What Are Multi-Domain Operations (MDO)?

According to the Army:

Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) describes how the U.S. Army, as part of the joint force [Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines] can counter and defeat a near-peer adversary capable of contesting the U.S. in all domains [air, land, maritime, space, and cyberspace] in both competition and armed conflict. The concept describes how U.S. ground forces, as part of the joint and multinational team, deters adversaries and defeats highly capable near-peer enemies in the 2025-2050 timeframe.

MDO provides commanders numerous options for executing simultaneous and sequential operations using surprise and the rapid and continuous integration of capabilities across all domains to present multiple dilemmas to an adversary in order to gain physical and psychological advantages and influence and control over the operational environment.

Why Did the Army Adopt MDO?

MDO is described in detail in "The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028." MDO was developed in response to the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which shifts the previous focus of U.S. national security from countering violent extremists worldwide to confronting revisionist powers—primarily Russia and Chinawho are said to "want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions." The Army contends:

China and Russia exploit the conditions of the operational environment to achieve their objectives without resorting to armed conflict by fracturing the U.S.'s alliances, partnerships, and resolve. They attempt to create stand-off through the integration of diplomatic and economic actions, unconventional and information warfare (social media, false narratives, cyber-attacks), and the actual or threatened employment of conventional forces. By creating instability within countries and alliances, China and Russia create political separation that results in strategic ambiguity reducing the speed of friendly recognition, decision, and reaction. Through these competitive actions, China and Russia believe they can achieve objectives below the threshold of armed conflict.

Army leadership believes that if the Army—in conjunction with the other Services—prevails in these "competitions" in all "domains," that U.S. national security objectives should be achieved.

How MDO Is Intended to Work

The Army's central idea is to prevail by competing successfully in all domains short of conflict, resulting in deterrence of an enemy. If deterrence fails, Army forces—along with the joint force—are to:

How Will MDO Change the Organization of the Army?

Reportedly, organizationally, specific Army echelons will be given different "problems" to address under MDO. Existing Divisions and Corps will be tasked with fighting and defeating specific components of the enemy's system. As such, the Army will no longer organize or center itself on Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) as it did under previous National Defense Strategies. Under the previous BCT-centered organizational construct, Divisions and Corps had a limited warfighting role, but under MDO, Divisions and Corps headquarters are to return to their historic warfighting roles where they employed subordinate units and allocated Corps- and Division-level assets to support subordinate units. MDO also reportedly calls for the creation of Field Armies, an intermediate command level between already established Theater Armies—such as U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) or U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR)—and Corps. While one Field Army currently exists—the U.S. 8th Army in Korea—it is not known how many more Field Armies are envisioned under MDO, where they would come from within Army force structure, and where they might be stationed. These Field Armies would supposedly be capable of commanding multiple Corps against near-peer threats.

The Way Ahead

Army leaders reportedly note that MDO will not only have an impact on Army organizations and operations; it will drive Army modernization efforts as well, in terms of development and acquisition of supporting capabilities and systems. The Army plans to issue a 2.0 version of MDO about a year after a series of war games and exercises in 2019 with the other Services. Army leadership hopes that eventually MDO will become a joint, multiservice concept instead of an Army-focused one.

Potential Issues for Congress

Some potential issues for Congress include the following: