‘Gray Zone’ Competition — The Race for Multi-Domain Capability

By James Terry

Army photo

Warfare is no longer focused solely on the destruction of enemy forces. With today’s rapid technological advancements, success is predicated on the ability to disrupt, degrade, deceive and destroy peer adversaries’ infrastructure.

This approach expands beyond military ways and means and includes political, economic, social and information operations that support a nation’s sphere of influence.

Commensurate with this new paradigm is a race to develop and deploy multi-domain technology that defines a new era in modern warfare, or multi-domain capabilities in gray zone competition.

The use of gray zone actions in the Indo-Pacific — China’s efforts to expand its sphere of influence — are challenging the United States and other countries’ efforts to maintain a free and open region. We expect China to escalate their activities until they are just shy of provoking a military response.

The visit of former U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to Taiwan last year provided a window of opportunity to observe China’s competitive gray zone responses. During the trip, China used a combination of multi-domain air, sea, land and cyber incursions surrounding Taiwan before, during and after the event. Depending on the results of an ongoing investigation, the recent surveillance balloon that flew over the United States could also be categorized as gray zone activity.

While these gray zone actions were not enough to justify an open military response, they illustrate China’s competitive behavior and highlight the importance of U.S. efforts to continue developing future multi-domain capabilities.

Recognizing China as a geopolitical pacing challenge, and the country’s intent to compete in this new era of gray zone competition, the United States is sharpening its competitive edge with military advances in joint all-domain command and control technology, also known as JADC2.

For the United States, planning and conducting gray zone warfare today requires leveraging JADC2’s command, control, communications, computers, cyber intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology and networks, with data security key to promote deterrence. Across land, air, sea, space and cyber domains, JADC2 is intended to allow U.S. forces to strike faster, more efficiently and from farther away.

China has taken note of the Defense Department’s JADC2 efforts along the Indo-Pacific littoral and is moving quickly to develop its own version called “multi-domain precision warfare.” The system is designed to disrupt decision makers and their communication systems, forcing the United States and its allies into a defensive posture.

Gray zone competition promises to be long-lasting, requiring the undivided attention of the United States and its partners as they prepare to act in a multi-domain environment. This progression toward fully utilizing multi-domain capabilities highlights a new imperative and mindset to command this technology shift and ensure the military forces of the nation and its allies outpace China and other peer adversaries on the world stage.

With China’s rapid advance of its own pacing technology, maintaining strong, interoperable alliances and partner relationships will play an essential role for the United States in winning multi-domain conflicts.

Today’s gray zone warfare is not part of a new Cold War — rather it is a competitive race to enable multi-domain capability. For China, that means growing its sphere of influence around Taiwan and along the Asian-Pacific sea areas and island chains. And for the United States and its allies, that means maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

Geopolitics is changing, and we must adopt a realistic approach to gray zone competition and multi-domain warfare. By fostering training and exercise programs throughout the region, we put integrated deterrence into action, building partner capacity while reducing the sphere of influence from our adversaries.

While JADC2 technology promises superior advancements in warfighting capabilities, its optimal effectiveness comes as part of an integrated effort, one that unifies communication, intelligence gathering, sensor-to-shooter effects chains; contested logistics to support the force; and live, virtual and constructive training capabilities that build interoperability and readiness.

By converging current and ready capabilities in this time of gray zone competition, we will realize the capabilities that ensure mission command, deterrence, war-fighting capability and a sense of stability for the U.S. citizens we serve.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Terry is senior vice president of business development of ground strategy at Cubic Mission and Performance Solutions.

Topics: Infotech, Warfare

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