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The United States Army Reserve (USAR – or AR) is different than the Active Component (AC). It is a unique synthesis of citizens and Soldiers serving the Army to fight and win our Nation's wars. As the Army shifts its focus to its new warfighting concept known as Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), the AR must also shift. This shift focuses on what is needed, what the AC cannot provide, and providing it. Paraphrasing T. E. Lawrence, we propose the USAR create MDO formations to get the smallest force in the quickest time to the farthest place. We call this low cost, high impact warfare.

To create MDO formations, the USAR must use what is known as Mosaic Warfare. This approach is like breaking up a puzzle and putting the pieces back together in a different arrangement. It is a self-organizing method allowing pieces to be cobbled together into any formation necessary. The shift is like seeing waves in the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS), where once you focus on a wave, it ceases being a wave and becomes a perfect circle. This perfect circle, the focus, is the fifth element.

The Fifth Element

To put the pieces together, we must improve how we find, sort through, prioritize, and uncover data on AR Soldiers. We propose a new survey or data collection tool, focusing efforts on finding expert certification and education skillsets connecting the right Soldier to MDO formations. This approach would help uncover where the centers of expertise reside in the AR. It would allow us to operate like a 3d-printer, where we can provide the joint force key specialties when and where needed. Where a 3d-printer provides us the ability to create a capability on the spot, such as unmanned combat drones, the AR could provide unique and on the spot capabilities for the joint force.

If we seek a force enabling us to provide on the spot capabilities, then we need a force that does what George Zarkadakis discussed in his book In Our Own Image. It allows us to find the ‘fifth element’ or “some kind of ‘force’ that takes over when the individual elements come together and makes them behave in new, emergent ways.”

To find the fifth element, we must focus on Information Retrieval (IR). We need to change the way we interact with and understand data. Or as Dr. Jody Daniels remarked in Integrating a Spoken Language System with Agents for Operational Information Access:

Changing the way users interact with their data is the principal objective of the Listen, Communicate, Show (LCS) paradigm.

To change how we understand and interact with data, we need to build systems that quickly read and identify the specific data required. Using an analogy, think of the AR as a document. There is no need to analyze the entire document, simply focus on the required elements. This allows us to quickly see only the portions of the Reserve formation important for the desired mission, such as an expert in physics for the EMS, an engineer or anthropologist for an internally displaced people (IDP) camp, or an epidemiologist for a virus outbreak. The medium must be able to quickly locate expertise within the AR and plug them into another formation (without breaking a formation). The Soldier or formation being taken must serve a precise need.

This idea necessitates the need to improve IR. We need to identify the different ways we collect and store data while determining how to index data more efficiently. If we fail to do this, then it will be difficult to create queries to retrieve what we need when we need it. If our assumption is correct, then we need a system that is extremely adaptable (in permanent beta-mode), one that can be created based on a query to provide a formation comprised of the capabilities requested. The system would need to be able to process information and quickly provide only those features needed. This system would need to perform Information Reduction. For example, Human Resources Command (HRC) could use Officer Record Briefs (ORB) instead of Officer Evaluation Reports (OER) when providing recommendations for officer selection. Our assumption is ORBs might provide a better narrative than an OER. Career Managers could quickly find the education and experience needed for a position, rather than using an OER that often provides superfluous comments.

To do this, the AR should use what is known as Case-Based Reasoning (CBR) – which is the process of solving new problems based on the solutions of similar past problems. For example, a staff judge advocate (SJA) who advocates a specific outcome in a case based on legal precedents is using CBR. Using CBR, the AR could use a survey with built-in feedback indicators to continuously identify Soldiers and Civilians in the USAR, their skillsets, employment, education, and certifications. Using artificial intelligence (AI), the survey would quickly identify a good match. For example, a Soldier states he or she is an engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), yet the AR shows the Soldier is a Quartermaster (QM) Officer and does not identify this special skillset. Or the AR receives a mission requiring the need for an MDO formation, specifically for medical EMS requirements. Using this new approach would allow us the ability to quickly identify a Soldier working with electromagnetic radiation technology for SpaceX, yet the AR shows the Soldier is an 88N. Or we can identify a Soldier with a degree in epidemiology, where the AR shows the Soldier is a 42A. This new approach would be a fundamental requirement to build a USAR MDO formation. What is interesting is this is a formation we already have; we just don't realize it. We already have a force that can provide these key capabilities. We just need to create a system that changes, adapts, and evolves to emerging needs.

