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  • Bobby Lansing

Why is MDO such a tough problem to solve?

Infinite complexity


Consider the systems, organizations, and workflows necessary to extend American power across the globe. Countless operations centers run 24/7 to manage the assets and personnel necessary to drop bombs in foreign countries, conduct humanitarian relief missions, and secure the Homeland from threats both internal and external. Those operations centers have complex hierarchies, tactics, and systems to simultaneously maintain and improve. Some of these things are centrally managed by large committees of incredibly smart people, others are run by small groups where the operators at the tip of the spear create and implement best practices.

Now consider the large organization dynamics at play to resource these centers with funding and personnel. It's a constant battle to secure and keep annual funding, while others try to justify its reallocation. The same is true for people, a centrally managed asset. These are just a few examples of how complex this problem is. I call it infinitely complex because there are so many variables in play that can lead to mission success or failure. What you might call unknown unknowns.


A problem like this does not need a solution, it needs a solution framework. A way in which these organizations can effectively work together to achieve radical success while taking into account their individual needs. This is where Agility is key. An Agility focused framework provides a lofty vision and allows the operations arms to figure out how.


The Chief of Staff of the Air Force's (CSAF's) vision is Multi-Domain Operations (MDO). While it quickly became a buzz word Air Force units and contractors started throwing around to vie for more funding and personnel, it is a solid vision of the future of military operations. The vision requires us to think in a different way. To understand that coordination and integration of operations is the goal because disparate units working together will be a dramatic force multiplier ensuring American hegemony for decades to come.


However central planning for MDO will not work. There should not be one program office or authority, because this is not a network or computer program, but an operational concept. It cannot and should not be owned by a single office, but the various players must learn to synchronize their development instead of fight easier l each other for resources. In essence, we need Multi-Domain Development (MDD) first, before we can achieve native MDO. What's funny about this is that the ultimate solution to MDO is also not a system, but a framework. This framework would allow the agility necessary for new datasets, applications, and capabilities to come online without reengineering the rest of the system. We can't take a typical top-down approach to MDO or MDD, it must be bottom-up and middle-out.

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