Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley, US Army, the director of the Futures and Concepts Center at the service’s new Futures Command, discusses the future warfighting environment, Multi-Domain Operations and partnering with its sister services with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian. The Interview was conducted at the Association of the United States Army’s annual Global Force symposium and exhibition in Huntsville, Ala,, where our coverage was sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here in Huntsville, Alabama for the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium, the number one winter meeting of U.S. Army leaders from around the world who gather here in Alabama to meet with each other, with industry, media, thought leaders and more. Our coverage here is sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS, and we’re positively honored to have with us Lieutenant General Eric Wesley who was the head of the band formerly known as ARCIC but now is the Deputy Commanding General of Army Futures Command and is basically the chief of all future studies in terms of future combat development and concepts. Sir, thanks very much for joining us.
LG Eric Wesley: Thanks for having me here. It’s good to see you here, and good to have this discussion.
Mr. Muradian: Utterly fantastic.
Sir, tell us a little bit about what changed and a little bit about what didn’t, because you were part of the Training and Doctrine Command, but now are aligned and work obviously with and for General Murray down in Austin, Texas. But you’re also a very key interface with the Training and Doctrine Command.
Talk to us about the key role you guys are playing still in concept development and thinking through everything from Multi-Domain Battle to now Multi-Domain Operations and also future tactics and thinking.
LG Wesley: We have a long legacy in the Army, how you modernize an Army. And I really point to an example under General DePuy, General Starry back in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s. What General Starry clearly said is if you’re going to modernize an Army you first have to start with a problem. What’s the threat problem that is posed to you? Secondly, what’s the description of how you’re going to solve that problem? That’s called a concept.
So Futures and Concept Center is responsible for identifying what that problem is in the current and future operating environment, and then developing a concept on how we will reconcile that problem in the future.
One of the things that’s changed, ARCIC has always done that. But one of the things that has changed, because we know we are about ready to, we’re on the cusp of a major modernization effort, it was apparent when the Chief and the Secretary cast the vision of 2028 that we were now entering a mission effort, that is a top-down effort where the Chief and the Secretary said be modernized to MDO by 2028.
So we’ve taken on the responsibility to publish the Army Modernization Strategy and Annual Mission Guidance which gives you the pathway to 2028 and beyond.
Mr. Muradian: And one of the key pieces of this was Multi-Domain Battle, but now you have Multi-Domain Operations 1.5. I wanted you to talk about that but in the context of what the future ground combat environment and the future joint force environment is going to be. If you look at China and Russia, they’re looking at mass anti-access area denial capabilities. There’s a very, very potent cyber and electronic warfare pieces of this. The Army was leading in the integration of both electronic warfare and cyber career fields, understanding what that future synthesized environment was going to be, having covered that. And it was always an honor talking to General Starry many years ago when I started my career, was really always a highlight and I can’t say how much I learned from him. Whether it was his stories about AirLand Battle and how that was developed, and how to actually develop capabilities.
But talk to us a little bit about what that future operating environment is going to be like, and all of the changes that are going to be required both on the Army side of the team as we see reflected in MDO but also some of the work for the joint team going forward, because that’s really the next integrated piece of it.
LG Wesley: That’s a long question. There’s a lot in there, but I’m going to get after it.
Let’s start where I finished before. You have to identify the problem. So what’s the problem in the future operating environment and frankly now? The number one issue that our peers have developed or the problem that they pose to us is a response to the fact that they do not want to be in close combat with the United States Army and our partners and our allies.
So therefore they’ve invested in things — you mentioned A2AD. What we say is multiple layers of standoff. They don’t want close combat so they’ve invested in these multiple layers of standoff which includes the umbrella of A2AD, their IADS capabilities, but also includes hybrid warfare, their engagement into social media, et cetera. All of that is intended to keep us at bay. We wonder why there’s islands being built in the South China Sea, it’s all about A2AD.
So if that’s the problem, how do you solve that?
I’d also note two other things. They’ve invested in things to eliminate our dominance in all domains. So they’ve invested in all domains.
And finally, because of those two things — standoff and investing in all domains — they’ve been able to leverage the competition space prior to conflict to achieve their objectives.
So our concept has to reconcile those things. Principally, this multiple layers of standoff.
A moniker that we use in Multi-Domain Operations that describes the problems we have to solve is first, you have to compete. You’ve got to get in the competition space which is counter-cultural to us to a degree.
