The United States is increasingly engaged in a long-term competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Russian Federation–a competition in which U.S. defense leaders and experts argue the U.S. military is falling behind technologically and operationally.
The traditional U.S. asymmetric technology advantage—such as highly advanced satellites, stealth aircraft, precision munitions and communication networks have proliferated to other militaries, and offer a reduced strategic value because of growing global access to comparable high-tech systems and components, many of which are now commercially available. Additionally, the high cost and sometimes decades-long development timelines for new military systems can’t compete with the fast refresh rate of electronics component technology on the commercial market, which can make new military systems obsolete before they’re delivered.
U.S. military power has traditionally relied upon monolithic military systems where one type of aircraft, for example, is designed to provide a single end-to-end capability tailored to a very specific warfighting context—and be a significant loss if shot down. Small inventories of quite capable, high-end multifunction platforms in the current force make U.S. operational architectures too vulnerable. The practice of buying multiple kinds of high-end weapon systems in limited numbers is inefficient and does not provide the force capacity needed for great power conflict.
U.S. forces, may not be able to gain and maintain superiority over their great power competitors by simply using improved versions of today’s forces to conduct modest variations on existing tactics as potential adversaries had ample opportunity to observe U.S. operations during post-Cold War conflicts. They have developed new warfare strategy to counter America’s traditional way of war by blinding US commanders and paralyze their operations by targeting US data links, disrupting information flows, denying command and control, and kinetically targeting physical nodes of the US information system.
Therefore emerging battlefield is a multi-domain battlefield which shall include all the traditional domains of land, air and sea as well as Cyber, Space, Low Intensity conflicts, Information warfare including Psychological warfare and cognitive warfare shall be exploited by our adversaries simultaneously or in any desired combinations. The response of this multidomain battlefield needs to be met with integrated multidomain response by developing capability to deliver effects across all domains. Therefore, there is need to develop new doctrines, strategies, tactics, capability and training for this multidomain environment.
Dr. Timothy Grayson, Director of the Strategic Technology Office at DARPA, is proposing a new Mosaic Warfare strategy for this multidomain battlefield. He is advocating for a “system of systems” approach that he’s calling mosaic warfare: the ability to piece together different systems to build new overarching warfighting capabilities. Grayson says, “We’re asking, what are the technical solutions that will enable faster uptake of new capabilities and the ability to field a new war-fighting capability from combinations of existing elements?” Not only does Grayson want the US Department of Defense (DOD) to shift to making and operating a mosaic-like system of systems, he wants the military to learn to do it blazingly fast. Key to the concept, Grayson told is flexibility.
Grayson explained Mosaic Warfare is “very complementary” to the Multi-Domain Battle (MDB, older Army lingo) and MDO (current Army and Air Force lingo) concepts “in that it is based upon the same principles of a mission-centered capability, but Mosaic is providing technology and infrastructure to give MDB more options, composed faster.”
Need for New warfare strategy
He wants to rethink from the way we are build warfighting capabilities, as he explained the current monolithic approach to system design that has served the US military well for decades, he said , “Picture a tank. It’s perhaps the most iconic image representing the military: a tank is a large monolithic system built of complex interdependent parts. It’s sturdy because that’s exactly what it was designed to be: years of research and testing went into each component, from the track to the armored skirt to the radar, before research even began on how to integrate those components into a ground vehicle.
Today, the most effective U.S. force packages combine multi-mission units and platforms into relatively large formations such as Army Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU), or Navy Carrier Strike Groups (CSG). These units are vulnerable due to their size and aggregation, which constrains their operational flexibility and increases their detectability. “What we are trying to do … is to enable the ability to create what I’ll call a warfighting architecture, which would be a force package … [and] to be able to defer the decision as to what that warfighting architecture is going to be to as close as possible to time of need,” Grayson said. “How do we build the technologies and infrastructure to enable the actual operators to make decisions” about what he needs to accomplish the mission.
America’s current force design cannot appropriately scale across the spectrum of conflict. Critical elements of current US force design cannot withstand attrition, and survivability factors threaten to outweigh the ability to create effects in the modern, complex wartime environment.” The Mitchell Institute study argues that “DoD cannot simply focus on building a better mousetrap.” Indeed, the study practically thunders, the US military is doomed to future defeat if it does not resolve these critical gaps.
It takes too long to develop and field major new weapon systems. Such constructs typically require adherence to a particular standard, or sometimes used a proprietary “universal translator” to make a limited family of systems work together. “While an open standard may offer interoperability for a period of time, developing them is time-consuming, expensive, and requires compromise. And inevitably, as soon as a standard is agreed upon, someone comes up with a new idea not considered during the standards-development process and is either locked out or the whole process must start over again. Ultimately, this approach just does not scale well,” Patt said.
