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Multi-Domain Operations doctrine still a few years out, says US Army chief

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has spent several years iterating its war-fighting concept that addresses great power competition and potential conflict with near-peer adversaries across air, land, sea, space and cyberspace. But it’s still several years from transitioning that concept into doctrine, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told Defense News in an Oct. 14 interview.

The service has come out with versions of its Multi-Domain Operations concept, often premiering those drafts at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference. This year, the Army is focused on developing the MDO concept to make it a doctrine.

“It’s going to take a couple years to finally get to doctrine,” McConville said. The Army is learning from events like Project Convergence, the multidomain task force unit that has been active in the Pacific for several years trying out concepts, and other campaigns that are informing its development, he added.

Though the Army has yet to come out with the final doctrine, “we know how to fight,” McConville said. “We’re not waiting for that to come out. … We’re learning and we’re building doctrine as we go along.”

The Army stood up one multidomain task force, or MDTF, unit that is now based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. That experimental unit has been active in prominent exercises in the Pacific and will likely show up at the Army’s Project Convergence campaign of learning at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, in the fall of 2021.

The service said it plans to stand up a second MDTF unit in the Pacific region in fiscal 2021, but it’s yet to do so. The Army also plans to allocate an MDTF unit to Europe.

This year, shortly after the Army released its FY21 budget request, the service issued an unfunded requirements list to Congress that included a need for $151.4 million for enhancements to MDTF units intended for Europe and the Indo-Pacific theaters.

According to the list, the extra funding would sustain, restore and modernize building renovations as well as provide adequate housing for personnel and headquarters for MDTF elements and the second and third MTDF units.

The MDTF in Europe also appears slow to stand up. A year ago, U.S. Army Europe was in the nascent stage of introducing the MDO concept into its training routine. The Army approved an amendment to its Army Structure Memorandum 2020-2024 in February 2019, establishing additional intelligence, cyber, electronic warfare and space capabilities in Europe. While it represented the first multidomain capabilities in theater, it was not a full multidomain task force, according to a U.S. Army Europe statement sent to Defense News.

The command was in the midst of conducting analysis to determine what a multidomain task force should look like in the theater. “We don’t expect to see the first assets in theater until the end of the year,” the statement noted. It was anticipated the Army would use the task force in its Defender 2020 exercise. That was significantly scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The intent would be to have two multidomain task forces in the Pacific and one in Europe, or one that supports Europe,” McConville said.

When asked specifically what supporting Europe means, McConville said: “We’re still working on the posturing of forces in Europe, so we don’t have a final decision on that. You’ve probably seen in the news the discussion about what [is] the calibrated force posture of the United States Army,” to include the possible of exit of troops from Germany, and repositioning them.

“All those discussions are going on right now,” he added. “The exact positioning of the multidomain task force has not been decided.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Martin confirmed in a separate Oct. 14 interview with Defense News that the service has not determined a “temporary location” to base the Europe-focused MDTF.

“It’ll be temporary until we decide permanently where it will be positioned, but the whole idea of these multidomain task forces is that they’re deployable formations, they can rapidly move to a location and allow us to better compete with an adversary over time and, also, if necessary, fight against that adversary.”

When asked if the European MDTF is not yet stood up because of the pandemic, Martin said it’s due to “a whole host of reasons.”

“We’re still in the process of determining the final timing on that. Now, we’ve got structure baked into our total Army analysis process, we’re not concerned about that, but it’s making sure we’ve got the right location for the experimental task force, and the timing of it is — it’s an outcome based on a whole host of different factors that we’re considering,” he explained.

The first MDTF “is doing very well,” he said, adding that the unit is filling out over time and a brigadier general is leading it. “I don’t know if that’s what will lead it going into the future. Time will tell,” he said.

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