Case-Based Reasoning (CBR) Description
Case Base General knowledge in the center.
New Case New problem.
Retrieve (step 1) Match new case with case base.
Reuse (step 2) Change by combining new case with case base.
Revise (step 3) Test and verify new solution.
Retain (step 4) Adapt case base with new solution.
New Solution Evolve case base.

Case-Based Reasoning (CBR)

The ideal technology for CBR is one that is currently in use in the Department of Defense (DoD): Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology. RPA is essentially a system where a bot is created, launched, and watches a user perform a task in the application's graphical user interface (GUI). It then performs the automation by repeating those tasks directly in the GUI. The bot mimics the behavior of a human to perform back-end processing. It uses a user’s keyboard and mouse controls to take actions and execute automations without the use of a physical screen as it interprets the screen display electronically. All actions take place in a virtual environment without the need for a large information technology (IT) investment. For example, once an Army Reserve Unit Administrator (ARA) is hired, along with a computer with a bot installed (one that has learned to mimic the right processes from an experienced administrator), the new hire could simply boot up his or her computer and click a button to receive the required data (such as a Readiness update). The bot would then quickly search through data to compile findings in one document within minutes.

What is the Fifth Element?

In MDO, this fifth element is the Human Domain. Our actions and behaviors are guided by this domain. Or, as Eliyahu Goldratt remarked in his book The Choice, "Tell me how you measure me, and I'll tell you how I will behave." If we seek to understand this domain, we must first change our behaviors, which will adapt the conditions, and then ultimately lead to a different outcome. Thus, we must change how we measure our behaviors and think hard about the measurement. In changing how we think about and measure our behaviors, we will find one thing that impacts the entire system: the fifth element. To do this, we must follow the advice of T. E. Lawrence and focus less on the body and more on the head.


Dr. Jeff Reilly, director of joint education at the Air Command and Staff College and director of the college's Multi-Domain Operational Strategist concentration, discussed MDO and the continuum of domains in Over the Horizon: The Multi-Domain Operational Strategist (MDOS):

A linear explanation of this continuum is control or access to critical segments of the EMS allows Space to provide key enablers for Air, Land, and Sea domains. This ultimately provides a means of influence or control over the most important domain of all — the Human domain. Understanding the continuum of domains and its potential for asymmetric maneuver requires a fundamental knowledge of the EMS and its core properties. This is because an emerging digital ecosystem, which allows advanced technology to function, resides in and is governed by the EMS's frequencies and wavelengths of photons.

Reilly defines a domain as a "critical macro maneuver space whose access or control is vital to the freedom of action and superiority required by the mission." However, a domain in this context is not that much different than say, a domain name in a web browser, where it is a way to identify a string defining a realm of control within the internet. In U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Pamphlet 525-3-1: The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, the Army proposes a series of solutions to solve the problem of “layered standoff.” The central idea in solving this problem is the rapid and continuous integration of all domains of warfare to deter and prevail as the Army competes short of armed conflict.

The domains include Air, Land, Maritime, Space, Cyberspace, Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS), and the Human Domain. Each domain has a specific trait, yet there is only one domain that controls all other domains if we understood it correctly. This is the Human Domain. Once we understand this, we can use our expertise to focus on the creation of new technologies that will be used in the future.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) as Viewed through the Sense - Estimate - Establish (SEE) Model

Electromagnetic (EM) energy travels in waves and spans a broad spectrum from very long radio waves to very short gamma rays. EM waves are similar to ocean waves. They both transmit energy; EM waves travel through the vacuum of space at the constant speed of light. EM waves have crest and troughs like ocean waves. The distance between crest is the wavelength. Some are extremely tiny and measured in nanometers. One wave or cycle per second is called a hertz (HZ). Long waves, such as radio waves, have the lowest frequency and carry the lowest energy. Adding energy increases the frequency of the wave and makes the wavelength shorter, such as gamma rays. These waves are flowing across the spectrum and through you right now.

