Since the early 2000’s the western world, and particularly NATO, has been progressively scrutinized in their ability to conduct offensive operations. Targeting (the method by which we conduct offensive operations) has been developed and refined numerous times in our desire to be more transparent with our processes, to mitigate risk to civilians and civilian property and to ensure the legality of its delivery of ordnance1. Different and highly organized parties have criticized NATO in the past regarding the way modern warfare is conducted through protest2, misrepresentation3 or accusations of wrongdoing.4 Media access to warzones in modern times means that the public have an informed view of conflicts from the comfort of their living rooms. While the military cannot control what is broadcast, nor the context in which it is given, it needs to be able to defend itself and its actions.
As modern weaponry develops, there is a constant need to review the way an organization trains and scrutinizes its own Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) so that when real operations are being delivered, they are in line with the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC).5 This is a challenge for any military force, whether it operates in isolation or as part of a coalition; not just for NATO.
To that end, NATO adopts a methodology that is repeatable, measurable and follows a specific structure so that its actions can be openly scrutinized and accusations refuted whenever they arise.
Current Structure and Doctrine
When technology changes over time, it is challenging for a military force to adapt their TTPs in order to maintain the principles of LOAC. These principles are spelled out in many documents including the Joint Service Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict, which state that Distinction, Proportionality, Necessity and Humanity6 are the basic principles that should be applied. These principles of international law are what NATO and many western nations adhere to in conducting offensive operations. Meeting those principles, with the added parameters of ever-changing and modernized weaponry, is an area that this article investigates and holds as a basis for the conduct of offensive operations.
Positive Identification (PID) of a target and distinguishing it as the enemy falls within the principle of Distinction where an armed body needs to ensure that a target is not civilian or civilian infrastructure. Many nations teach these principles, and the US Marine Corps, for example, highlights this in their basic training.7
In applying those principles it is easy to see how having eyes on a target, in order to ensure PID, adds to the complexity of forming a plan to engage an enemy when airspace and area is denied through air defence systems; it is complicated further when those targets are mobile, and their locations are undetermined. It is here that the synchronization and cohesion of all elements of a military force need to be aligned to maximize the effects of military planning to meet those LOAC principles. As weaponry has evolved, the range of weaponry and detection of Air Defence Systems, also known as Surface to Air Missiles (SAM), means that the ability to PID a target is increasingly difficult.
The Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) is responsible for the conduct of NATO Forces and does so through regular exercises to ensure that the alliance functions together and under the same principles. Given the multinational and joint character of Allied operations, coherence and interoperability between those national force contributions have to be enhanced. This includes the adoption of common doctrine, standards and procedures.8 NATO issues Allied Joint Publications (AJP) to govern the allied approach to conducting offensive operations. AJP 3.9 is the allied doctrine for Joint Targeting and outlines the principles by which NATO targets the enemy during offensive operations. It has also evolved with the modernization of TTPs and modern day-weaponry, as the discussion above highlights.
Major exercises take place annually in every nation. NATO is no different as Exercise TRIDENT JUNCTURE 2018 (TRJE18) in Norway showed. The challenge for The Joint Warfare Centre (JWC) in Stavanger, Norway, charged with executing major exercises on behalf of SHAPE, including TRJE18, is the simulation of military assets and the tasking of them when it is the nations that supply these to the coalition.9 The nations that make-up NATO have specialist equipment in their own right, many that are required to see beyond those denied areas mentioned above. The difficulty in simulating a national asset that isn’t released to NATO, means that the Training Audience (TA) will struggle to know how to task or request support to conduct their offensive roles.
What is the Threat?
It would be reasonable to deduce that as nations advance their technology and weaponry, countries that see a threat emerging or intimidation would maintain an equal advancement in their arsenals to match that of their rivals. The natural instinct of self-protection will always prevail as will the drive to seek an advantage over one’s opponent. In his journal article NATO’s Next Act: How to Handle Russia and other Threats, the former Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe (SACEUR) and Head of NATO, General Phillip Breedlove reflected on his time in that role from 2013–2016. He noted that ‘the Alliance had shifted its focus to threats near the heart of Europe, namely Russian aggression … and recognize Russia as the enduring, global threat that it really represents.’10 While NATO has more than one set of interests, it is clear that Russian is its primary focus.
Modern Day Weaponry
Russia advertised the S-400 Air Defence System as having a range of 380km in the booklet released on the system.11 While the source could be considered a little biased, its engagement range must be considered a worst-case scenario. ‘Russia’s potential to create “keep-out zones” or Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) “bubbles” has become a source of concern in the West in recent years’12, and is believed to be led from those operating ranges. While Russia has modernized its A2AD Air Defence Systems considerably in recent years, the article also suggests that ‘the range of the S-400 has been generally accepted, without criticality’, and disputes it as being much less. If the operating parameters are accepted by NATO, then this would be considered outside the range of modern-conventional weaponry.
The result of this is the need for aircraft to get within that A2AD detection ring to release weapons on the target. As mentioned above, the requirement to have PID of the target that you are releasing weapons onto for legal purposes increases the risk to aircrew, aircraft and the needless waste of expensive weapons. The counter development of allied military equipment has, therefore, to focus on stealth aircraft, stand-off weapons and supporting domains.
What is Multi-Domain?
