networks (JP 3-25) includes versatile lines of effort to identify, neutralize, disrupt or destroy threat networks.  These efforts enable engagement of friendly, neutral or unknown actors and mission objectives.

To successfully engage networks, more advanced human-machine networks need to be understood and analyzed. For example, battle networks are technologically enhanced Anti-Access Area Denial (A2/AD) and human-machine systems that will influence current and future conflict. This assessment outlines a revised US Army Network Engagement construct to achieve cross-domain effects involving a variety of actors and competitors in a convergent operational environment.

Geopolitical Competitors, Cross-domain Considerations and Multi-Domain Battle

Geopolitical competitors develop strategies across the continuum of conflict relative to the advantages of their rival. The resulting strategies emphasizes both direct and indirect approaches across all domains to reach objectives. The domains are human, land, air, sea (includes sub-surface), space and cyber. Dense urban, information and electromagnetic environments are also critical spaces for military and non-military effects. 

Cross-domain effects are accelerated by hybrid states and non-state actors. Hybrid states are described as states with a mix of autocratic and democratic features. This assessment uses the term “hybrid state” to describe a state that blurs the boundaries between organizations and institutions to develop an unbounded grand strategy. This type of state also has low competition in elections and low constraints on governmental power. These characteristics facilitate unbounded policy to offset perceived disadvantages.

A hybrid state’s critical factors are contained in a supra-domain system of systems capable of delivering military and non-military synchronized attack packages. Operational and tactical configurations are like the multi-domain task force concept that consists of early operational fires to enable joint force objectives. Strategic packages correlate to specific target vulnerabilities within instruments of national and international power. The system’s centers of gravity are entities that possess distinctive ways to achieve ends. They include 1) conventional joint and irregular proxy forces with integrated air, ground and sea defense capabilities, 2) emergent and disruptive technologies and 3) super-empowered individuals and subversive organizations.

Furthermore, proxy organizations present significant dilemmas for joint and multinational alliances when used as a key component of an unbounded grand strategy. Proxy organizations, however, are not limited to non-state paramilitary or insurgent networks. These un-attributable groups also include convergent terrorist, transnational organized crime and international hacker organizations. Multinational companies, political parties and civic groups also act as proxy organizations with access to high-end technologies and capabilities. These organizations then either blend and cooperate or compete with other proxy actors based on various motivations. All or some of these groups may be enabled or incentivized by the hybrid state or local population providing sanctuary for them.

Fundamentally, Multi-domain battle addresses the extended battlefield and large- scale combat through joint reconnaissance, offensive and defensive operations. Limited stability operations anticipate dense population interactions and are designed to consolidate gains that enable operational and strategic ends. Considerations for seizing the initiative in large scale combat operations involve entry operations, attacking enemy centers of gravity (COGs), SOF-conventional force integration and stability activities. In addition to these considerations, precision air, ground and naval fires, coupled with effective means of intelligence collection are critical strengths that enable freedom of action and mission success.

Defeating the enemy and consolidating gains inherently involves more forces and is an operational headquarters planning requirement. Specific requirements include joint force assignment, apportionment, contingency and execution sourcing. Additionally, adversary related Anti-access Area Denial (A2/AD) integrated defense systems associated with territorial defense and coercive activities are a joint problem. They require joint capabilities to exploit windows of superiority, freedom of action and gains consolidation to revise, maintain or cancel the plan.

Equally important for operations and contingency planning is understanding an adversary’s strategy associated with indirect approaches and use of asymmetric proxies to reach objectives. These objectives extend beyond the major joint operation plan and hinge on limited warfare activities and frozen conflicts as desired end states. Potential dilemmas for NATO involve asymmetric warfare operations in member states against borderless proxy actors, during or after an Article V territorial restoration campaign. This dilemma affects the cohesion of complex battle and political networks bounded by democratic processes, rule of law and multinational policies.

Cross-Domain Network Engagement Construct

The below construct modifies the existing elements contained in the Army’s Network Engagement publication (ATP 5-0.6) and accounts for the interconnected domain and inherent human-machine networks. The interconnected domain is where conventional, asymmetric, criminal and cyber activities occur at the same time in the same spaces with linear and non-linear effects.

  • Understand the Joint Combat Operation Model and Large-scale ground combat: Joint Operations, Decisive Action Training Environment (DATE) and Opposing Forces doctrine (TC 7-100 series).  
  • Understand the Operational Environment and cross-domain environmental effects: Convergent operational environment, hybrid rivals and threats, and interrelated DOTMLPF considerations.
  • Understand human and data network relationships and critical factors: Technical enhancement of current networks, new technology enabled operational constructs and integrated multi-domain battle systems (ground-based tactical air defense electronic warfare and cyber).
  • Organize to shape, deter and confront networks: Joint Interorganizational Cooperation and human-assisted operations.
  • Engage networks across the joint phases: Achieve, assess and consolidate more effects and gains than opponent.
  • Assess activities: Resiliency and multi-level shaping activities.


Operational approaches and blended training designed to force multi-national critical factors analysis, decision making, and assessments are critical to understanding human and technologically enabled 21st century conflict. The joint operational area must be assessed as one interconnected domain. It also must be put in the correct context to assess the level of military effort and servicing of targets in domains that enable the land component to reach mission objectives. Additionally, an indirect approach within a hybrid state’s grand strategy offers innovative, inexpensive and unbounded opportunities to reach geopolitical objectives below the threshold of armed conflict. Finally, mission command through human-machine teaming is inevitable and will undoubtedly leverage human adaptability, automated speed and precision as future critical factors. The global competition for machine intelligence dominance will also become a key element of both the changing character of war and technical threat to strategic stability.

About the Author(s)

Victor R. Morris is an irregular warfare and threat mitigation instructor at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany. He has conducted partnered training in sixteen European nations, with four NATO centers of excellence, and at the NATO Joint Warfare Center. A civilian contractor and former U.S. Army officer, he has experience in both capacities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Twitter: @vicrasta3030