In contrast, the composable effects webs concept seeks a mosaic-like flexibility in designing effects for any threat scenario. By using less expensive systems brought together on demand as the conflict unfolds, these effects webs would enable diverse, agile applications—from a kinetic engagement in a remote desert setting, to multiple small strike teams operating in a bustling megacity, or an information operation to counter an adversary spreading false information in a population threatening friendly forces and strategic objectives. Mosiacs can rapidly be tailored to accommodate available resources, adapt to dynamic threats, and be resilient to losses and attrition.
To further illustrate how mosaic warfare can work, he gave the example of a fleet of fighter jets on a pre-assigned mission to destroy an enemy radar. During that time, an Army land unit comes across a high-value pop-up target. Today, that land unit would need to contact a command-and-control coordination center that would have to manually verify that a fighter available to support the land unit. This would require complex, manual re-planning to ultimately task the fighter jet with using its own sensors and weapons to destroy the target.
“Instead, consider a future where we have computers distributed across the battle space that can all communicate and coordinate with each other,” Grayson said. “The computer with the land unit can determine there is excess capacity on one of those fighters to provide sensing capabilities without disrupting its baseline mission. The radar is automatically tasked to use its sensors to provide targeted data to a weapon that’s in the best geometry to be able to prosecute that target. All of this happens without human intervention.”
Tim Grayson, director of STO at DARPA, said that the mosaic approach will require a shift in U.S. military policy from dominance to “lethality.” Grayson believes DOD’s various domains currently spend too much time, money and effort trying to ensure its weapons systems are more advanced then adversaries. “It’s imperative to focus on lethality and the ability to win, regardless of whose individual weapons system is the best,” Grayson said. “A fundamental way to achieve this lethality is by distributing and disaggregating the sensors and weapons that today that are tightly bound together and integrated on monolithic platforms.”
Mosaic warfare Strategy
The mosaic warfare concept is more highly evolved than previous approaches that envisioned a monolithic “system of systems.” These were intractably complex, designed as a static configuration by a single system integrator. Attempts to make these systems of systems more flexible sought to accommodate a more diverse selection of constituent components by enforcing a particular architecture.
Under the mosaic approach, DOD’s air, cyber, land, sea and space domains will focus on operating in a more integrated framework. “We’ve developed a technology-based vision that would enable highly complex, strategic moves by composing multiple contributing systems to enable what might be thought of as ‘mosaic warfare,’ in which individual components can respond to needs in real time to create desired outcomes,” said Tom Burns, director of STO.
DARPA’s strategic technology office (STO) describes the mosaic warfare strategy as establishing developing networks of low-cost sensors, multi-domain command-and-control nodes and sophisticated manned-to-unmanned aircraft teaming. “Advances in microelectronics and communications are making possible a degree of networked coordination and collaboration between different systems almost unimaginable just a few years ago,” DARPA Director Steven Walker said. “This, in turn, is enabling distributed system-of-systems architectures that will be more resilient to attack, less costly to develop and faster to upgrade when compared to today’s centralized expensive monolithic system.
“When building a mosaic, the key is the simple and versatile building blocks that artists have at their disposal from which to make complex designs,” said Dan Patt, deputy director of STO. “Applying the great flexibility of the mosaic concept to warfare, lower-cost, less complex systems may be linked together in a vast number of ways to create desired, interwoven effects tailored to any scenario. The individual parts of a mosaic are attritable, but together are invaluable for how they contribute to the whole. This means that even if an adversary can neutralize a number of pieces of the mosaic, the collective can instantly respond as needed to still achieve the desired, overall effect.”
“The goal is to fight as a network to create a chain of effects—or, more accurately because these effects are not linear, ‘effects webs’—to deter and defeat adversaries across multiple scales of conflict intensity. This could be anything from conventional force-on-force battles to more nebulous ‘Gray Zone’ conflicts, which don’t reach the threshold of traditional military engagements but can be equally disruptive and subversive.”
“The mosaic warfighting concept moves beyond any one organization, military Service, or company’s system designs and the requisite interoperability standards, which are inherently inhibiting and unscalable,” Patt said. “We’re focused on developing processes and tools that would focus on trusted connections between known entities, enabling easy backwards compatibility and just-in-time, custom creation of any needed connections to enable rapid, intelligent, strategic assembly and disassembly of diverse systems. This construct opens a virtually limitless possibility for creating effects webs at the tactical, operational, and campaign levels.”
