Combined Arms Maneuver : Could This Revised Strategy Help America Win the Next War?

 In Land, China, CIS, Forces & Capabilities, P5

Key point Using more than one kind of weapon in con­cert can help to defeat an enemy. Here is how Washington is prepar­ing for such future war­fare.

U.S. Army war plan­ners believe win­ning a major power war against Russia or China will require an intri­cate and sophis­ti­cat­ed blend of weapons, effects, networking and tac­tics, cre­at­ing a need for the ser­vice to revamp its tra­di­tion­al Combined Arms Maneuver war­fare approach. 

Traditional Combined Arms Maneuver requires a sophis­ti­cat­ed mix of inte­grat­ed attack strate­gies, includ­ing armored vehi­cles, artillery, air assets such as heli­copters, infantry and long-range rock­ets. Based upon a spe­cif­ic and care­ful­ly ana­lyzed under­stand­ing of the bat­tle­space, Combined Arms Maneuver strate­gist seeks to attack in a highly coor­di­nat­ed way, some­thing which senior Army offi­cials often describe as almost like a sym­pho­ny. Each weapon is intend­ed to com­ple­ment the other and for­ti­fy an over­all force-on-force attack in a syn­er­gized way to opti­mize effec­tive­ness.

This first appeared ear­li­er and is being repost­ed due to reader inter­est.

Combined Arms Maneuver will now need to be vastly dif­fer­ent, given the nature of modern rival threats and the advent of many new tech­nolo­gies such as electronic warfare, lasers, AI-enabled systems, cyber­at­tacks, longer-range pre­ci­sion sen­sors, and joint combat. 

“We believe that to defeat the ene­mies’ A2/AD (Anti-Access/Area Denial) com­plex it will include a mix of hyper­son­ic, super­son­ic, sub­son­ic and dif­fer­ent tra­jec­to­ries and dif­fer­ent flight pro­files in con­cert with air and maritime systems. We need to over­whelm an enemy’s com­mand and con­trol, then we can pen­e­trate and create a window for the joint force,” Brigadier General John Rafferty, Director, Precision-Fires Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, told The National Interest in an inter­view. 

Not only are new weapons much longer range with mas­sive­ly improved pre­ci­sion, but AI-enabled tar­get­ing and infor­ma­tion shar­ing is expect­ed to com­pli­cate war­fare in unprecedented ways and “speed” every­thing up. The Army’s Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA), for instance, can now fire 155mm rounds as far as 70km, great­ly chang­ing the tac­ti­cal equa­tion for ground war. ERCA is merely one of a wide swath of emerging systems expect­ed to reshape combat, as it will be rein­forced by a new 500km Precision-Strike Missile as well. Both of these will be com­ple­ment­ed by an emerg­ing 1,000-mile reach Long Range Cannon expect­ed to emerge in coming years. 

All of this, it goes with­out saying, is delib­er­ate­ly coor­di­nat­ed with advanced armored vehi­cles moving to con­tact with an enemy as well as pre­ci­sion-fires from the air and for­ward-oper­at­ing sur­veil­lance assets. The integration not only de-con­flicts air­space to chore­o­graph and stream­line attacks, but pur­sues effects in a par­tic­u­lar sequence. Robotic air and ground sur­veil­lance in tandem with space assets likely pre­cede long range fires intend­ed to weaken and “soften up” tar­gets before mech­a­nized forces with vehi­cles and infantry close with an adver­sary. Close air sup­port with lower-flying heli­copters are likely planned to advance in a coor­di­nat­ed fash­ion in close prox­im­i­ty with attack­ing ground forces, once many air defens­es have been neu­tral­ized or dimin­ished. 

The ranges of dif­fer­ent weapons matter and soon muni­tions will be fired faster, able to course-correct and empow­ered by advanced guid­ance sys­tems. Perhaps most of all, attack­ing Army forces will be more dis­persed, dis­ag­gre­gat­ed and great­ly for­ti­fied by air and ground drones. All this con­sid­ered, the largest dif­fer­ences, will include the speed of AI-enabled data pro­cess­ing speed and how good each side’s net­work­ing is.

“We think about Combined Arms in every­thing we are doing. We don’t think about ERCA with­out being in the con­text of a divi­sion for­ma­tion. We don’t think about PrSM with­out space-based tar­get­ing or FVL(Future Vertical Lift air­craft). We take a com­bined approach,” Rafferty explained. 

All of the net­work­ing, Future Combined Arms strate­gists explain, is intend­ed to incor­po­rate AI-empow­ered manned-unmanned team­ing pair­ing for­ward-oper­at­ing air-ground drones sup­port­ing sol­diers per­form­ing Command and Control. 

“We are devel­op­ing an AI-enabled ground sta­tion able to gen­er­ate a call for fire, improv­ing sensor-to-shoot­er time through unmanned aerial vehi­cles and air-launched effects from the FVL team. FVL launch effects from a drone can send battle damage assess­ments and help iden­ti­fy tar­gets,” Rafferty added. 

An AI-capa­ble ground sta­tion will bring light­ning speed to air-ground target iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, data orga­ni­za­tion and nearly instant net­work­ing enabled by real-time ana­lyt­ics. The system will com­plete larger amounts of pro­ce­dur­al func­tions now per­formed by humans, keep­ing humans at safer stand-off dis­tances and great­ly chang­ing the pace of target acqui­si­tion and attack. AI-ground sta­tions will also mas­sive­ly help defens­es by pool­ing and ana­lyz­ing sensor detec­tion data per­tain­ing to approach­ing enemy threats, improv­ing ground com­man­ders’ abil­i­ty to respond with the right weapon for coun­ter­at­tack. AI sys­tems can find moments of rel­e­vance, place target acqui­si­tion infor­ma­tion in con­text, com­pare oth­er­wise dis­parate sensor feeds and bounce new infor­ma­tion off of a vir­tu­al­ly lim­it­less data­base to make instant cal­cu­la­tions, solve prob­lems or opti­mize meth­ods of attack. 

Rafferty also explains that Future Combined Arms Maneuver tac­tics will seek to iden­ti­fy and dis­able an ene­mies’ abil­i­ty to maneu­ver and attack, a goal made more pos­si­ble by effec­tive­ly “out-rang­ing” an enemy with long-range pre­ci­sion fires. 

 In a pre­vi­ous inter­view with The National Interest, Army Futures Command Commander General John Murray said ser­vice futur­ists expect a “hyper­ac­tive bat­tle­field.” The goal of these improved strate­gies is to deter any rivals and to keep the peace.

“Ultimately we achieve this deter­rent effect, so that an enemy sees this over­whelm­ing capa­bil­i­ty is too much to counter and not worth fight­ing. Deterrence is key, but if we have to fight we want it to be short and deci­sive,” Rafferty said. 

Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn pre­vi­ous­ly served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army — Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air mil­i­tary spe­cial­ist at nation­al TV net­works. He has appeared as a guest mil­i­tary expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. This first appeared ear­li­er and is being repost­ed due to reader inter­est.

Image: Reuters

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