Secondly, we need to penetrate. If you’re fighting Evander Holyfield, you’ve got to penetrate that reach. That’s what penetration’s all about.
Third, you have to disintegrate those systems. I talked about the integrated air defense systems, they have to be disintegrated which then enables you to exploit it through maneuver to achieve your operational and strategic objectives and then you return to competition.
So we say the problem? Multiple layers of standoff. The solution? Compete, penetrate, disintegrate, exploit and return to competition.
On that rubric, within it, there’s a whole bunch of things underneath it. You mentioned the issue of cyber and EW, et cetera. When our peers started investing in all domains, in countering our ability to dominate in those areas, the solution that you have to get after, if your peers are becoming commensurate with your capabilities, what you have to do, where you get an advantage is if you stack the domains or optimize all domains in decisive space to create overmatch. Where the total is greater than the sum of the parts.
So you can imagine if you identify decisive space and you can attack with cyber, attack through space, attack through air, attack from the ground, you create so many dilemmas that that in itself results in overmatch. So that’s the Multi-Domain aspect of this.
Mr. Muradian: Talk to us about how the work you’re doing synchs up with what the other services are doing, because all of you are working to address and operate in this space as seamlessly as possible.
LG Wesley: This is a good question. The current concept that was signed 6 December, the Army and Multi-Domain Operations in 2028, is an Army concept of how we think we need to fight in the future. We recognize the services have a role in that. In fact we’ve got, the document that we published is innately a joint document. But we have to dialogue with the services to agree on how they enter in and plug into our concept and how we plug into theirs.
So 1.5, the current version, was intended to baseline what the Army thinks is about right. But now we’ve got to go to our sister services and negotiate with them to determine the degree to which the concept that we have is valid for their operations, and we have to incorporate them into ours.
One key thing I’d point out, and that is this. That in the past when you didn’t have a hyperactive battlefield, a lethal battlefield like you do today with just ubiquitous sensors and hyperactive activity on the part of people, you could move a little bit slower. So in the past our joint processes were largely federated across the services and then we would synchronize when they came together.
In the future we’re going to need more of a top-down framework for how we fight. There’s got to be an understanding and agreement, because if you want to synchronize across all domains, and those domains remain resident in all services across echelons. Imagine a very complex operating environment. There has to be a clarity of understanding of how you’re going to synchronize those rapidly and continuously in a very dangerous battlefield.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you one last question before Beth appropriately grabs you and moves you to your next appointment.
One of the key, over in Iraq and Afghanistan, I remember discussing this with General Mattis when he was at Joint Forces Command. One time it took 28 radio calls to get them off of a fire base. And one of the things that was his concern was, hey look, if all of these coms and radio links are disrupted, how are we going to operate seamlessly as we did throughout warfare, right? There was that top-down plan, but everybody was empowered, everybody was smart, there was mission command and everybody could execute that.
Talk to us a little bit about the cultural change that has to happen in a force that’s gotten very used to picking up a phone and being able to reach out to somebody or get that information when they need it to be able to actually operate and succeed at an operational level when those links are disrupted.
LG Wesley: Great question. Two points I’ll make.
First is because there will be disruption does not mean you don’t want to pursue digital capabilities, et cetera. It’s going to be a factor of the battlefield that we’ll have to deal with. So we’ll continue to pursue digital capabilities and communications, et cetera.
But to your point, I believe that what we have conditioned the force to believe that there is always an ambient means by which you can communicate which reduces the level of mission command in terms of behavior because you believe you have tacit approval of what you’re doing, and the higher level echelons always know what’s happening.
So we have got to get into a space where we train mission command on a scale that we have not seen in our generation, because you can imagine you’re going to have to have leaders that make decisions based on opportunities and they have to seize the moment and they have to be empowered to do so.
So we have some work to do in the Army to almost reteach, retrain, enable and create the conditions where people are comfortable with true mission command. We’ve got great doctrine. We just don’t employ it as well as we should.
Mr. Muradian: Lieutenant General Eric Wesley, the Commander of the Futures and Concepts Center and the Deputy Commanding General of U.S. Army Futures Command. Sir, thanks very much. An absolute pleasure, and look forward to having a longer conversation in the future.
LG Wesley: Thank you. I’d love to. It’s an honor to meet you. Thanks.