STO’s strategy stands to enhance the effectiveness of existing military capabilities across all domains – maritime, ground, air, space, and cyberspace, as well as enable new, low-cost unmanned systems that the Services, DARPA, and companies anticipate building in the future. The mosaic strategy is also anticipated to change the way the military thinks about designing and buying future systems. Instead of spending years or even decades building exquisite, monolithic systems to rigid requirements, future acquisition programs would be able to buy mosaic “tiles” at a rapid, continuous pace. The true power of the new capabilities will come from the composite mosaic effects.
A major premise of the mosaic concept is that it will enhance U.S. capabilities across all domains of warfare, including cyber. For example, Burns said, “In a Mosaic warfare scenario, existing cyber defensive measures might serve as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) function, detecting cyber aggression and flowing information into an airborne command station to support attribution and allowing U.S. forces to initiate a non-cyber response in an ongoing kinetic fight. Mosaic warfare allows for rapid coupling of disparate functions to support military decision making.” “If we’re successful,” Burns said, “mosaic warfighting and resulting effects webs will give us the ability to inflict vast levels of complexity on an adversary to deter and counter aggression.”
Mosaic Warfare Implementation
STO’s updated strategy seeks a new asymmetric advantage—one that imposes complexity on adversaries by harnessing the power of dynamic, coordinated, and highly autonomous composable systems. DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office seeks to turn complexity into a powerful new asymmetric weapon via rapidly composable networks of low-cost sensors, multi-domain command and control nodes, and cooperative manned and unmanned systems. Using the concept of a mosaic, which comprises many smaller individual pieces, STO is applying “mosaic warfare” to link together lower-cost, less complex systems in a vast number of ways to create desired, interwoven effects tailored to any scenario.
Implementing Mosaic Warfare will require substantial changes to U.S. force design and C2 processes.
“In the Mosaic concept, platforms are ‘decomposed’ into their smallest practical functions, creating collaborative ‘nodes’ in a networked kill web that is highly resilient, and can remain operationally effective even if an adversary destroys some of it,” explained David Deptula, Mitchell’s dean, and a member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors.
Grayson added: “Mosaic tools and infrastructure equip the MDB force/mission planner with more options to choose from by enabling machine-to-machine integration closer to mission planning time, as well as definition of new hybrid forces. It automates and abstracts away a lot of the complexity that prohibits this today. The result is the ability for a MDB force/mission planner to tailor a capability that is much more effective and efficient at addressing a specific clear and present mission need.
“In order to come up to speed, the DOD will need to find a way to utilize capabilities that are already available—fielded military systems or commercial—and figure out how to integrate them into the broader defense architecture. Although utilizing commercially available technology may sound like a security concern (we don’t want a military system that can be hacked as easily as, say, Equifax), it’s possible to use a commercially available core technology but maintain a competitive advantage through implementation or integration.”
“In Silicon Valley, new products are built on top of cloud computing, and they’re rolling out at a mind-numbing pace. Whereas just a few years ago, software companies were boasting about releasing tens of new software products or updates per day, some large companies like Amazon now claim that one deployment takes place every second. The DOD, on the other hand, moves at a slower pace. “In the DOD, even a software-intensive program, we’re lucky to get five to ten new capabilities in two to five years,” says Grayson. The difference in speed is orders of magnitude.”
While many R&D programs create great technology, it often falls into the valley of death because usability is beyond the scope of the organization that developed it. There’s work to be done to make these tools practical and reliable, and Grayson wants more people in science and engineering thinking about these types of problems. That’s an area where the DOD can leverage the know-how of the commercial marketplace. Private industry knows how to move a new technology from concept to a revenue-earning product, and they know how to work out issues around usability and reliability in the process.
“However, rapid integration is not straightforward for the US military. Most military systems run on special-purpose embedded computers with much more demanding performance needs than commercial clouds, and they currently require reliability and security to be proven up front. Technology is often tested in a lab or test range for years, under every possible condition, in order to anticipate every way that something might go wrong before it’s integrated into a platform. Instead, Grayson advocates for a more modular system that can be tested in real time. For example, if a new image sensor starts to act funny and the legacy platform it’s attached to starts to underperform, they need to be able to scale back or cut off that new sensor while retaining the legacy capability.” Grayson acknowledges that this approach might sacrifice some function of the platform—it would be down a sensor, after all—but believes that it’s a worthwhile exchange for the ability to ingest the new capability quickly—much more quickly than current practice.
Mosaic warfare Tools and technologies
To further the new vision, STO has identified specific areas of interest for proposals to achieve next-generation composable effects webs: Situation Understanding, Multi-Domain Maneuver, Hybrid Effects, System of Systems (SoS), Maritime Systems, System of System-Enhanced Small Units (SESU), and Foundational Strategic Technologies and Systems.
