Mosaic warfare, a peep into multi-domain battle space

There is a need to evaluate Mosaic Warfare and how it is going to affect the battle space and military strategy


Adeela Naureen/Umar Waqar October 17, 2020

The United States Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is entrusted with the job of research in evolving warfare and concept development for future weapon systems. In the “Mosaic Warfare and Multi-Domain Battle” keynote and panel session at DARPA’s 60th anniversary symposium held in 2018, Dr Timothy Grayson, director of DARPA’s Strategic Technologies Office, explained the concept of Mosaic Warfare and its path to implementation.

Panellists including senior army, navy, and air force flag offers provided critical perspectives on the potential game-changing benefits and daunting challenges of Mosaic Warfare.

Dr Grayson stated that the US has enjoyed unparalleled and unchallenged dominance in military operations and wars in the past two decades; however this may change if the US does not adapt to new warfare concepts. The US military is thus beginning to recognise the value of distributed, joint, multi-domain war fighting capability and the need for system of systems approach.

The crux of the symposium is as follows.

The current weapon platforms and battlefield war machine is only better and bigger than the previous ones but cannot meet the challenges of multi-domain battle space. The new strategy focuses on using the system of systems to integrate battle space weapons in a different way.

There is a need to minimise the manual intervention and take help from computer-based automated systems, through machine to machine operability. The challenge is speed — there is a need to pivot from deliberate inertia to continuous speed in battle space, making ‘time’ a weapon. This helps in an automated OODA loop, an acronym for observe, orient, decide and act, so the military which can get into OODA loop of the adversary will have strategic and tactical advantage. This will need autonomy, sensors and high speed weapons and warrants speed in operational planning, execution of missions and repeating the cycle.

This has led to the concept of Mosaic Warfare, the system of systems at present is a well-knit jigsaw puzzle. It has artistic or conceptual placing and knitting of entities with different colours, sizes and complexions. This results in maintaining a mosaic where one part being lost won’t affect the entire structure. Creation of an autonomous system in different domains will address the issue of sense, decide and effect through decentralisation the battle to these autonomous systems, but still maintain a cohesion through mosaic warfare.

The emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its use in battle space allows military commanders to develop concepts for Mosaic Warfare. Human innovation, combined with AI will create its own tactics and strategy.

After discussing the contours of Mosaic Warfare, we need to highlight the contemporary concepts and weapons systems; Chinese and Russian development of weapon systems and new concepts of war fighting and strategy against US concept of net-centric warfare are important to analyse.

Pravin Sawhney, in a recent article published in The Wire, states that with the arrival of new disruptive technologies, new war domains surfaced, and to remain relevant for real-time warfare, the kill-chain became complex and vulnerable. Complex because more war domains got added and vulnerable because there was more to be secured. By early 2000s, the People Liberation Army of China, fixated on the US military, identified six war domains, namely, land, air, sea, cyber, space, and electromagnetic spectrum management. The PLA’s ‘Informationised’ warfare was about building capabilities in these domains, especially new ones which were uncontested and uncongested. The pivot of this warfare was cyber capabilities which it has been honing since the turn of the century.

Once disruptive technologies like AI came into warfare by 2012, China’s 2015 military reforms took place. The singularly important issue which would transform the character of war, and went unnoticed in the Indian military was this:

Focus had shifted from domains and geography to time-sensitive mission-sets. Called the ‘Intelligentsised’ warfare, the PLA intends to fight this in the Western Theatre Command (WTC) against the Indian military. It would be ready for this by 2025. The US military, keeping pace with the PLA, calls this fusion or Mosaic Warfare.

Surely, if war happens, the PLA will pull back its border forces which are engaged with the Indian army. It would unleash its informationised warfare predicated on cyber, space and its projectile-centric strategy based around long-range ballistic and cruise missiles. Since the projectile-centric strategy depend upon kill-chains for command and control, the Indian military, unlike the US military, lacks capability to disrupt or destroy them.

PLA at present may not go to war, but it will prepare for intelligentsised war. For that, it needs information on enemy’s habitat, ecosystem, operational logistics, enhanced winter stocking, operational and tactical infrastructure vulnerabilities, deployment patterns, command and control, recalibration of weapons, training and everything on how the enemy proposes to fight under Airland Battle Doctrine.

The PLA will be in no hurry to disengage and will certainly not de-escalate or de-induct forces since it wants to observe the Indian military’s growing war preparedness through the winter months. Make no mistake, the PLA threat is permanent.

Coming back to Mosaic Warfare, the major challenge is the flow of battle space data. At present no military in the world has the capability to deliver all available data to all entities operating in the battle space e.g. the data on an F35 superjet may not be available to a ground-based rocket launcher commander or a submarine-based platform in the sea and vice versa. This restriction is based on the good old principle of ‘need to know basis’, where a groundforce commander may not have much utility of looking through the data available with a pilot in a fighter jet, and since it takes time to sift through useful intelligence and utilise it, there was no need felt to develop multi-domain battle space systems. However, this is going to change.

Mosaic warfare will result into development of weapons and platforms suited for multi-dimensional missions, duly supported by AI tools, and will need an innovated and agile soldier and officer cadre that delivers the goods in the entire spectrum of battle space.

There are few challenges to Mosaic Warfare, though.

How does it deal with asymmetric warfare? Example of US and combined might of Nato being applied through the most modern net-centric warfare in Afghanistan is a case in point, where the opposing side, the Taliban, was poorly equipped but maintained a high spirit to dilute the force potential of US-Nato in ‘time’ rather than physical space.

Can the new concept deal with emerging hypersonic weapon systems of China and Russia, where strategic and operational platforms like aircraft carriers become sitting ducks?

Since the current net-centric warfare by the US and her Western allies was applied against developing nations and actors in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, how will Mosaic Warfare become a viable concept against modern and strong militaries of China and Russia who have developed their own concepts and weapon systems to gain ascendency of the battle space?

To conclude, warfare keeps evolving and Pakistan is no exception. There is a need to evaluate the concept of Mosaic Warfare and how it is going to affect the battle space as well as future military strategy.

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