The Quest for Jointness

Sept. 1, 2001

The 1983 Grenada rescue mission went into the books as a success, but there was no denying that major problems had plagued its hastily assembled US Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps units. Their radios and tactics and even their maps were incompatible. At times, near-confusion reigned.

The 1991 Persian Gulf War was carefully prepared, but even there, mismatched computers and differing operational concepts weakened the air campaign. In Operation Allied Force in 1999, the Army was unable to integrate its Apache attack helicopters into the joint force Balkan air campaign.

These are examples of the kinds of disconnects that are said to hamper US power, prolong conflicts, and cause unnecessary casualties, despite repeated efforts to blend service capabilities into a unified force. Congress and the Department of Defense hate such disconnects. For decades, they have pursued the ideal of “jointness,” and while they haven’t fully succeeded, they show no signs of giving up.

Far from it. US Joint Forces Command, a multiservice organization whose creation was pushed by Congress, is working harder than ever to close gaps between individual service procedures, systems, and doctrine that are said to be blocking the path to the attainment of true jointness. And the services themselves appear determined to do their part.

The bedrock of the unification effort is the work performed by the command’s Joint Experimentation Directorate, which directs tests and experiments to develop and demonstrate new concepts, tactics, and hardware needed to integrate service operations. It is an urgent task, contends David Ozolek, who is deputy director of the directorate’s Joint Futures Laboratory.

“In the past, we really haven’t fought a joint campaign,” said Ozolek, a retired Army colonel. “What we’ve fought are air, maritime, and land campaigns that were unified by a joint commander’s vision and intent.” In Ozolek’s view, “The joint forces commander was in the role of-at worst-deconflicting those service capabilities and–at best–trying to synchronize them and get them to work on common objectives.”

As jointness advocates tell it, one need only examine recent operations to see the kinds of problems USJFCOM is trying to fix.

Grenada. It was an operation to rescue US students caught in the chaos of a bloody power struggle on that Caribbean island. However, the lead Army commander could not make contact with Navy warships just offshore. He had to fly out to the flagship to communicate with the admiral in overall command. Marines who had come ashore could not talk to the Army troops or the Air Force AC-130 gunships with whom they had to coordinate.

The Gulf War. The Navy had stationed six huge aircraft carriers in nearby waters. However, the communications systems on the carriers were not equipped to handle USAF’s computer-generated air tasking order, the blueprint that was supposed to guide all coalition combat air operations in the theater. As a result, Navy warplanes at times didn’t participate. Elsewhere, Marine officers shifted their airplanes from the combined air war to the support of their own ground forces, which Marines view as the main purpose of their organic airpower.

Allied Force. The Army’s Task Force Hawk in Albania, equipped with AH-64 Apache attack aircraft, demonstrated problems with how the Army operates in a joint environment, said a recent General Accounting Office report. The Army had no established procedure for integrating the Apaches into the USAF-led NATO air campaign plan. In the end, concern about their effectiveness and vulnerability kept the Apaches on the ground, anyway.

Though DOD formally established USJFCOM in 1999, Congress had actually launched the new jointness push years before. In 1993, DOD handed US Atlantic Command the mission of developing joint capabilities for the US military, changing its acronym from LANTCOM to USACOM. In 1998, the Pentagon made USACOM the executive agent for joint warfighting experimentation. It was renamed US Joint Forces Command on Oct. 7, 1999.

The first USJFCOM Commander in Chief (and last for USACOM), Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., jumped into the effort with exceptional combativeness. He vowed to “duke it out” with the service chiefs in Washington, if necessary, and “capture” major service exercises “for our own use” in instilling jointness.

Picking Winners and Losers

Gehman claimed, for example, that his standing as the leader of joint experimentation would allow him to select which service warfighting concepts would or would not be approved–a statement tailor-made to infuriate service leaders. It seemed to be a deliberate provocation.

“I’ve received nothing but promises of cooperation from the services,” said Gehman. “However, I have not progressed far enough where I’ve bumped up against anybody yet. So, stay tuned. Wait until next year-until I take somebody on or lay some marker down. … When it starts costing money or starts bumping up against the service doctrine or something like that, or if we start picking winners and losers, which we will eventually have to do, then I can anticipate loud, sucking noises through front teeth.”

Duking It Out

He went on, “When it finally gets down to it, this is going to be a choice of resources and doctrinal issues. … I will come to town, equally armed as a service chief. Now, people are starting to get nervous. And we will start to duke it out.”