The approach will draw in part on a number of existing DARPA programs that are developing enabling technologies to achieve the challenging mosaic warfare architecture, including: The Complex Adaptive System Composition And Design Environment (CASCADE) program is addressing composition of existing and new systems; the System of Systems Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) program is focused on integrating the various systems to work together; Distributed Battle Management (DBM) and Resilient Synchronized Planning and Assessment for the Contested Environment (RSPACE) are addressing battle management command and control; and Communications in Contested Environments (C2E) and Dynamic Network Adaptation for Mission Optimization (DyNAMO) are focused on seamless, adaptable communications and networking.
Artificial intelligence, or AI, could possibly be deployed on the battlefield in multidomain operations in five to 10 years, Grayson noted. Grayson and his team are coming up with organizational concepts and technological tools to make Mosaic Warfare possible. The idea is to have AI automate the gruntwork of connecting different systems so humans can focus on what needs to work together to succeed in the mission, instead of how.
”Mosaic warfare,” a concept being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, would link warfighter platforms — missile batteries, tanks, planes, ships and so on — through a communications network powered by AI, he said. Layering a network with AI would enable the warfighter to better decide which asset is most effective in carrying out a specific mission. For example, if both Air Force and Navy aircraft are in an area to be targeted, AI could suggest which would be the better choice.
In a mosaic warfare ground scenario, AI might suggest sending an unmanned aerial vehicle or ground robot ahead of the main, ground battle force. That unmanned system might spot an enemy tank and pass the coordinates back, which are then relayed to a non-line-of-sight strike system in the rear that, in turn, launches its munitions and takes out the target.
“The tool is auto-writing software instead of a human,” DARPA Strategic Technology director Tim Grayson said. In early trials where real military operators came up with specific “force packages” of combat systems and challenged DARPA to integrate them, he told me, “they’re creating entirely new systems of systems architectures, getting the software… in about 45 minutes.”
One of those technologies, known as STITCHES was demonstrated in July 2018 by Lockheed Martin — that can translate and transmit data between otherwise inoperable legacy ground stations and platforms. That particular program – called STITCHES, a nested acronym too awful to unpack here – was used in the Air Force’s August ABMS “On Ramp” experiment. It is just one of roughly 20 DARPA projects attacking various aspects of Mosaic Warfare,
New communications, integration methods, and testing methods will be needed to fully realize the mosaic warfare concept. Artificial intelligence and other kinds of automation will also be needed so that operators can interact with new tools without months of training. Even mundane aspects of system design, like maintenance and reliability, still need to be worked out.
High-energy lasers, for example, have been of great interest to the DOD, and there have been successful experiments demonstrating their performance. But those experiments involve a small army of PhDs cleaning the optics and keeping the system aligned. “Are you going to do that on the battlefield when you want to use this thing?” asks Grayson.
System-of-systems Technology Integration Tool Chain for Heterogeneous Electronic Systems (STITCHES) program
The System-of-systems Technology Integration Tool Chain for Heterogeneous Electronic Systems (STITCHES) program— developed to create on-the-fly networks via self-writing software — has broad support among the military services, but no one can figure out how to pay for it, a DARPA official told FedScoop. The software offers commanders the ability to link data from disparate platforms like different weapons systems — a capability senior leaders many have been clamoring for to connect “every sensor, every shooter” under the Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) concept.
STITCHES promises to deliver the type of data-sharing capabilities at the heart of the new concept of JADC2. The idea is to build a military Internet of Things by linking data from operations and hardware in air, land, sea, space and cyberspace, and funnel that data to commanders and artificial intelligence-enabled machines for better decision making. STITCHES could provide that data link without cumbersome data standards for endpoints by spinning up its own data links and interoperable networks on the fly.
The system was tested in one of the large-scale “on-ramp” events hosted by the Air Force in September. DARPA said STITCHES was able to link different platforms that were built decades apart, allowing for interoperability and data sharing. The software is also entirely DOD-owned, without any commercial proprietary tech that could cause further snags in implementing it. “The toolchain does not force a common interface standard; rather it rapidly creates the needed connections based on existing fielded capabilities obviating the need to upgrade in order to interoperate,” according to DARPA.
There is also no unit structure set up to effectively use the software, Grayson said. “STITCHES falls in the seams between the boundaries of existing systems and System Program Offices.” The “middleware” that sits between backend systems and ends points needs “geek squads” or “Software Engineering Squadrons” to fully implement, he added.
