The days are coming when a squad leader on a battlefield, far from headquarters and large supporting units, will pull out something that looks like a smartphone, open an app and push a button and something in front of his squad will explode.
That’s one piece of a large vision that is emerging from work being done by the Pentagon’s Close Combat Lethality Task Force.
To enhance the fighting power of tactical forces, many of the complexities of modern operations should be pushed downward.
For this to work, decisions formerly made by high-ranking individuals must be made by personnel at lower levels. Artificial intelligence offers a solution. Think of small unit apps that connect a leader to a constellation of decision-enhancement tools.
Today it takes an entire multi-service bureaucracy to deliver air and surface fires. If we are to empty the battlefield this enormous mass must depart to be replaced by a fires app that, with the engagement of a single icon, delivers all the necessary data to allow a strike to proceed in seconds rather than hours.
Other icons on a leader’s device will order up evacuation and resupply. The device will give the leader access to intelligence from all agencies from tactical to strategic.
“We used to believe that operational art drove tactical art. We’re seeing now that it’s the opposite.”
The forum is heavy on technical advances both present and future, but the way the United States and others fight will be “turned upside down” by a combination of technical and tactical.
“It’s not a technical problem, it’s an organizational and bureaucratic problem. We have the tech to do what is being described with a quadcopter purchased at Walmart. The problem is having it integrated and immediately responsive.”
The smartphone bombing app was one of a number of examples of how small units, the size of either an Army or Marine squad, will influence operational and strategic levels of warfare from the tactical level.
Much of the work being done at that lower level is drawing on lessons from special operations forces from the past 15 years or more of combat.
Their work has led to a construct in which small teams are enabled to move freely.
They do that by having missile fires, close-air support and layers of defense that include shoulder-fired weapons to take out big things like tanks and aircraft.
Marines will also add swarms of drones to create a protective bubble. That’s all to ensure that those small units are not able to be surprised.
The task force has helped prioritize funding for the close combat 100,000 – infantry, special operations, scouts and combat engineers – who do most of the fighting, but receive a fraction of the overall defense budget.
Some of the early priorities include new night-vision devices, accelerated development on a next generation rifle and machine gun and a futuristic Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS, that would put night, thermal, wayfinding and targeting into one device that could also share data across the squad and up the echelons.
In augmented reality, computer-generated or real-world sensory input is placed on top of a soldier’s view of the real-world environment.
Soldiers, Marines are trying out new device that puts ‘mixed reality,’ multiple functions into warfighter’s hands
The system melds navigation, targeting, situational awareness and communications into a single device with advanced thermal and night vision.
But more recently their next phase of efforts have focused on improving recruitment, retention and upping the human performance factors that make those individuals in close combat capable of handling increasingly complex future missions and responsibilities.
Marine Leaders are starting to view the close combat forces as an “excepted” portion as that force, still part of the regular service, sees its mission prioritized to meet strategic goals.
The squad-level operators should have at their fingertips weapons systems and authorities that remove the bureaucratic layers that, for now, get in the way of rapid action and reaction on a battlefield that moves in milliseconds.
Individual soldiers and Marines carry on their backs capabilities that once consumed acres of equipment, from communications to precision strike networks.
“We’re asking units at the squad level to do what brigades or battalions did 20 years ago.”
To do that they’ll need to augment themselves with robotics, cyber and aerial dominance and “reach back” weaponry.
Marine leaders are painting a picture of a battlefield of mostly empty spaces between small units. A “checkerboard force” would see a squad spotting a weapons 100km away and be able to bring to bear systems that would attack, kill and degrade that larger unit to the point that it would have to dismount simply to survive.
Marine Corps leaders are directing commands to go faster and equip warfighters with the tools they require to fight and win in a more timely manner.
One of the biggest takeaways from the experiment was that the individual Marine is a “tremendous innovation engine.
“The creativity of our Marines and small teams gives us a significant advantage.
“The Marine that grows up with access to the education we have, when compared to the rest of the world … is a factory for good ideas.”
“We understand that warfare is inherently, despite all of the technologies, … a human endeavor. “We want to recreate the uncertainty and fear and the danger associated with that so that we can get the best picture.”