Two years later, near the end of his tenure, Gehman struck a more collegial pose, making this statement in April 2000 to a group of defense reporters: “[Duking it out] has not happened. I am gratified at that. It probably has not happened mostly because we’ve become smarter at what we do. … I don’t have any authority. I am not a czar. My job is to go out and find the right answer and to advocate the joint interoperable approach. … I am the advocate of interoperability.”

Even so, Gehman asserted that, in about half a dozen areas, joint requirements should surpersede service requirements.

Last year, command of USJFCOM was taken by Army Gen. William F. Kernan, a move that broke a decades-long naval stranglehold on the Norfolk, Va.-based headquarters. (All of its commanders had been US Navy or US Marine Corps officers.)

Vice Adm. Martin J. Mayer, USJFCOM deputy Commander in Chief, said the command’s efforts are focused on C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, and Computers plus Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance). The goal is to enable future commanders “to shorten our decision time,” said the admiral.

Other areas of experimentation are: combat identification, theater air and missile defense, attack operations against critical mobile targets, deep strike and battlefield interdiction, joint deployment, joint simulation, and battlefield awareness. The joint experimentation directorate already is working on a joint interoperable planning process that would “create an environment for collaborative planning and decision making,” Ozolek said. It is, in short, a standing joint service headquarters.

He went on, “Today, when we form a joint headquarters, we typically grab a service command … [and] designate it a joint task force, then try to fuse some joint capability into that. That has not always been as successful as we’d like.”

According to a USJFCOM statement: “The current joint task force is an ad hoc organization. It is widely acknowledged that a standing joint force headquarters will greatly improve our response to world situations.”

Ozolek explained that USJFCOM proposes to develop and hand over to the regional CINCs “some inherently joint capability” to be on the scene “before they form the joint headquarters.” Then, they can “feed the service connections” into the core group. That should give the CINCs’ staff the power to begin planning for a contingency much earlier than is usually the case.

Army Lt. Col. Kevin Woods, who served as the director of USJFCOM’s latest major experiment, said the concept of the “joint standing headquarters” would replace the current “ad hoc method” of creating a staff for contingency operations. One would be based in the geographic area of each CINC.

Even with service augmentation, Woods said, the forward based staff should be kept small in number. It should have reachback capability–that is, the ability through telecommunications to communicate instantaneously with experts in the Pentagon, State Department, and other security institutions.

Army Col. Chris Shepherd, another leader of the experimentation unit, said the advantage of having a full-time “core” joint staff element located in a theater is that its members would be familiar with their duties and the region and not have to catch up with events, as is true with the current system.

Officials at USJFCOM emphasize that much initial work is focused on ways to quickly combine different capabilities of the services, which mainly means generating improvements in communications.

Ozolek explained that the experimenters seek to develop a means for creating a “common relevant air picture” by linking all the US military sensors, blending their data, and distributing the picture rapidly throughout the forces in action.

“I’m a big fan of standing joint task force headquarters,” Kernan said July 17 in Washington. “The power of a standing joint task force [headquarters] is that you get people assigned for three or four years, they develop their staff procedures, they get to know one another, there’s a personal relationship that enables them to [do] things fairly quickly.”

Rapid Decisive Operations

The command also has gone to work refining the concept of Rapid Decisive Operations. USJFCOM’s official definition: “A concept to achieve rapid victory by attacking the coherence of an enemy’s ability to fight. It is the synchronous application of the full range of our national capabilities in timely and direct effects-based operations. It employs our asymmetric advantages in the knowledge, precision, and mobility of the joint force against his critical functions to create maximum shock, defeating his ability and will to fight.”

RDO is at the center of a USJFCOM plan to conduct a series of experiments in future years. The two-phase joint experiments will have the phases occurring in successive years. The first step of the current pair, conducted in May, was called Unified Vision 2001. It used computer simulation with opposing teams of active and retired senior officers to test an RDO in a realistic multiservice operation projected as occurring later in this decade. It was a high-end, small-scale contingency that had the potential to escalate to a major theater war.

In describing the experiment, the participants used a number of terms and concepts with a clear Air Force pedigree.

The experiment employed effects-based warfare to attack the coherence of an enemy. “Instead of attacking his warfighting capabilities, we attack his war-making capabilities,” Ozolek said, using terms commonly used by Maj. Gen. David A. Deptula, now in charge of USAF’s input to the Quadrennial Defense Review.

Retired Marine Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm, former Commander in Chief of US Southern Command, was the joint forces commander for the three-week test. He said the first week involved studying and refining the operational net assessment, the second week shifted into effects-based planning, and the final week saw the conduct of effects-based operations in the RDO context.

A key part of RDO is the operational net assessment, which can enable a commander “to assess an adversary as a system of systems” and attack him as such, Wilhelm said.