We can tune to the EMS just as we tune into a radio station. We can create perfect circles (focal points) by determining where we want to focus – the fifth element. MDO uses the Human Domain to sense information about the environment, estimate the situation and logic to process information, and finally establish a quick and informed decision about which action to take: this is the analogy of turning the wave into a perfect circle. Essentially, the Human Domain allows us to SEE the fifth element.

The fifth element helps us to create and shatter what all systems seek: equilibrium. To beat an enemy, we must introduce multiple dilemmas to disrupt their equilibrium. We can use electromagnetic radiation technology to identify which domains to disrupt and identify which of our domains are being attacked. What is needed is advanced technology allowing us to identify wavelengths for an enemy. For example, this technology needs to be able to distinguish when they are attacking versus fleeing. Visualize the identification of this as changing from a wave to a circle. We propose the AR use Soldiers working for academic or private organizations to assist with developing this technology.

Increasing Velocity, Not Mass

In physics, kinetic energy is a proportion to mass and exponentially proportion to velocity.  Suppose we were to focus on the velocity (time). In that case, we deliver formations to combatant commands, instead of the mass (formation size), we can provide more kinetic energy (impact) for the commands they support.  To help outline our idea, we will use physics, specifically kinematics, as an analogy focusing on smaller formations and delivering them to combatant commands faster.

Kinetic energy is defined as energy that a body possesses by virtue of being in motion. Whereas potential energy is the energy possessed by a body by virtue of its position relative to others. Potential energy is something the AR possesses right now. To visualize the difference, imagine standing at a cliff and holding a ball out in front of you. This is potential energy. Now imagine dropping the ball off a cliff. This is kinetic energy. You are transferring potential energy into kinetic energy. MDO formations would turn potential energy into kinetic energy.

The formula for kinetic energy is KE (or E) = 1/2 mv^2. Imagine moving a formation from one location to the next. KE depends on the speed for which you move the formation. The faster the formation moves, the more work it can do. KE is dependent upon the square of the velocity (v). At twice the speed, the formation has four times the energy. KE also depends on the mas of the formation. A larger formation could do more work on something. Imagine one formation is equal to 1 kg, and our goal is to move the formations faster (m/s ^2). If we have 2 kg (2 formations) x 1 m/s^2 x 1/2 = 1 Joule (J). A joule is a derived unit of energy. However, if we need to get to an area quicker, we could send 1 kg x 2 m/s^2 x 1/2 = 2 J. By this analogy, we can focus on velocity and send the same two formations to an area, one at a time, much faster and deliver four times the energy (1 J to 4 J). This change would prevent an enemy or need from outpacing the force sent.

The change in focus of velocity over mass could move AR forces mobilizing from months to days and would add immediate value to the joint force. The goal with this approach is to move from the point of contact to the desired location with zero mobilization preparation time. Imagine the required need or enemy is the spread of a rising insurgency over time. The typical approach is to build up formations to attack an enemy to send the maximum amount needed—however, this approach sacrifices time. By the time the formation is needed, the need or enemy might have outgrown the required formation. Conversely, if we were to send smaller chunks faster, we could send multiple iterations to stop the spread and ultimately kill the insurgency. We could send half the force and get more work done much faster than the traditional approach.

Synthetic Formations

With In Our Own Image, Zarkadakis writes about context and meaning:

Zeros and ones do not exist outside the physical world. They are a representation of energy flows in physical substrates. That is why pure information is fundamentally meaningless. It acquires meaning only in context. Context affects meaning. And contexts need thinking minds.

The AR must find ways to filter out the irrelevant. We must begin with a focus on eliminating those things that we cannot and should not be doing. Only then can we establish the conditions in the Human Domain to focus on what we can and should be doing. To do this, we must first establish the right conditions within the AR. These conditions would be centered on context and the reshuffling of pieces.

