Military Embedded Systems

Integrating warfare models with the kill chain


April 27, 2018

Ray Alderman

VITA Standards Organization

WARFARE EVOLUTION BLOG: My previous article covered what sits on top of the kill chain from a strategic perspective. Now, it?s time to integrate the other models: RMAs (revolutions in military affairs), warfare domains (land, sea, air, space, cyberspace, electromagnetic (EM) spectrum), strategic offsets, generations of warfare (1GW through 8GW), and the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act).

We’re not going to disassemble these models, harmonize their functions, and reassemble them into one unified model like we did with the generational warfare models in previous posts. The models in question don’t have the synergies, commonalities, and correlations to apply that process again. Accordingly, we are compelled to appropriately order these five models in a sequence, based on how one feeds into another, and then feeds into the kill chain. I have exercised poetic license here, to include the EM spectrum (RF) as a new domain of warfare, even though the Pentagon has not officially made that decision.

1. Let's start with the six warfare domains: land, sea, air, space, cyberspace, and the EM spectrum. Each of these domains has its own defining characteristics, requirements, platforms, and weapons. They feed into a unique kill chain for each domain. The military term for this separated vertical structure is called stovepiping: a specific solution to a specific problem in a specific domain. As examples, sonar and torpedoes are only used in the sea domain. This stovepiping concept is changing, and you’ll see how in the third offset.

2. Strategic offsets apply to specific domains. When our enemies create capabilities or weapons that eliminate our advantage in one domain, we start an offset to regain military superiority over them in that or another domain. There have been three strategic offsets since World War II (WWII). The first offset was when President Eisenhower initiated our nuclear arsenal in the 1950s. The Soviet Union (now Russia) had a geographic advantage to invade Europe on land, and we were at a time-distance disadvantage to respond with troops and weapons. If the Soviets amassed troops and weapons on their borders to invade Europe, we would nuke them from the air domain, instead of slowly sending in troops and conventional weapons in the air and sea domain. That eventually led to the MAD (mutually assured destruction) Doctrine, backed by our undetectable nuclear submarines with nuclear-tipped missiles, in the sea domain.

The second offset started in the 1960s, when the Soviet Union's Warsaw Pact outnumbered NATO by three-to-one in troops, tanks, and artillery against Europe. Then U.S. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown initiated new ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems, rudimentary guided weapons (bombs and missiles), stealth technology in aircraft (to evade enemy radar), satellite communications (SATCOM), and navigation aids (GPS). The MAD Doctrine forced us to create conventional weapons in each domain, rather than start a nuclear war.

We are in the third offset now, started by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in 2012, as a response to Russia and China’s A2/AD strategies (anti-access/area denial). Carter emphasized development of advanced stealth platforms (fighter and bomber aircraft), autonomous vehicles (unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like Predator and Reaper), precision guided weapons (smart bombs and missiles), artificial intelligence (AI), electronic warfare (signal jamming systems), and networked warfare (all ISR and weapons systems across all domains will be connected). We’ll dig into this offset in detail later.

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

3. Now, we bring-in the generational warfare models. The new weapons and platforms in the offsets translate into a specific generation of warfare in each domain. Today, the US is in 5th generation warfare (5GW). That's non-contact warfare, where our weapons hit targets in the air, on the sea, and on land without humans actually seeing them first hand. Russia and China are primarily capable of 2GW (massed manpower and firepower in the land domain). Both have logistics problems: they can only execute 3GW (maneuver warfare) in the countries nearby. They have deficient navies and air forces, not capable of invading across oceans.

Iran and North Korea are partially 2GW enemies, with some capabilities in 4GW (insurgency and terrorism) in the land domain. Their 3GW capabilities are limited to the countries on their borders. Iran is bordered by Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan. It’s not a quiet neighborhood. In the past, Iran has been at war with the weaker governments of Iraq and Azerbaijan (3GW). Today, they fight proxy wars using insurgents in Yemen, Pakistan, and Syria (4GW).