Following in the wake of Unified Vision 2001 will be Millennium Challenge 2002. That experiment is to use essentially the same conditions, scenario, and force structure seen in Unified Vision 2001, only with the employment of thousands of real forces operating on land and sea and in the air over much of the southwestern United States, Ozolek said.

In the future, USJFCOM will repeat the cycle to perfect concepts and equipment tested earlier and to work on new ideas and gear.

Service Support

Surprisingly, perhaps, the services appear eager to get USJFCOM’s help in improving joint operations, Ozolek said. A survey of the services’ own experimentation verified the claim.

Lt. Col. Daniel Bryan, deputy director of assessments for the Air Force Experimentation Office at Langley AFB, Va., said it merged its Expeditionary Force Experiment with Millennium Challenge 2000. It will do the same with the 2002 experiments.

“We’re pretty excited and pleased with the way it lines up with Millennium Challenge ’02,” he said of USAF’s experiment.

Rear Adm. Robert Sprigg, commander of the Naval Warfare Development Command at Newport, R.I., said the Navy adjusted the schedule for its fleet battle experiments to tie them in with USJFCOM’s trials. “We think the insights we gain early in a joint environment will give all our services the information they need to avoid some of the pitfalls that we’ve seen in the past, when some of our systems were less than interoperable,” Sprigg said.

The Army and Marines have done the same with their previously independent experiments. The Army intends to test the capabilities of its emerging “objective force” in the Millennium Challenge 2002 experiments.

While many regard USJFCOM’s steps as necessary and overdue, the view is not unanimous. The rise of jointness at least implies some decline in the power of the individual services. Some officers express concern that USJFCOM will try to dictate terms on weapons and other types of equipment, areas traditionally in the domain of the service chiefs and senior generals and admirals.

“I believe we all can work together on this,” observes Gen. James L. Jones, Commandant of the Marine Corps. He added, however, that there could be clashes between the services’ Title 10 duty to organize, train, and equip their forces and USJFCOM’s duties to seek jointness. “That’s something we’re working on,” said Jones

“I don’t know how that’s going to fall out,” Bryan said about the procurement process. Although he expected USJFCOM to make recommendations based on its experiments, he felt confident it would not interfere with the services’ choice of weapons.

To a man, USJFCOM officials vowed they will not try to direct the services’ own transformation processes or weapon development. Mayer emphasized, “Hardware is the services’ prerogative. We don’t do that.” For example, he said, “We will not tell the Navy how to build a ship.”

Ozolek contended, “I don’t see the joint experimentation program as a threat to the services’ force development role. I see it as a tool they can use to assist their own force development. [The services] still retain primacy within their core competencies. We’re not going to tell them how to fight a … battle or how to build the systems required to do that.”

Joint Intent

However, USJFCOM does plan to establish what it calls the “joint intent” at the start of each service’s weapon development process. If the joint intent precedes the services’ development of forces or operational concepts, explains Ozolek, “it will allow us to take jointness down to the lowest common level.” It would allow a future unified combat leader to “move from deconflicting to synchronizing” his forces, he said.

The new push for jointness has the support of the Bush Administration. It added $15 million for joint experimentation in its supplemental defense appropriation request for Fiscal 2001 and then doubled–to $100 million–the annual funding for joint experiments in the 2002 budget.

Experimentation got a political boost recently. Two studies commissioned by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld emphasized, on the one hand, the need for more joint experimentation and, on the other hand, the need for formation of intrinsically joint headquarters and even fighting forces.

The so-called Conventional Forces Study concluded that the greatest untapped potential for US forces is “truly integrated jointness.” Its highest investment priorities were joint Command-and-Control systems, which the study chairman, David C. Gompert, called “absolutely essential.” Most C2 systems are not built for integrated operations, said Gompert, adding, “If we’re serious about taking jointness to the next level, there has to be a significant investment to replace noninteroperable joint Command-and-Control systems with interoperable ones.”

The Conventional Forces report also recommended formation of joint response forces, which it described as “operationally joint capabilities” provided by the services to be integrated and used by a theater CINC.

Retired Air Force Gen. James McCarthy, who led Rumsfeld’s Transformation Study, reported that the “integration and synergy that true jointness brings is the most powerful transformation concept.” McCarthy said service transformation should focus on forming “Global Joint Response Forces,” which could provide in 24 hours a fully integrated, long-range, multiservice strike force able to set the stage for larger intervention.

Otto Kreisher is a Washington, D.C.-based military affairs reporter for Copley News Service and a regular contributor to Air Force Magazine. His most recent article, “Flying the Unfriendly Skies of America,” appeared in the June 2000 issue.