Military Embedded Systems

Domains of warfare and strategic offsets


January 31, 2017

Ray Alderman

VITA Standards Organization

WARFARE EVOLUTION BLOG:It?s 2017, and I?m back. After enduring uncomfortably-deep probing and evaluation of my literary skills and technical analysis capabilities, along with a comprehensive DNA test, my masters here at OpenSystems Media have decided to keep me on as a writer, to ply you with another year of fascinating and intriguing next-generation warfare articles. For 2017 I will write with an emphasis on present capabilities of the U.S. and our enemies, as well as new platforms and strategies under development.

Last year, we covered the different generations of warfare based on the original papers and ideas of William S. Lind et al, Col. Thomas X. Hames, General Vladimir Slipshenko and General Makhmut Gareev, and Col. Qiao Liang and Col. Wang Xiangsui. Looking at the evolution of weapons and platforms is another way to explore this topic.

Let’s start the year off by defining the domains of warfare. For thousands of years, warfare took place strictly on land. The first documented battle on the seas occurred when the Hittite king Suppiluliuma II defeated the Cypriot fleet in 1210 BC. In 202 BC, a general from the Chinese Hon Dynasty flew kites over his enemies at night, making sounds that scared them off the battlefield. That introduced the skies as a domain.

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik, opening space as a domain of warfare. In 1988, Robert Morris released his "Morris Worm” on the nascent internet, exploiting the vulnerabilities in the UNIX operating system, establishing cyberspace as a warfare domain. So far, we have land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace. When you look at the evolution of platforms and weapons over history, they are engineered to fit into one of these domains.

To read more Warfare Evolution Blogs by Ray Alderman, click here.

For many centuries, warfare was also conducted against the political and economic systems of countries, but we’ll leave that to the politicians and intelligence people. These domains are nothing new, but the stakes are much higher today than in princely states, kingly states, city states, state-nations, and today’s nation-states. The developed world is transitioning from nation-states to market-states, so go read “The Shield of Achilles” by David Bobbitt for a better understanding. Taxes, tariffs, sanctions, embargoes, closing embassies, and ending diplomatic relations with countries are the weapons of these domains.

And there's the domain of the mind, that has been used to some degree in the other domains of warfare in the past, But today, through fake news, disinformation, and “weaponized narrative”, we have to seriously consider this as a new individual domain. It’s an amplified version of psychological warfare with the goals of dividing an enemy nation’s people and leadership along social, economic, and political lines, destroying them from the inside without firing a shot.

And finally, there’s “full spectrum warfare” that uses weather modification and geoengineering against enemies. Creating floods or draughts, by steering storms in a military-controlled ionosphere, can destroy enemy crops and damage infrastructure. Transmission of extremely low frequencies (ELF) through the earth’s mantle could create earthquakes or tsunamis in enemy territory. While the effects of these weapons take place in the sky and on land, I vote that we consider this as a new domain. It may sound like science fiction, but we have some primitive weapons in this area already. So in 2017, we’ll take a look at the weapons and platforms across these multiple domains.

There have been discussions at the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) about making the electromagnetic spectrum a domain of warfare. But since it crosses over the domains of land, sea, and air, we’ll just leave it as element of those domains for now, until they make a decision.

Also, we need to explore what the DoD calls “Offset Strategies”. These are initiatives to stay ahead of our enemies in technology, tactics, weapons, and execution of the battle. We have experienced three offset strategies already:

-First Offset: In the 1950s, President Eisenhower realized that the Soviet Union had the advantage of proximity in Western Europe, and the U.S. was at a disadvantage to respond to a third generation warfare (3GW) invasion there, especially at the Fulda Gap in Germany. So, he ordered a massive build-up of our nuclear weapons and missiles as a deterrent. North Korea and Iran are both implementing their “first offset” strategies to deter invasion today.

-Second Offset: In the 1970s and 1980s, with the introduction of the microprocessor, the U.S. focused on creating precision conventional munitions and sensor systems for use in regional conflicts. We learned about the need for these weapons from our experiences in fourth generation warfare (4GW) Vietnam. Today, China and Russia are investing heavily in second offset technologies, so our advantage here is narrowing.

-Third Offset: This is where we are today. The DoD started this offset in 2016, and is investing heavily in unmanned platforms (on land, sea, air, and space), adaptive electronic warfare systems (AEW), advanced radar, cyberweapons, and networked intelligence platforms and weapon systems on the battlefield. The two Gulf Wars showed the effectiveness of this basic strategy, but it needs to move to a higher level. Third offset has a lot of moving parts, like anti-access/area denial (A2/AD), so it’s best that you do some web-reading about it.

We’ll explore how our weapons and platforms apply to the third offset, and speculate on what the “fourth offset” looks like in some articles this year. If you want to read more about “offsets” and their history, go here <>.

Do NOT get these offsets confused with “offset transactions”, when other countries buy weapons and military platforms from U.S. companies. An offset transaction is when a country, like Norway, buys F-35 fighter planes from Lockheed Martin. F-35s are expensive, Norway needs to get the price down, and they need to reduce their high unemployment rate by creating jobs. So, they make it a condition of the purchase contract that Lockheed Martin buy some of the parts to make the plane from the Norwegian companies Kongsberg and Nammo. There are similar deals between these two Norwegian companies and Raytheon, on missiles. Other countries require that the selling company invest in manufacturing and research facilities in the buyer’s country. That’s what India did when they bought 35 Rafale fighter jets back in September 2016, from Dassault Aviation in France. There are even weirder offset deals out there, involving technology transfers, manufacturing licensing agreements, and a host of other conditions. You can read about them on the web too.

So, that gives you an idea of what we’ll cover in this year’s warfare series. However, my next article will focus on the different generations of fighter jets (the sky domain). We’ll also try to figure out how an updated F/A-18 Super Hornet (Navy) can accomplish the same missions as the new F-35 Lightning at a cheaper cost, as recently suggested. That should be fun.