North Korea is bordered by South Korea (the DMZ, a 160 mile border), China (880 mile border), and Russia (11 mile border). They only have the 3GW capability to attack South Korea in the land domain, before more of our 5GW weapons can be brought into the fight from ships offshore and air bases in surrounding countries. It would be suicide for the North Koreans to go up against Russia or China's 2GW forces. And it would also be foolhardy to engage in a 3GW war against the 5GW U.S. and South Korean forces. It remains to be seen what today's announcement that the two Koreas have ceased all hostilities toward each other. Time will tell.

4. Each domain has a unique OODA loop. And each of those OODA loops operate at different speeds. The Observe segment is done by reconnaissance aircraft and satellites, or ground and ship-based radar and SIGINT systems. The Orient segment processes the raw data to gain insight into the situation. The Decide segment establishes what tactical moves will be made, at what time, with what resources. The Act segment takes longer to move troops and ships into a fight than it does for aircraft and missiles. As it turns out, the Act phase is simply the combined kill chain of all the domains and their stovepipes.

5. Now, we can execute the combined kill chain (the 5F model: find, fix, fire, finish, feedback). In the past, we could only go through the combined kill chain as fast as the slowest domain or stovepipe kill chain. Just watch any of the old WWII movies. You see soldiers on the beach, naval officers, and air force pilots all looking at their watches. The naval barrage starts first, at 0500. When the barrage is lifted, the attack planes come in with bombs at 0600. Finally, the soldiers attack when the smoke clears, at 0700. That’s no way to run a war in the 21st century. We need to execute the combined kill chain across domains and stovepipes in minutes, not hours or days. As General John Jumper said, we need to execute our complete kill chain in 10 minutes or less.

By now, you have probably noticed that I did not include RMAs (revolutions in military affairs) in the ordered sequence. I have my reasons. First, RMAs are only visible long after the war is concluded. Secondly, everything from the stirrup to ballistic missiles, and from can-openers to penicillin, have been claimed as RMAs. Third, at some point RMAs fail, like when 3GW maneuver warfare was defeated by 4GW insurgency and terrorism. Fourth, most of the articles and books I have read about RMAs have been written by stuffy historians, not people who were in the fight. So, let’s leave the whole RMA topic to boring history professors, who wear corduroy jackets that smell like moth balls, and who never heard a shot fired in anger. If you do some reading, and there’s a lot of stuff on the web about RMAs, you’ll rapidly agree that RMAs bring no redeeming contribution to my sequenced master warfare model.

At this point, let’s recap my complete master model for looking at warfare, and how to understand what is going on in military circles. Starting from the top, you need to understand what the NSS, NDS, EWS, NPR, BMDR, and the NDAA say, in that order. See my previous article for what those are and how they feed into each other. Next, you need to understand domains, stovepipes, strategic offsets, generations of warfare, and the OODA loop. Then, you can see how they all feed into the kill chain, which is the last phase of the OODA loop. If you draw small circles on paper representing all these elements and connect them properly, it looks like a tree diagram with lots of branches. Just understand that this is my way of looking at things across the military spectrum. Nobody else has ever tried to pull all these elements together into some kind of intelligible structure, so I thought I should take a crack at it.

But, don’t get too excited about your newfound understanding from my master model. Things are changing. Multi-domain warfare, cross-domain warfare, cross-domain fires, sensor-to-shooter, and sensor fusion are collapsing all the stovepipes and smearing all the domains together. Stovepipes lack context and obscure the bigger picture. Basically, they contribute to the fog of war. The 2-dimensional tree diagram of my sequential model is turning into a complex 6-dimensional network. And, the static sequential kill chain is turning into a dynamic parallel kill web. Stay tuned, because that’s the topic of our next chapter.

Ray Alderman, Chairman of the Board of VITA, presents how embedded electronics and open standards enable enhanced C4ISR - from sensors to signal processing to real-time communications. Join us on August 30 at 2pm EST with Military Embedded Systems and VITA Technologies for the webcast titled: Leveraging Open Standards and C4ISR for Multi-domain Challenges in Modern Warfare. To Register, visit:


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