Cover: Multi-Domain Integration in Defence

Multi-Domain Integration in Defence

Conceptual Approaches and Lessons from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea

Published Jan 20, 2022

by James Black, Alice Lynch, Kristian Gustafson, David Blagden, Pauline Paillé, Fiona Quimbre

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Research Questions

  1. How do Russia, China, Iran and North Korea think about domains and how, if at all, do they conceptualise Multi-Domain Integration?
  2. What drives the development of Multi-Domain Integration concepts by Russia, China, Iran and North Korea?
  3. How do Russia, China, Iran and North Korea's concepts of Multi-Domain Integration manifest in practice?
  4. What does the current literature suggest about the future developments and approaches to Multi-Domain Integration by Russia, China, Iran and North Korea?

The UK is confronted with a strategic and operational environment characterised by complex interactions between multiple domains (e.g., maritime, land, air, space and cyber and electromagnetic). To counter perceived Western military advantages, potential adversaries of the UK have developed ways of expanding the battlespace and blurring traditional distinctions between war and peace, public and private, domestic and foreign, and the physical and virtual. At the same time, new operational domains and environments present the UK, its allies and partners with novel opportunities to exploit the vulnerabilities of adversaries.

This proliferation of domains increases the necessity but also the difficulty of developing and implementing effective strategy and operational art. This mounting challenge necessitates the development of new operating concepts as a guide to future capability and force development, ensuring that the UK has a coherent theory of how to prepare, operate, deter, fight and win.

In this context, the Global Strategic Partnership, a research consortium led by RAND Europe, was commissioned by the UK Ministry of Defence to support the development of a UK concept of Multi-Domain Integration. This seeks to enable the UK to maintain advantage by exploiting the integration of activities across domains. In particular, the study aimed to investigate the nature, extent and drivers of adversaries' own evolving thinking on this topic.

The study findings contributed to the development of the UK concept of Multi-Domain Integration and the associated Joint Concept Note (JCN) 1/20.

Key Findings

Multi-domain thinking in context

  • In understanding the multi-domain approaches of potential adversaries, it is useful to distinguish the 'narrow' military operational aspects from the broader context of geopolitical and strategic competition.

Focus on information advantage

  • Russia, China, Iran and North Korea all emphasise superiority in the information domain as critical to success in a multi-domain conflict, with a particular focus on seizing a decisive advantage in the competition phase or early stages of a conflict.
  • Systems thinking shapes adversary approaches to countering perceived Western military superiority, with an emphasis on striking key nodes or linkages within that 'system of systems' to paralyse and disrupt command and control.

Translating emerging concepts into practice

  • The emergence of multi-domain thinking in Russia, China, Iran and North Korea has been largely reactive, shaped by threat perceptions and their own geostrategic realities. In the absence of explicit doctrine, some adversary activities (e.g., force structuration and modernisation, reforms, capabilities acquisition, operations) are nonetheless indicative of multi-domain concepts beginning to translate into practice.


  • There is an important difference between multi-domain doctrine (theory) and multi-domain posture (practice), and the UK should seek to bridge that gap as it matures its own approach to Multi-Domain Integration.
  • The UK should not project Western constructs onto adversary approaches to multi-domain thinking but must understand these on their own terms if the UK is to effectively counter them.
  • Potential adversaries do not possess perfect knowledge of UK and Western concepts or intentions, raising the risk of unintended consequences if each side misreads the other's evolving approach to Multi-Domain Integration.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the Global Strategic Partnership (GSP) and conducted by RAND Europe.

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