Leading the Joint All-Domain Force

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In the run up to Defence iQ's annual Airborne C2ISR conference in March 2020, we'll be publishing a series of think pieces of joint all-domain operations, leadership and capability modernization. View the agenda here.

The focus on Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2), Multi domain Command and Control (MDC2), and the associated technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence, machine learning, agile devops, mesh networks) will change the way decision authority is delegated and the speed with which effects are employed.

MDO is designed to present enemy leaders with multiple and simultaneous dilemmas across the warfighting domains in order to gain decision advantage over an adversary. But victory in the era of MDO requires more than meshed networks that enable data sharing and multi-domain effects.  It requires developing, trusting, and resourcing empowered leaders to dominate The Leadership Domain.[1]

Ruling this foundational domain requires deliberately growing empowered leaders who understand they are expected to make operational level decisions at the “edge”.  There are two key catalysts to leadership domain dominance with respect to DO and MDC2 efforts:  Trust and Empowerment. 

Trusting “tactical edge-decisions” is critical despite the increased risk that some errors in judgement or understanding could negatively impact operational-level plans.  Edge-decision mistakes are unavoidable, but the impact of poor decisions will likely be less detrimental than the cost of indecision. The key to gaining and maintaining decision advantage is to produce leaders resourced and trained to understand the impact and necessity of tying mission results to objectives, integration of fourth through sixth generation assets and effects, distinguishing the root cause of circumstances, and implementing and iterating rapid fixes. 

Whether the military is providing defense support to civil authorities (DSCA), facing a violent extremist organization (VEO) or peer competitor, during MDO leaders at the tactical edge will assume the role of operational-level decision maker. In the Air Force, this could be the tactical mission commander, a package commander assigned with a specific task (e.g. Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD)), on-scene commander (OSC) during a personnel recovery mission, air battle managers in a Control and Reporting Center (CRC) or on an airborne C2 platform (e.g. Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) or Joint Surveillance Target Attack RADAR System (JSTARS).

In order to make the most effective and timely decisions, edge leaders must FEEL empowered.  Empowerment is more about the follower’s perceptions than the leader’s words. Emboldened decision makers need to have the trust and confidence that rear-echelon leaders will underwrite decisions made in effort to align the commander’s intent with actions and the situation in the battlespace.

Edge leaders will gain confidence through doing and recognizing that although their decision may not have been the “General’s” preferred choice, the “rear” is less interested in second guessing, and focused on improving the circumstances and operational environment by adapting a “branch or sequel” based on the outcome of the choice made at the edge.[2]

General David Goldfein, USAF Chief of Staff declared that MDO “will change the character of modern warfare.” Gaining and maintaining decision advantage at the edge is critical to owning the operational advantage despite the adversary’s efforts to disrupt or degrade the “traditional” C2 decision flow.

In addition to resilient meshed networks capable of sharing large amounts of data in an format easily understood by decision makers, winning our nations’ wars requires developing, trusting, and resourcing empowered leaders of all levels to dominate The Leadership Domain.


[1] Author defines The Leadership Domain as “A set of interdependent values, principles and skills that produce an optimal environment to develop leadership, followership, and teamwork skills necessary for mission/organizational effectiveness and healthy leadership culture.”

[2] Joint Publication 5-0, Joint Planning, 16 June 2017.  Branches and Sequels. Many plans require adjustment beyond the initial stages of the operation. Consequently, JFCs build flexibility into plans by developing branches and sequels to preserve freedom of action in rapidly changing conditions. They are primarily used for changing deployments or direction of movement and accepting or declining combat.

  1. Branches provide a range of alternatives often built into the basic plan. Branches add flexibility to plans by anticipating situations that could alter the basic plan. Such situations could be a result of adversary action, availability of friendly capabilities or resources, or even a change in the weather or season within the OA.
  2. Sequels anticipate and plan for subsequent operations based on the possible outcomes of the current operation—victory, defeat, or stalemate.