Multi-domain integration is a hot topic in defence circles. “Defence in a Competitive Age,” a 2021 command paper from the UK government, theorised that deploying data and new technology to straddle land, sea, air, space and cyber would help neutralise novel threats from state and non-state actors. The relationship between military branches must intertwine as integration replaces collaboration.

Putting theory into practice costs time and money. But big players in the defence industry are showing how it might be possible. GlobalData, a market research firm, projects that the electronic warfare market, currently valued at $8.1 billion, will be worth $12.1 billion by 2032. Using electronic and electromagnetic equipment to parry threats in space and cyberspace is becoming increasingly big business. Further, GlobalData estimates suggest the military internal navigation system (INS) and global navigation satellite system (GNSS) market, valued at $1.3 billion in 2022, will see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.1% over the next decade, pointing to the increased centrality of space and cyber technology in directing conventional land, sea and air forces.

Defence and security innovators are redoubling their efforts to stay relevant in a multi-domain age, embracing new technologies and integrating once disparate forces. Militaries must channel industry momentum if they are to truly put multi-domain integration at the centre of their strategies.

Rethinking relationships

Policymakers know that multi-domain integration will only be possible if industry momentum is matched by government co-ordination. The UK’s 2021 Defence and Security Industrial Strategy suggested that UK defences were “well placed” to meet the challenges of modern, asymmetric warfare, but that a “significant step change in the relationship between government and industry” would be needed. There are four crucial steps.

First, reforming government defence and security procurement processes, emphasising partnerships over competition to guarantee onshore capability. Second, upping resilience in defence and security sectors, protecting UK technology by promoting it abroad and fostering a greater understanding of complex defence supply chains. Third, better communication about government priorities to catalyse innovation. Finally, working closely with allies abroad on cooperation, exports and foreign investment, giving defence firms maximum opportunity to collaborate across as well as within borders.

Creating an integrated military by drawing on industry innovation sounds attractive. How this relationship will operate, and the new balance between conventional forces and futuristic technology, remains unclear. In his evidence to the Integrated Review of Defence in a Competitive Age and the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy, Lord Houghton, Chief of the Defence Staff between 2013 and 2016, summarised the problem: “One of the things that the Defence Secretary is saying in his foreword to the Defence Command Paper is that he is attempting to match money to credible ambition… We are no longer going to pretend that we have, in size terms, the huge amount of capabilities we have. We are going to harness the money we have in a more selective and focused way.” Placing multi-domain integration at the heart of defence strategy won’t be cheap. Different domains, accustomed to independence, may vie for dominance; new quibbles around resourcing and responsibilities must be addressed.

Industry takes the initiative

Developments since the publication of the Industrial Strategy have placed these quibbles in a new light. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine injected new urgency into the imperative of achieving multi-domain integration. The point was made sharply by General Sir Jim Hockenhull, Commander of Strategic Command, in a speech in December 2022: “If we don’t take due cognisance of what’s happening in Ukraine, social media, the commercial world, and inside government, then our system will not be ready and prepared for the next challenge that we face. There is an urgency around the need to change.”

Policymakers and businesses are stepping up. In May, for example, the UK government invited bids on a £25 million innovation fund from industry leaders to help shore up Ukraine’s defences, with Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace praising the “creativity and commitment” of defence and security firms in answering the call to arms. This was on top of the massive support already pledged by UK defence industry contractors, from the conventional (anti-tank missiles, armoured vehicles and munitions) to the innovative (GPS jammers, electronic warfare equipment and counter battery systems). All are helping Ukrainian forces to fight invasion by reaching across domains of war, deploying satellites and CPU power to anticipate enemy sorties and launch new campaigns.

New partnerships between top defence innovators and government over the course of 2022 prove that collaboration between the two is slowly but surely increasing. For instance in February, Leidos was awarded the Defense Enclave Services (DES) contract by the Defense Information Systems Agency, worth $11.5 bn. The contract will create a common network architecture designed to enhance command and control and information sharing capabilities, the backbone of multi-domain integration – establishing “the modern infrastructure foundation that will deliver critical combat support capabilities to our warfighters” according to Roger Krone, Leidos Chairman and CEO.

In October the firm also secured the Sentinel award, a $1.5bn task order from the US Department of Defense. Deployment of new technologies across the mission spectrum will be accelerated via Leidos’s Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) capabilities.

And in December, a US Army Project Convergence 22 experimentation exercise paired Leidos Edge to Cloud (E2C) technology with the Microsoft Azure Cloud infrastructure. It demonstrated how advanced applications could be rapidly rolled out in challenging operations – a critical step in the realisation of the Joint All-Domain and Control (JADC2) strategy. The strategy, by allowing joint forces with diverse networks to seamlessly share data, provides a firm foundation for multi-domain integration. In the words of Gerry Fasano, the recent demonstration illustrates how major software players can collaborate to deploy “state-of-the-art solutions quickly and safely to warfighters across the Department of Defense.” Teamwork among technological trailblazers as well as between individual firms and governments is ramping up.

Making multi-domain integration a reality will take time. But government inquiries, war in Ukraine and recent partnerships all point towards the same conclusion: working with industry, where pro-integration innovations are coming thick and fast, will be crucial for bringing it about. For more information on multi-domain integration, government-industry collaboration and how Leidos is leading the way, click here.