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oktober 5, 2023

NATO's Ambition to Adopt a Common Approach to Multi-Domain Operations: Overcoming Key Challenges

NATO has been a cornerstone of global security since its inception in 1949. It has evolved to meet new challenges and threats and adapted its strategies and capabilities to ensure the safety and stability of member states. Yet faced with today's complex and rapidly changing security landscape, NATO has the formidable task of adopting a common approach to multi-domain operations.

This ambitious goal aims to enable NATO forces to seamlessly operate across land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace domains. However, there are considerable hurdles to be scaled to realise this vision, including changing mindsets and organisational structures, establishing a cohesive doctrine, and ensuring the right Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems for interoperability and connectivity during operations.

Challenge one: Changing Mindsets and Organisations

One of the primary challenges NATO faces in adopting a common approach to multi-domain operations is changing the mindset and organisational structures that have been in place in its member states for decades. Traditionally, military forces have operated within their respective domains, such as land, sea, and air, with limited cross-domain coordination. Yet, multi-domain operations require a fundamental shift in thinking, encouraging military leaders to embrace a more holistic and integrated approach to warfare.

To address this challenge, NATO must invest in comprehensive training and education programmes that emphasise joint / cross-domain operations. Military personnel at all levels must be prepared to adapt to a new operational paradigm that demands cooperation and coordination across the individual arms. Additionally, NATO member states should evaluate their organisational structures to promote greater integration between different branches of their armed forces. This restructuring may involve streamlining decision-making processes, enhancing communication channels, and fostering a culture of jointness and collaboration.

Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) goes beyond simply incorporating cyber and space domains into traditional joint operations. It aims to provide commanders with access to data and information from all domains, enabling simultaneous and sequential operations through integrated capabilities. This requires a shift from a "need-to-know" mentality to a "need-to-share" approach, ensuring the timely dissemination of information to commanders and government decision-makers.

Local commanders also need to be empowered to leverage cross-domain capabilities to achieve objectives swiftly, moving from a traditional hierarchical structure to a more collaborative one, both in and outside the military. This transformation emphasises effects-centric collaboration and an information-centric perspective over platform-centric approaches, which has been driven by advancements in available technologies.

In addition, the doctrine needs to remain adaptable and responsive to emerging threats and technologies. Mechanisms should also be put in place for regular updates and revisions to ensure that the doctrine remains relevant. The development should also be done iteratively using feedback of lessons-learned to gradually build support of the full kill-chain. This process should involve collaboration with experts from various domains, including cyber, space, and information warfare, to ensure a comprehensive and future-proof approach.

task force at sea

Challenge 2: Establishing a Cohesive Doctrine

A crucial component of NATO's multi-domain operations strategy is the development and adoption of a cohesive doctrine that all member states agree with. A well-defined doctrine provides a common framework for planning and executing multi-domain operations, ensuring that NATO forces operate effectively.

The challenge lies in reaching a consensus among member states with diverse military traditions and capabilities. Each nation brings its unique perspectives and priorities to the table, making it essential to find common ground. NATO must facilitate dialogue and cooperation among member states, encouraging them to contribute their expertise while aligning their doctrines with the alliance's overarching objectives.

Challenge 3: Technology & Systems

Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems are the backbone of modern military operations. In the context of multi-domain operations, these play a critical role in providing the necessary situational awareness and connectivity for NATO forces to coordinate and respond effectively to threats.

The challenge here is twofold: ensuring that C4ISR systems adhere to NATO interoperability standards and that they can maintain connectivity during operations. There are significant obstacles in the form of legacy Command and Control (C2) systems, domain barriers, classification levels, and service-specific limitations. Yet interoperability is essential to enable seamless communication and data sharing among member states and their allies.

To address this, NATO must establish rigorous standards and certification processes for C4ISR systems, ensuring that they meet the alliance's interoperability requirements. Member states should also invest in upgrading their systems to comply with these standards. Standards-based interoperability need to be achieved both between systems on different classification levels within domains, between different national domain-specific systems and between coalition systems through Federated Mission Networking (FMN).

Secondly, maintaining connectivity during operations is crucial. In today's interconnected world, militaries rely heavily on digital networks and communication systems, necessary for a Multi Domain Common Operational Picture. This makes ensuring connectivity between domains and networks a critical challenge, as these networks must be resilient and capable of withstanding cyber threats and disruptions. The development of secure and redundant communication infrastructures should be prioritised, as well as investment in systems designed to endure across denied or degraded environments.

In conclusion…

NATO's ambition to adopt a common approach to multi-domain operations represents a critical step in ensuring the alliance's continued relevance and effectiveness in today’s rapidly evolving security landscape. However, overcoming the key challenges of changing mindsets and organisations, establishing a cohesive doctrine, and ensuring the right systems are adopted is no small feat.

To succeed in this endeavour, NATO must prioritise collaboration, dialogue, and cooperation among its member states, the first step of which is this MDO conference. Such a task requires a collective commitment to embrace a new operational paradigm that emphasises integration and jointness across domains.

And to be clear this is not an optional task. Acts of war will now take place in any of the five domains, likely across several at once, and will require a colossal multi-front effort to both fight and defend. Wars in the future will be fought by alliances – no one nation is equipped to conduct it alone – so collaboration on all three challenges is essential if NATO wishes to either deter, as a first option, or dominate as a second.

As this conference demonstrates, the alliance's commitment to security and stability remains unwavering. By addressing these challenges head-on and working together, NATO can continue to fulfil its vital role in safeguarding the interests and security of its member states and the broader international community.

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