Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) doctrine: Future character of war, military applications for Indian Armed Forces

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Updated: June 18, 2019 12:20 PM

With the advent of technologies in Space and Cyberwarfare, an integrated land, air and maritime operations have become a basic necessity now.

The MDO solutions inherently depend on ‘interoperability’ to ensure an effective response to real-time multi-layered war scenarios. (PTI File photo)The MDO solutions inherently depend on ‘interoperability’ to ensure an effective response to real-time multi-layered war scenarios. (PTI File photo)

Emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics are driving a fundamental change in the character of war and their military applications are evolving rapidly. These technologies have the potential to revolutionize battlefields unlike anything before.

Artificial Intelligence and C4I expert, Milind Kulshreshtha says, “It is utmost that these technologies are synthesised by India too to evolve the new military doctrines and operations for future warfare because the enemy too shall deploy similar warfighting capabilities in a multi-domain (i.e. air, sea, land, Space and Cyber) wars to disrupt the coherence of conventional operations.

With the advent of technologies in Space and Cyberwarfare, an integrated land, air and maritime operations have become a basic necessity now. The successful trials of India’s ASAT (anti-satellite) weapon early this year in March has made it mandatory to possess solutions of operational doctrine which enable seamless operations of tri-services via Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concept. The MDO solutions inherently depend on ‘interoperability’ to ensure an effective response to real-time multi-layered war scenarios.

According to Kulshreshtha, “Basis of MDO is the fundamental OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) to extract the relevant operational information for ‘decision’ making, which is further distributed amongst stakeholders as Situational Awareness for a purposeful Course of Action. Space and Cyber weaponry makes OODA loop a time restrictive activity with constraints being less than 10 minutes or so for completion.”

MDO shall be a multi-layer engagement philosophy evolved through the learning of each service and knowledge of adversaries, so as to align resources for multi-domain superiority (which is far more effective than what individual units can deliver), he says. Adding, this concept gets refined iteratively through military exercises and war-games simulations. For MDO implementation, a review of all aspects of warfighting methods is required to understand the joint force operations in the future battlefield.

However, the Indian Armed Forces’ Joint Services operations have been limited with HQ IDS (Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff) and CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) yet to gain traction in an operational role. The maiden ‘Joint Training Doctrine’ for Armed Forces only evolved in 2017, and Common Operating concepts for tri-services operations are still away, he points out.

However, with an essentiality of MDO now established with other nations, HQ IDS needs to speed up the integrated tri-services doctrines and take the next step to finalise the MDO doctrines. India’s defence satellites like Hysis, GSAT series and other dual-use satellites can form part of MDO secure information access and Director General Information Services (DGIS), can establish the land-based robust network as an infrastructure backbone.

Unfortunately, the AI based distributed ‘decision’ network is uncharted territory for Indian Defence forces and can be the weakest link in the MDO doctrine. To overcome this AI limitation, Armed Forces need to show some urgency and consider a two-pronged approach viz. rapid deployment of field level AI projects as part of a bottom-up approach, whilst Organisational level MDO doctrines are evolved by HQ IDS as a top-down approach.

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