FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii --- As the Multi-Domain Task Force pilot program nears its end, the Army is now using lessons from it to establish three similar task forces.
Assigned under U.S. Army Pacific Command in 2017, the pilot has participated in several exercises, including nine major joint training events across the region, to focus on penetrating an enemy environment.
With the 17th Field Artillery Brigade as its core, the task force also has an I2CEWS detachment testing intelligence, information operations, cyber, electronic warfare and space assets that can counter enemy anti-access/area denial capabilities.
"It's predominately network-focused targeting and it's echelon in approach," said Col. Joe Roller, who heads future operations, G35, for I Corps. "So it's not taking down the entire network, it's focusing on key nodes within that network to create targets of opportunity and basically punch a hole in the enemy's threat environment in order to deliver a joint force."
Run by USARPAC's I Corps, the pilot has already uncovered ways to improve future formations as it prepares to become a permanent task force itself at Washington's Joint Base Lewis-McChord in September 2020.
In 2021, the Army plans to establish a second stand-alone MDTF in Europe that will merge the 41st FA Brigade with an I2CEWS element. The following year, a third task force, which is yet to be determined, will stand up in the Pacific.
One lesson so far from the pilot is for the task force to better incorporate its joint partners. Leaders envision the specialized units to be about 500 personnel, including troops from other services.
"It needs to be a joint enterprise," Roller said. "The Army will have the majority of seats in the MDTF, but we don't necessarily have all the subject-matter expertise to combine all of those areas together."
The Joint Warfighting Assessment 19 in the spring, he noted, highlighted the task force's need for a common operating picture to create synergistic effects with not only the other services but also allied nations.
"It goes back to communication with our joint partners and our allies," he said, "and the infrastructure that's required to create that communications network and shared understanding of the environment that were operating in."
Last month, the task force also took part in the Orient Shield exercise with the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force, which recently created its own Cross-Domain Operations Task Force to tackle similar challenges.
For the first time, Orient Shield was linked with Cyber Blitz, an annual experiment hosted by New Jersey's Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst that informs Army leaders how to execute full-spectrum information warfare operations.
The task force's I2CEWS personnel and their Japanese counterparts were able to conduct operations together in both exercises via networks in Japan and New Jersey.
"If there was a culminating event thus far, that was about as high level as we've gotten to with real-world execution of cyber, electronic warfare and space operations in coordination with a bilateral exercise," said Col. Tony Crawford, chief of strategy and innovation for USARPAC.
In an effort to embolden their defense, the Japanese published its cross-domain operations doctrine in 2008, Crawford said. Its defense force is now working with USARPAC in writing a whitepaper on how to combine those ideas with the U.S. Army's multi-domain operations concept in protecting its country.
"They've been thinking about this for a long time as well," Crawford said.
The Australian Army has also worked with the task force, he added, while the Philippine Army has expressed interest along with the South Korean military.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is making the Army's MDO efforts its foundational concept as it develops its own joint warfighting concept for the region. Crawford said this comes a few years after its former commander, Adm. Harry Harris, asked the Army to evolve its role so it could sink ships, shoot down satellites and jam communications.
"Moving forward, MDO is kind of the guiding framework that were implementing," Crawford said.
The colonel credits I Corps for continually educating its sister services of the Army's MDO concept and how the task force can complement its missions.
"The level of joint cooperation has grown exponentially over the last two years," he said. "That's definitely a good thing here in the Pacific, because it's not a maritime or air theater, it's a joint theater."
But, as with any new unit, there have been growing pains.
Crawford said the biggest challenge is getting the task forces equipped, trained and manned. Plans to build up the units are ahead of schedule after former Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark Milley decided to go forward with them earlier this year.
"We're so accelerated that we're all trying to catch up now," he said. "This is literally a new force structure that the Army is creating based upon these emerging concepts."
The fluid nature of these ideas has also presented difficulties. Roller said they are currently written in pencil as the task force pilot continues to learn from exercises and receives input from its partners.
"It's taking concepts and continuing to advance them past conceptual into employment," Roller said, "and then almost writing doctrine as we're executing."
While much of the future remains unclear, Roller does expect the task force to participate in another Pacific Pathways rotation after completing its first one this year.
In the long term, he also envisions a more robust training calendar for the task force so its personnel can maintain their certifications and qualifications.
"We'll have some culminating training events purely MDTF focused," he said.