DARPA office unveils "mosaic warfare" approach to future conflicts

ARLINGTON, Va. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA’s) Strategic Technology Office (STO) recently unveiled its updated approach to winning or deterring future conflicts, a strategy it is calling "mosaic warfare."

The foundation of STO’s updated strategy rests on the recognition that traditional U.S. asymmetric technology advantage — such as highly advanced satellites, stealth aircraft, or precision munitions — is lower than it once was due to increased global access to comparable high-tech systems and components, many of which are now commercially available. Additionally, the military has found that high cost and sometimes decades-long development timelines for new systems are unable to compete with the fast refresh rate of commercial electronics technology, a fast pace that can make new military systems obsolete before they’re even delivered.

STO’s updated strategy seeks to harness the power of dynamic, coordinated, and highly autonomous composable systems. The reasoning: By using less expensive systems brought together on demand as needed as the conflict unfolds, such effects "webs" would enable diverse, agile applications.

STO gives some examples: From a kinetic engagement in a remote desert setting, to multiple small strike teams operating in a bustling megacity, or an information operation to counter an adversary spreading false information in a population threatening friendly forces and strategic objectives -- such "mosaic" assemblagescan rapidly be tailored to accommodate available resources, adapt to dynamic threats, and be resilient to losses and attrition.

Dan Patt, deputy director of STO, said of the approach: “Applying the great flexibility of the mosaic concept to warfare, lower-cost, less complex systems may be linked together in a vast number of ways to create desired, interwoven effects tailored to any scenario. The individual parts of a mosaic are attritable [defined by the military as "disposable" or "expected to be lost"], but together are invaluable for how they contribute to the whole. This means that even if an adversary can neutralize a number of pieces of the mosaic, the collective can instantly respond as needed to still achieve the desired, overall effect.”

To further the new vision, STO has identified specific areas of interest for proposals to achieve next-generation composable effects webs: Situation Understanding, Multi-Domain Maneuver, Hybrid Effects, System of Systems (SoS), Maritime Systems, System of System-Enhanced Small Units (SESU), and Foundational Strategic Technologies and Systems. The agency has made a description of each area and proposal submission guidelines available in the STO office-wide BAA.