The US Air Force Chief of Staff explained during a recent Tri-Lateral Steering Group (TSSG) Meeting that ‘Multi-Domain is much more than the ability to work in multiple domains […]. It is also more than operations in one domain supporting or complimenting operations in another domain.’ Following on from that, it was believed by the TSSG that future adversaries will blend conventional, asymmetric and hybrid capabilities across each of the traditional physical domains (Air, Land and Maritime) plus Cyber and Space. They postulate that a more comprehensive approach to dealing with this security threat is needed to operate in this type of ‘Multi-Domain environment’.13
The viewpoint of the strategic meeting is the culmination of a Multi-Domain approach to counter future challenges to NATO and coalitions based on an expected threat, specifically asymmetric and hybrid tactics.
Lethal versus Non-Lethal Effects
It is difficult to make a comparison between lethal and non-lethal effects. Non-lethal could be considered a diverse collaboration of differing results that are specifically effective in their domain while limiting collateral damage. Conversely, lethal weapons are delivered through a precise practice that has a known effects radius and yield and expected destruction (effect). The incorporation of non-lethal into a lethal operational plan is difficult as it often requires a significantly longer time to see results from a non-lethal action, i.e. changing a mindset, influencing points of view, prompting a change in support. Assessing the effectiveness of an Information Operation (IO) is one of the greatest challenges facing military staff. Despite the evolution of IO doctrine and the refinement of supporting TTPs, the problem of IO assessment methodology is still unsolved.14 The challenge in this is that the results are not always measurable. The results of IO are very rarely tangible; hence, the effect is extremely complicated to measure. This will continue to hinder the integration of these two means of offensive operation, but should not restrict their use. There is a clear specific requirement for both strategies, especially when seeking to adhere to the principles of the LOAC.
Cyber is a domain which has been widely reported in news and articles and is a means of disrupting an enemy’s systems or to influence an output that would go against its primary function from a great distance and by stealth. There were reports from the 2016 US Presidential Election, founded or not, that suggested that Russia had sought to influence the outcome of the election through boosting support for one candidate over another by increasing discord through social media. The application of offensive cyber, in support of counter A2AD operations, would seem to have the potential to have great effect on multiple aspects of an integrated (electronically connected) system. Many examples have been seen both recently and over the years. On 23 June 2019, the BBC reported of the United States targeting and disabling computer systems controlling rocket and missile launchers in Iran.15 More infamous is Operation Orchard16 where the Israeli Air Force was tasked to destroy a nuclear processing plant in Deir-ez-Zor, Syria in 2007. It faced the challenge of eluding the highly capable Syrian Integrated Air Defence System and was ostensibly a complete success, despite a heightened level of surveillance by the Syrian air defence system, where the attacking aircraft were undetected. The success was reported in the article (Fulghum, et al. 2007) as being due to the synchronization of the air operation with both conventional electronic warfare jamming and a cyber operation that ‘disrupted the data link’ connecting the radar with the screens of the radar operators.
A non-traditional, but highly effective means of having an effect against the enemy is through differing means of influence. This is rarely directly at the target itself, but influencing things around it so that a second or third-order effect will act against one’s intended target. False media reports can generate public unrest, which in turn, may affect an area and specifically personnel where an A2AD resides. The list of the means of influence is not exhaustive and economic, political, psychological and key leader engagement are also possible.
Offensive Capabilities in a Peer Conflict
The ‘US Air Force currently envisages the F-22A Raptor as the primary weapon used to defeat these capable systems.’17 It goes on to suggest that modern iterations of FA-18 and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the newest procurement of fighter in numerous European countries, were not designed with the modern integrated Air Defence Systems in mind. If the West needed an avenue to counter such a threat, assuming that the operating parameters are correct, then only a Multi-Domain approach would allow a significant regaining of air superiority that the West has taken for granted in their most recent conflicts, e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
The integration of Multi-Domain effects and their synchronization at the joint level of any NATO force will need to be specifically structured if there is any hope of exploiting the potential effects of counter A2AD operations. The means of exercising NATO commands falls to JWC, which has evolved to better simulate a real-time conflict through the development of scenarios and investment in personnel in the white and red force areas. Major exercises take place every year, maintaining the operability of NATO as a fighting force, but in the best traditions of scrutiny and academic study, they focus on the process and highlight areas for improvement.
First-hand experience of exercising in NATO for the last six years has seen an excellent improvement in the way offensive operations have developed. It is accepted that simulation cannot substitute for real-life warfighting. There are just some things that cannot be simulated like the realism of following terrain contours to hide radar signature or the human thought process in avoiding threats from the cockpit; these are just challenges for the future development of training. The ability to synchronize effects at the joint level is never an easy task, but mastering it is essential in today’s modern times. Coupled with a headquarters command group that is committed to changing its internal structures, staffs need to embrace the means of incorporating and synchronizing the tools at their disposal. The most complex nature of this is the timelines that are required to have an effect. These differ significantly between non-lethal and lethal effects, so their synchronization to complement each other is difficult.
There are multiple examples of where a Multi-Domain approach is required within an integrated, A2AD region to have the required effect to penetrate into a denied area. There were few recommendations found of how to integrate these multiple domains, although suggestions of a specialized joint effects branch within headquarters was deemed a good start. This is even more important when the methodology used by a coalition or military force is so focussed on maintaining their legal aspects of targeting, PID, principles and collateral damage mitigation techniques.
Further study into this subject is required and it is almost as if this investigation has only touched on a much larger number of considerations that need to be explored. A full understanding of how to combine multiple domains that contribute to offensive operations is particularly challenging. Where the current threat exists, and in the difficult environment of its integrated self-protection, further research can only help to develop a way forward in combating A2AD.