Cyber, Land, Air, Sea and Space Warfare (CLASS-W)

“… then the Bolder and Stronger Peoples Will Pass Us By and Win For Themselves the Domination of the World”—TR Roosevelt- The Strenuous Life 1899

What’s all this nonsense about winning in a complex world about? I’m not buying it. I’m not even sure we, as a nation, can actually define ‘winning’ anymore. And for that matter, I’d argue, there’s never been anything except a ‘complex’ world, if you view through the lens of the contemporary eye. So, from my thirty-one years in the Army perspective, this is just a bunch of hype. Let me break this down by the numbers for those of us limited on time and patience.

As an Assault Fire Platoon Leader during Desert Shield and Storm I witnessed the realization of our training efforts toward the ultimate AirLand Battle. It worked so well, and we broke the backbone of our enemy so quickly, that we left in a big hurry and didn’t quite wrap things up. About a decade later, we found ourselves returning to re-deliver the same message a second time. Now, we can’t seem to exit gracefully or permanently at all. By the way, I worked on our withdrawal plan during 2010/11. ‘Where’s the end game’ questions could never be answered.

For the record, I’m not running down that era or the AirLand Battle Doctrine. It was the right military approach for that time. In 1991, we young officers were a wee apprehensive about delivering relatively untested Air Defense Systems that could knock down SCUDS. But, low and behold, after much hyperventilating over the first volley, our confidence was renewed. We rapidly seized the advantage over all air space and created an environment by which our ground forces could maneuver, meet with, close on and destroy the ground forces of Iraq. Our training paid off.

The first point here is that my peers and I are fully confident that once we set our minds on a training philosophy and complimentary doctrine we will achieve it. So, as is routine, we find ourselves caught between an old world that is dying and new world that is rising up.

Hence comes the emergence of the Multi-Domain Battlefield. Now this sounds pretty sexy, but it’s a little too vague for my liking. It places too much emphasis on the military element of national power and the name really doesn’t define what we are chasing. It seems to nest well with other philosophies I have yet to buy into. These include VUCA and Wicked Problems. It’s a myth that those two terms are something new and it’s a fact that these two terms are what we have historically understood better than our adversaries. I actually like the term Fifth Dimension Operations, but it too leaves the student pondering the meaning. Just say it. We have to holistically harness our national military, non-military, and foreign assets to overwhelm a hostile threat to our nation from a state, non-state or hybrid bad actor. Ready, set, go.

So, in my brain bucket I wrote my own simple, straightforward and purposeful acronym. I prefer to refer to the five domains of military power as Cyber, Land, Air, Sea and Space Warfare or CLASS-W for short. These domains include the tried and tested principles of the AirLand Battle Doctrine, but speak to embrace three others. First, it addresses our most hated foe; Cyber. This is our most evasive and pervasive operating environment. Although, I’m confident our Cyber efforts are an over-match for our peer competitors, I’m not sure our rules of play will be there’s. The mass chaos that can be created through Cyber far exceeds those we fear from a nuclear exchange. Second, we must respect how the weaponizing of space will impact our geographically defined battlefields. Since we have been unable to keep our most antagonistic nation states from gaining nuclear arms, it is doubtful that we will be able to keep outer space off limits during the next fifty years either. Couple to that, we will no longer enjoy uncontested seas or airspace. We have enjoyed unopposed dominance since Desert Storm in each of these two domains. Very simply understated, CLASS-W simply adds domains to the AirLand doctrine.

Why must we evolve? Human beings are terrible at predicting the future. It invariably turns out to be something different than the experts told us. The only true certainty is that the next war will be more in contrast than similar to the last. Look back to WWI if you doubt me. So, despite our hoping for iron machines and heavy armaments to reign on some geopolitical plot of dirt, tomorrow’s conflict will be fought through Cyber, Land, Air, Sea and Space. Let’s not let yesteryear’s doctrine pigeon hole us into doom. Instead, let’s get the best minds from inside and outside the military and across the globe to design templates and models that realistically and holistically embrace these domains.

In summary, if we cannot define what a utopian planet looks like on terms favorable to the U.S. and our allies, then we are simply failing over time by design. Historians a hundred years from today will point out the obvious; that we didn’t have a clue what we wanted or needed to achieve, and we failed to keep pace with the changes in the global construct. The AirLand Doctrine is dead. The Multi-Domain Battlefield really misses the mark. Fifth Dimension Operations don’t take enough into account. Let’s roll out the CLASS-W mantra and see what the young leaders of today can do with it. The caliber of youthful leaders we’ve molded from years of conflict will very likely surprise us with their result.

As the stoic philosopher Epictetus expressed: First Decide Who You Will Be, Then Do What You Need To Do

–COL Darrell W Dement

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Texas Military Department, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the US government.