Zarkadakis writes about the concept of synthetic biology:

By reshuffling the pieces of base pairs and putting them in different sequences, biologists 'recombine' DNA molecules. This means that, given the basic parts (the A-T and G-C pairs), one can synthesize any organism's DNA if one knows the genome of that organism. Indeed, one can put together completely new organisms, in what is called 'synthetic biology.'

The AR should use the same idea and adopt synthetic formations. Yet, instead of putting together completely new organisms by shuffling and recombination, the AR would be putting together completely new formations by shuffling and recombining Soldiers and their skillsets.

This continuous effort of shuffling and combining would improve the entire Reserve force. Janine Benyus writes in Innovation Inspired by Nature, “plants that grow next to different but complementary neighbors don't have to compete the way they do when grown next to an identical plant.” They do not compete for the same level of water nor sunlight. Instead of pouring energy into a force competing with the AC, why not embrace a force that has unmatched expert capabilities? We should design a force that is able to spend the least amount of time training (our experts do this already as civilians), one that is light on equipment and heavily dependent upon civilian acquired and developed skills – skills that have already been acquired and developed.


In crafting this idea, we used a framework developed by Derek and Laura Cabrera at Cornell University. In Flock Not Clock, they explain a framework known as Vision (V), Mission (M), Capacity (C), and Learning (L). We used this framework to build an MDO formation that can find what's needed, what the AC can't provide, and provide it.

VMCL Description
Vision Low Cost, High Impact Warfare
Mission USAR identifies and provides Highly Specialized Technicians (HST)
Capacity Remove barriers so that Technician Talent Teams (TTT) in a Specialized Technician Management (STM) command can provide a need that the AC can't in 24 hours.
Learning The creation of feedback indicators from the Company to USARC allowing the STM to receive continuous feedback to modify the TTT.

USAR MDO Formations VMCL

The USAR ranks are filled by citizen Soldiers that possess numerous skills obtained from their civilian experience. Tracking these skills has been handled through web-based systems such as My2xCitizen, Army Knowledge Online (AKO), etc.  But how does the AR use that information?

We propose the USAR forms a new formation to track specialized technicians within our ranks. This Specialized Technician Management (STM) command would be a direct reporting unit (DRU) to the Chief Army Reserve (CAR) and consist of a small, autonomous team that is solely dedicated to managing Soldiers that belong to Troop Program Unit (TPU), think traditional Army Reserve Soldiers, and possess highly technical skills such as engineers, healthcare professionals, physicists, etc. The STM would consist of a command team, technician talent team (TTT), research and analysis team (RAT), and headquarters section for unit support. STM's mission would be to identify and provide highly specialized technicians in support of combatant and functional commands in all domains.

The command team would consist of a senior field grade officer as the commander, senior enlisted advisor, and a civilian executive officer (CXO). The commander would report directly to the CAR and provide for basic leadership/command responsibilities for the STM.  The senior enlisted advisor would function in a traditional role to the commander, such as how a Command Sergeant Major (CSM) advises a Battalion Commander. The CXO would handle an executive officer's traditional duties while providing continuity within the STM as commanders and senior enlisted advisors rotate through tenures.

The headquarters element of the STM would resemble a traditional company headquarters in the Army. The headquarters would consist of human resource specialists, supply specialists, and training personnel for internal training needs.

The RAT would employ personnel that are proficient with operating systems such as AI and data collection to identify TPU Soldiers within AR formations with the needed skillsets. Their primary focus would be on civilian acquired skills that can be leveraged in support of the National Defense Strategy (NDS) and combatant and functional command needs. The RAT will then pass the potential HST list to the TTT. Their task will be continuous to ensure HSTs are identified as they acquire new skills through their civilian experience.

The TTT is the center of gravity for the STM. The TTT's primary function will consist of liaising with combatant and functional commands to ascertain what expertise they need and cannot fill within their own formations. The TTT will continually scrub data provided by the RAT and identify HSTs that may be able to provide a positive impact for combatant and functional commands.  Once the HST is identified, the TTT will maintain a relationship with the HST and continually communicate with them to ensure these individuals maintain a high level of readiness in order to quickly mobilize in support of a combatant or functional commands mission. When an HST is called upon for mobilization, the TTT will personally work the HST mobilization process, maintain communication with the HST and support the command throughout the mobilization, and personally work the demobilization process for the HST.

