US Army deploys a completely new type of cyber missile unit as part of Aukus alliance

An M270 tracked multiple launch rocket system vehicle fires a missile. Such vehicles, or the wheeled Himars, can carry various types of weapons including the GMLRS, ATACMS and the new Precision Strike Missile (PrSM)
An M270 tracked multiple launch rocket system vehicle fires a missile. Such vehicles, or the wheeled Himars, can carry various types of weapons including the GMLRS, ATACMS and the new Precision Strike Missile (PrSM)

The United States Army’s newly established Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF) in the Pacific is a completely new kind of military unit. Armed with an array of cutting-edge technologies, such as high-altitude balloons, Precision Strike Missiles, cyber warfare units and unmanned systems, the MDTF is also the first real world manifestation of the lesser-known second pillar of the Australia-UK-US defence pact – Aukus.

Although Aukus Pillar 1, which concentrates on nuclear-powered submarines, has garnered much attention. Pillar 2 is less known. It involves advanced capabilities, including hypersonics, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence, and is equally, if not more, significant.

In the words of the agreement itself: “Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are pooling the talents of our defence sectors to catalyse, at an unprecedented pace, the delivery of advanced capabilities.”

The 3rd MDTF, headquartered in Hawaii, really illustrates this kind of thinking and it also indicates how seriously the US Army takes its dedication to Multi-Domain Operations. Multi-Domain Operations refers to the strategic integration of capabilities across all domains of warfare—land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace.

The task force will welcome five Australian and three British officers this summer. General Charles Flynn, the US Army Pacific Commander, referred to this as the “initial seed corn of creating that combined capability,” showcasing the collaborative nature of Aukus Pillar 2.

Pillar 2 of the agreement aims to integrate science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains related to security and defence in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The goal is to expedite the adoption of critical technologies and warfighting concepts, guaranteeing that allied forces remain at the forefront of contemporary warfare and ready to defend Western values.

The MDTFs are a major part of this. In accordance with a very wordy US Army Chief of Staff Paper, MDTFs are “theatre-level manoeuvre elements” that are “designed to synchronise precision effects and precision fires in all domains against adversary anti-access/area denial networks in all domains, enabling joint forces to execute their operational plan.”

What does all that jargon mean? Simply put, MDTFs are specialised units that integrate various advanced technologies to disrupt enemy defences and guarantee the freedom of movement and operation of US and allied forces, even in highly contested areas full of many bad guys with modern kit. China might think that its arsenal of missiles and interlocking sensors – combined with its growing naval power – could keep Aukus forces out of any fight over Taiwan or the Nine Dash Line. The 3rd MDTF is there to prove Beijing wrong.

At the heart of the MDTF’s formidable firepower is the Precision Strike Missile – successor to the powerful Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) which is now changing the shape of the battlefield in Ukraine. Co-developed with Australia, and planned for the British army, this missile enables strikes on high-value targets deep within enemy territory. As a ballistic weapon, it is considerably harder to defend against than cruise missiles such as the well known Tomahawk.

The MDTF also fields Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) weapons, mobile rocket artillery essential for rapid deployment and strike capability. The addition of Mid-Range and Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon batteries further strengthens the task force’s ability to deliver precise, long-range strikes crucial for penetrating – and crippling – sophisticated air defence networks.

You’ve probably heard of GMLRS, possibly under the name “Himars”. In fact the Himars vehicle can be used to carry GMLRS, ATACMS or Precision Strike. The system has proven to be an invaluable asset against peer forces, demonstrating its effectiveness in the fight against Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has even credited GMLRS missiles with significantly altering the course of the war against Russia.

The US-made system has been pivotal in hitting dozens of Russian targets, including command posts and ammunition depots, and disrupting supply lines to Russian-occupied territories. These missiles can reach up to 50 miles, more than double the range of classic howitzer guns most nations operate.

In Ukraine, GMLRS has been used effectively against fixed targets such as command centres, ammunition depots, and critical bridges, creating significant logistical challenges for Russian forces, something the MDTFs would be keen to emulate.

Beyond its impressive firepower, the MDTF integrates advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets. High-altitude balloons, for instance, offer persistent surveillance and communication relay capabilities. Unmanned aircraft systems enhance this capability, providing extended operational reach and real-time intelligence gathering.

The staff paper on the concept also holds up electronic warfare as another critical component of the MDTF’s operations, something we’re seeing the importance of in Ukraine. The ability to locate the enemy is often as important as jamming or intercepting his communications.

It is hoped that by integrating cyber, space, and electromagnetic spectrum capabilities, the MDTF can disrupt enemy communications, gather crucial intelligence, and protect its networks from cyber threats. The MDTF’s Intelligence, Information, Cyber, Electronic Warfare, and Space battalion forms the backbone of these efforts, bringing together military intelligence, signal companies, and extended-range sensing capabilities. This is vital for the MDTF’s ability to operate independently in remote and contested areas.

Exercises like the recent Talisman Sabre, the most significant bilateral military exercise between Australia and the United States, highlight the practical applications of these technologies. Colonel Michael Rose, commander of the 3rd MDTF, commented on the importance of these efforts after the exercise: “We have a continued set of work with the Australians and now, more and more, the United Kingdom partners, to build coordination mechanisms so that we can really accelerate our interoperability and ultimately achieve interchangeability.”

Rapid response to crises or conflicts necessitates this interoperability. The new MDTFs will play an increasingly critical role in the Indo-Pacific region by ensuring stability, enhancing the effectiveness of joint forces in the region, and deterring adversaries.

The UK stands to benefit significantly from this effort by gaining access to cutting-edge tech and thinking, not to mention strengthening its position in the Pacific through close cooperation with the US and Australia. The US Army’s Pacific revolution is underway.