Integration in warfare
11 Oct 2017|

With the announcement of the new iPhone X—at a price only a princess royal could afford—I recalled a metaphor that some peers and I tried to employ to describe the importance of integration to future warfare. With the recognition by most defence thinkers and senior military leaders that potential future adversaries have created and employed capabilities that will negate US and ally advantages, different approaches to contemporary warfare will be required. Enter ‘multi-domain battle’, a concept designed to address the diminishing ability of commanders to wage a joint fight effectively on the future battlefield.

Without getting bogged down in terminology, let’s define multi-domain battle as actions in and across land, air, sea, space and cyber to achieve military effects. Due to its wide-ranging geographic and conceptual dimensions, all of which are divided among multiple military services, the key to this kind of warfare is increased integration of capabilities developed and managed by the army, navy and air force.

The best way to describe the power of this integration, when done well, is by focusing on the compounded effects gained. That brings me back to the iPhone. When it first came out, what the iPhone did for the consumer wasn’t all that new; you could make phone calls, listen to music, read a book, text your friends, surf the internet, take pictures, and navigate with GPS. Those are all activities that could be done before the iPhone. Nothing new. However, how the iPhone accomplished all those activities fundamentally changed people’s behavior on a day-to-day basis. Apple achieved it by combining the activities into one simple piece of hardware, made possible by advancements in technology (batteries, microchips, touch-sensitive screens and a host of other technological breakthroughs), but also by the increased ability to integrate systems (cloud storage and computing, crowd-sourced labelling and data gathering, and so on). Finally, increasingly tech-savvy consumers, enabled by simple, intuitive design, allowed for the full use of the capabilities of the device.

In essence, the seamless integration of multiple functions, by multiple actors, to achieve complementary and compounded effects is the power that made the iPhone (and other smartphones) largely ubiquitous, especially in the developed world. For example, let’s just look at the map application found on the iPhone. That one application takes data from multiple stakeholders and integrates them to allow you to find locations anywhere in the world, get directions to get there, see real-time traffic and other obstacles, find information on businesses, contact people and businesses based on their location information, see pictures and satellite imagery, and send your location to others. And that kind of integration comes from one of the most basic iPhone applications.

That kind of compound effect, with integration of multiple actors to achieve multiple purposes, is exactly what multi-domain battle is trying to achieve in the joint warfare space. If joint force capabilities—and the trained people working rehearsed processes—can leverage each other’s normal collection and warfighting activities for effects across and among multiple domains, not only will we be able to better fight on the future battlefield, but we’ll also make decisions more quickly and provide commanders with flexibility to fully employ our forces.

Military units are not smartphone applications, of course, and the military is not simply a piece of technology. However, the implications and processes that are inherent in today’s iPhones can be used to help describe the power of future concepts like multi-domain battle. Imagine if our integration across the military services were as seamless as your typical date night to a new restaurant …