DARPA reveals ASTARTE multi-domain ‘common operational’ system
The airspace above future battlefields is expected to be increasingly congested with large numbers of unmanned aerial systems, manned aircraft, munitions and missiles filling the skies. To de-conflict airspace activities of friendly forces and rapidly counter an enemy’s actions on the battlefield requires new technologies to effectively integrate effects from all domains. DARPA announced its Air Space Total Awareness for Rapid Tactical Execution (ASTARTE) program, which is being conducted in partnership with the US Army and US Air Force.
The program’s goal is to enable efficient and effective airspace operations and de-confliction in a highly congested future battlespace. This capability is especially critical for implementing DARPA’s Mosaic Warfare concept, which calls for seamless co-ordination across a complex web of aerial, ground and sea nodes providing firepower and other effects to overwhelm an adversary.
Paul Zablocky, program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, said, “ASTARTE aims to provide a real-time, common operational picture of the dynamic airspace in the most complex and challenging adversary anti-access/area denial, or A2/AD, environments.” ASTARTE will focus on the most challenging airspace problem – the airspace above an Army Division operating under an enemy’s A2/AD bubble. This volume of airspace can contain Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Special Operations Forces, coalition and adversary manned/unmanned aircraft, and munitions.
Systems and Technology Research has won an $8.3M contract to help the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency study, develop and trial a testing environment in support of a program that aims to ensure effectiveness of airspace operations in future battlespace. The sought environment will serve as a testbed for airspace management systems, airspace planning algorithms and a network of aircraft-tracking sensors under DARPA’s Air Space Total Awareness for Rapid Tactical Execution program, the Department of Defense said in Jan 2021. STR will perform 58 percent of work under the initiative’s airspace deconfliction via integrated sensing and efficient replanning effort in Woburn and Lexington, Massachusetts. Other work locations are in Orlando and Melbourne, Florida; Niskayuna, New York; and Boulder, Colorado.
Military Tactical Means (MTM)
The MTM program aims to develop sensors and exploitation techniques capable of performing wide-area searches to detect high-value targets. Program design will provide the ability to identify high-value adversary targets and to maintain positive chain-of-custody hand-offs. In addition, MTM will have the potential to be used in highly proliferated systems, such as small platforms.
The project is a vital part of the DARPA Mosaic Warfare vision, which seeks to create rapidly reconfigurable military forces that are fast, unpredictable, flexible, and adaptable — more like the pieces in a mosaic piece of art, rather than a collection of rigidly designed pieces of a puzzle.
Moving target recognition technology under Mosaic Warfare concept
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is moving forward with the Moving Target Recognition (MTR) program to develop robust, efficient, and reliable identification and tracking techniques to identify selected targets, and to maintain tracks for selected, critical targets, in dense target environments. The agency aims to award a contract for the development of novel collection techniques and processing algorithms for detection, geolocation, imaging, and automatic target recognition of moving ground targets with synthetic aperture radar sensors.
This program, Moving Target Recognition (MTR), is a vital part of the Mosaic Warfare end-state vision. The new Moving Target Recognition (MTR) will combine accumulated target classification information, obtained from individual warfighting platforms to yield improved classification and improved association. Operating within this concept, the U.S. military expects to put together individual warfighting platforms to make a larger picture, or in this case, a force package. The idea will be to send so many weapon and sensor platforms at the enemy that its forces are overwhelmed.
DARPA seeks to equip small ground units with up-to-date counter-A2/AD capabilities
In preparation for US ground troops operating in austere environments against larger forces equipped with the latest technologies, the Pentagon’s research and development organisation is moving on with a programme to equip small units with the capacity to combat foe’s Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities.
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held an industry day in March 2018 for its System of Systems Enhanced Small Units (SESU) programme in order to gain insight into technologies that will enable units with 200–300 soldiers, as well as “limited rear-echelon support”, to “destroy, deceive, and/or disrupt the adversary’s A2/AD capabilities in order to enable joint and coalition multi-domain operations at appropriate times and locations”, as well as hinder an adversary’s maneuver capabilities.
“Future US land forces are increasingly likely to face an adversary force that is overwhelmingly superior in size and armament with formidable A2/AD capabilities,” DARPA wrote. DARPA wants industry’s help on primarily two technology areas. The first area is “adaptive” command and control for units using a large number of “low-cost, autonomous, unmanned air and ground platforms equipped with appropriate sensor and effects payloads” for mission planning and executing counter-A2/AD missions. Secondly, DARPA is interested in sensors and effects payloads capable of interoperating to degrade, disrupt, or destroy an adversary’s A2/AD capabilities