The key to success is the autonomous nature of the STM and its direct relationship with the CAR.  To prevent paralysis by analysis, the STM will need to be flexible, led by a strong leader with authority to make decisions on the makeup of the TTTs, and a rank that enables them to work through potential issues HSTs during their mobilization/demobilization process. The leader must possess an adaptive mindset, similar to the mindset taught in the Red Team School. The TTT itself will need to be made up of technical experts able to analyze the needs of combatant and functional commanders and quickly identify HSTs that have the skills and experience to address those needs. The TTT must be a fluid team that can be added to and taken away from as the needs of combatant and functional commands evolve.

We propose a multi-faceted approach to maintain HSTs within the AR formations as this idea clearly has the potential to create undesirable relationships between TPU Soldiers and their employers and the stress for the TPU to remain on a quick mobilization status. To address the first, the STM can work with HST employers, within the limits of current laws and regulations, to send HSTs to civilian technical training/certification. This will provide the employer with an employee that is more advanced in their career and provide the USAR with an HST that has more developed skills to support developing needs across the Army. To maintain retention of the HSTs themselves, the AR, again within current laws and regulations, can provide a bonus for being identified as an HST, work HSTs through an on/off short notice cycle (one year on notice, one year off notice), and utilize the civilian technical training/certification mentioned above.

In conclusion, the STM would work directly for the CAR and build relationships with combatant and functional commands, civilian employers, and TPU Soldiers possessing needed technical skills.  The STM would work with these three elements to provide HSTs to address the Army's needs in the shortest possible time. By focusing on the element of velocity, the STM will deliver the maximum amount of energy to combatant and functional commands. The organizational makeup of the STM is envisioned below.

The Genius Loci of the Joint Force

Col. Curt Taylor and Maj. Larry Kay provide a superb discussion of MDO in the August Modern War Institute article Putting the Enemy Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Multi-Domain Operations in Practice. They say the Army’s vision of how it will fight in the future rests on the notion of the “dilemma.” As described by Taylor and Kay:

Multi-domain operations as a concept propose that the joint force can achieve competitive advantage over a near-peer adversary by presenting multiple complementary threats that each requires a response, thereby exposing adversary vulnerabilities to other threats. The artful combination of these multiple dilemmas, rather than a clear overmatch in terms of any particular capability, produces the desired advantage.

If we achieve this artful combination, it will mean that we have focused on the Human Domain. Todd Schmidt wrote about the importance of this domain. He discussed “cognitive overmatch” in The Missing Domain of War: Achieving Cognitive Overmatch on Tomorrow's Battlefield. Schmidt asserted, "this intellectual overmatch... cannot be achieved without substantially enhancing the cognitive capacities of our military."

If we look at MDO formations like a light looking for the genius loci or the genius of the place, then the USAR should be the hidden gem discovered by the light. Formations should be developed similar to how we, as humans, examine a scene. We look at a scene by locating curious parts and develop a three-dimensional mental map of the scene. To develop an accurate scene, we must follow the advice offered in a letter from T. E. Lawrence to Basil Liddel Hart in June 1933, and develop citizen Soldiers who, after studying MDO, can make key decisions at their finger-ends.

"I was not an instinctive soldier, automatic with intuitions, and happy ideas. When I took a decision or adopted an alternative, it was after studying every relevant - and many an irrelevant - factor. Geography, tribal structure, religion, social customs, language, appetites, standards - all were at my finger-ends. The enemy I knew almost like my own side. I risked myself among them a hundred times, to learn." - from Lawrence of Arabia On War: The Campaign In The Desert 1916-1918, by Rob Johnson

To make key decisions at our finger-ends, we must first follow Dr. Daniels' advice and change the way we see and understand data. Only then can we locate and focus on the critical fifth element – the required element for an MDO formation.

MAJ Jamie Schwandt, USAR, is a logistics officer and red team member. He is certified as a Department of the Army Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and has a doctorate from Kansas State University.

MSG Anthony Livernois, USAR, is a maintenance NCO. He is studying electrical engineering at Arizona State University.

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