Contemporary Operating Environment

Does the Australian Army need Multi-Domain Operations?

By Mark Mankowski September 24, 2019


As I travelled back from Exercise Talisman Sabre this year I scrolled through my Facebook feed for the first time in three weeks and, amongst the kitten videos, I noted the opportunity from the Cove to submit an article. My Talisman Sabre experience was as part of Headquarters Combined Joint Task Force and my role was to act as the Sector Air Defence Commander for all coalition ground-based air defence force elements (that experience is a topic for another article). As part of that role, I had the great privilege to work alongside our coalition partners and the US Army’s Multi-Domain Task Force.

Based on my experiences, this submission will argue that the Australian Army needs to adopt Multi-Domain Operations as a doctrine for how we fight, but modify it for our unique operational problems and our approach to warfighting. This submission will address why multi-domain operations are important, what a US Army Multi-Domain Task Force is capable of, and what an Australian Army All-Domain Task Force might look like.

Why is Multi-Domain Operations Important?

The Australian Army has a proud tradition of widely reviewing our coalition partner’s doctrine and adopting the doctrine that suits our approach to warfighting. From the Pentropic Division (a cautionary tale) to Air-Land Battle, we have closely examined US Army doctrine and modified it to support our circumstances. The adoption of the principles of Air-Land Battle by the Australian Army in Land Warfare Doctrine 1 gave us manoeuvre theory and mission command. Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) could be just as influential in 2019 as Air-Land Battle was in 1982. So what is MDO?

The US Army set out its thinking on MDO in TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1. In his foreword, General Milley, the US Chief of Staff of the Army (and next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) highlights the challenging contemporary operating environment and the likely impact of emerging technologies. He goes on to highlight that, as a result of these changes to the character of war, the American way of war must evolve and adapt. MDO is the US Army’s first step in their doctrinal evolution. This foreword is very similar to our Chief of Army’s thinking on the future of warfare that he has set out in Accelerated Warfare.

What is a US Army Multi-Domain Task Force capable of?

MDO describes how the US Army, as part of a joint force, will militarily compete, penetrate, dis-integrate and exploit their adversaries in the future. Each of these terms require some further examination. General Townsend, as the Commanding General of TRADOC in his preface, explains that the central idea in solving the problem of how to fight contemporary warfare is the rapid and continuous integration of all domains of warfare. Put simply, the aim is to integrate kinetic and non-kinetic actions or lethal and non-lethal effects across the joint force. Any doctrine that seeks to educate Army planners on the use of non-lethal effects across the joint force is worthy of close study.

If the deterrence phase of conflict fails, then the next phase is to penetrate and dis-integrate (literally un-integrate) enemy anti-access and area denial systems. This penetration and disintegration allow more conventional forces (read the combat brigade) to exploit the resulting freedom of manoeuvre. Having achieved the relevant military objectives, the US Army returns to competition. This is heady stuff for a combat arms officer. But is it right for the Australian Army?

The Australian Army and Multi-Domain Operations 

Air-Land Battle was a US Army doctrinal solution to a unique Cold War problem – how to defeat the Soviet Army in Europe. MDO is also the first attempt at a doctrinal solution to the problem posed by enemy anti-access and area denial (or A2AD) systems originally in the Indo-Pacific Command in 2016. Does the Australian Army as part of the wider Australian Defence Force have the same problem?

I think the answer is yes and no. From my reading of Accelerated Warfare we absolutely need to be able to better integrate all domains of warfare as part of a joint force. For me this is the next evolution of combined arms. As with combined arms theory, integrating all domains poses multiple and compounding dilemmas on the adversary. MDO has coined the term 'convergence' to describe the teaming of kinetic combined arms with non-kinetic actions. In MDO doctrine, convergence achieves the rapid and continuous integration of all domains across time, space and capabilities to overmatch the enemy. Underpinning these tenets are mission command and disciplined initiative. Jason Selman has written an excellent article on his experience of convergence called Effects–Centric Warfare: Across The Spectrum Of Conflict.