In a experimental phase, the service took an infantry battalion and established it as an experimental force. We put them in the construct of a sea-based Marine Air Ground Task Force and we reorganised them, changed some of their training, their equipment, and over 18 months we conducted a series of operations and experiments before operationally deploying them in this configuration.
We are predicting a quick migration to enemy use of unmanned ground systems, surface systems and subsurface systems.
“Envision a future where you have a patrol that is looking for an aerial system, and instead a ground system comes up or is sitting along a trail. It could be in a sleep mode and camouflaged and then activates based on vibration or voices. Then it does what it is designed to do, which could be a collector to listen to discussions and stay quiet, or it could become basically an improvised weapon.
To combat this risk, the warfighting lab is broadening its work in unmanned systems.
“Based on our experience from the counter-IED fight, we recognise that as we start to develop capabilities to counter air systems, it is only logical that the enemy will start to look at other capabilities. Our goal is to stay one step ahead and anticipate what is coming.”
New tech will allow the Marines, for example, to walk into a operational theatre and already know where the hot spots are, potentially shutting down these connections in advance and turn them back on when they leave. “It is important for that tactical unit to be able to have immediate effects as they are experiencing them.
“These experiments are crucial in sorting out useful technologies and capabilities.”
For some technologies and experiments, the service might be able to buy some systems that are ready for fielding or use what was learned through that experimentation to feed into requirements generation.
Marines are working to generate rapid requirements, then buy a few capabilities, put them in the experiment and then use that to take a concept of operations and inform requirements fed back into the process and eventually into a program of record.
Marines have opportunity for engineers to take technologies from mature experiments and put them in the hands of Marines.
“When we put it in their hands, they figure out how to use it and they come back and tell us this is how we need to use this thing, this is how we to develop the concepts of operations and the concepts of employment and the tactics, techniques and procedures to put it out there and field it.”
“It’s up to us as the headquarters to say OK, got it. We’re going to figure out how field it to you and get it to you.”
The Marine Corps is looking at ways to insert new technology into its forces earlier in order to prepare for future battles. Key to this effort is experimentation.
Marine Corps doctrine provides roadmap for combat but does not consist of procedures to be applied in specific situations, only establishes general guidance that requires judgment in application.
Success in combat requires an intuitive ability to grasp a unique battlefield situation, a creative ability to devise a practical solution, and a resolve to act. Marine Corps style of warfare requires bold leaders to provide initiative down to the lower levels.
"Leaders must demand a radical shift in their hiring and promotion practices to focus less on skills and experience, and instead look for individuals who demonstrate strength in agility, continuous learning, interpersonal communication, and proactive problem-solving skills."
Concentration of effort in time/space and speed generate momentum to add punch to Marines actions. Battle Groups stand a better chance of success by concentrating strength against an enemy weakness instead of strength against strength.
Since focus of effort represents a bid for victory, it forces leaders to concentrate decisive combat power just as it forces leaders to accept risk.
To generate the tempo of operations required and to best deal with the uncertainty, disorder, and fluidity of combat, command must be decentralised.
Subordinates must make decisions on their own initiative, based on the understanding of the commanders intent, rather than passing information up the chain of command and waiting for the decision to be passed down.
The take home message here is that the Marine Corps does not accept lack of orders as justification for inaction.
1. Warfare by attrition seeks victory through the cumulative destruction of the enemy's material assets by superior firepower and technology.
2. Warfare by manoeuvre circumvents a problem by attacking it from a position of advantage rather than meeting it straight on.
3. Combat power is a measure of the total destructive force e.g., troop strength, manoeuvres, tempo, surprise, one can bring to an enemy at a given time.
4. Combined arms is the full integration of multiple efforts in such a way that to counteract one, the enemy must make himself more vulnerable to another.
5. Marines use assault support to quickly concentrate superior ground forces for a breakthrough.
6. The Marines use artillery and air support to support the infantry penetration and interdict enemy reinforcements.
7. To defend against the infantry attack, the enemy must make it self vulnerable and seek cover to supporting arms so the Marine infantry can manoeuvre against them
8. To block the Marine penetration, the enemy must quickly reinforce from his reserve.
9. To avoid the effects of deep air support, the enemy must stay off of the roads so they can only move slowly and cannot reinforce in time to prevent the Marine breakthrough.
10. The combined arms create a dilemma for the enemy.