At the heart of convergence is the Intelligence, Information, Cyber, Electronic Warfare and Space Detachment in the U.S. Army. I2CEWS was designed to integrate cyber warfare, electronic warfare and space capabilities. In an article for US Army News in March this year, General Robert Brown, the head of US Army Pacific Command, said ‘The reality is all formations will have to become multidomain, or they’ll be irrelevant in the future’. We need to heed his warning and I would argue this multi-disciplinary team is relevant for us.



So we need ‘convergence’. What about the ability to penetrate and dis-integrate enemy A2AD systems? I personally do not think we need this ability given the size of our force. In fact, I think it is more likely that we will need to create our own ability to generate an A2AD system to defend our sovereignty and our wider national interests. Writing in 2016, Colonel Chris Smith and Dr Al Palazzo highlighted that Australian Army would acquire a new long-range surface-to-surface capability like the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and a land-based anti-ship missile system, combined with a mobile surface-to-air missile capability and an armed medium-altitude unmanned aircraft. The combination of these capabilities would allow Australia’s land forces to project power from the land into the air and across the sea. In other words, to establish A2AD envelopes of considerable size.

In 2016, Major General MacLaughlan who was then Head of Modernisation and Strategic Planning Army, used similar language. He highlighted that a future Army concept will propose that adding a land-based A2AD envelope to military operations in the maritime environment, making any adversary’s challenge significantly greater as we attack air and maritime systems from the land. His successor, Major General Toohey, also highlighted that the Army will be able to create dilemmas for adversaries through cross-domain engagement in a speech to RUSI in June 2019. Euan Graham, writing this year for ASPI, also argued that due to our similar force structures to the US Marine Corps, the ADF should focus on exploiting positional advantage and defending key maritime terrain that enables persistent sea control and denial operations.


Hopefully, I have highlighted that it is important for the Australian Army to pay close attention to the MDO doctrine as it evolves. We constantly need to examine the problem the US Army is trying to solve and analyse what our operational circumstances are. From my observations, the concept of convergence, as a description of the teaming of kinetic combined arms with non-kinetic actions across the joint force, is important. The US Army has built the I2CEWS Detachment to achieve rapid and continuous integration of all domains across time, space and capabilities. I note that our very own 6 Brigade has similar capabilities.

However, I contend that our operational problem is less about the ability to penetrate and dis-integrate enemy A2AD, and instead we should focus on how to establish A2AD on key maritime terrain that supports our national interests. With the contract signed for Project L19PH7B short range ground-based air defence capability, and with Project Land 8113 Long-Range Fires in the Integrated Investment Plan, we have two capabilities vital to generating an A2AD architecture close to realisation.

Now, to catch up on those kittens and the latest from the Duffel Blog.



Mark Mankowski

Mark Mankowski is an experienced Australian Officer who is a passionate advocate of Professional Military Education. His interests are continuously learning about the nature and character of war, developing battlefield intuition through simulation, and establishing the key factors responsible for effective Air-Land Integration.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


This is a succinct and insightful article into MDO and how the ADF might consider shaping itself for MDOps.  I concur that we should be considering our own archipelago in terms of A2AD (a leaf from the TNI's forward deployment of capabilities to blunt incursions to its EEZ is applicable - noting of course it is their sovereign territory) and the key to this is regional engagement (no surprises there). Where I believe we do need to step up is in the creation of MDTFs that can be projected into key nodes both as part of our own A2AD and as part of a wider INDOPACOM counter A2AD package.  We need to consider timeliness here, this is something we can't turn up with once an A2AD bubble is kinetically active. We would need to consider this both from a regional habitual relationship perspective and force rotation.  Distributed, resilient, and potent forces across all domains (so not just landforce MDTFs) who can conduct C3 in a very degraded environment takes a lot of preparation, training and experience. We need this discussion to continue now, and decisions to be made around structures, locations and capabilities.

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