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Re-examining "Jointness"
Posted by: Dale Franks on Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I've been considering something the last few days, based on a few articles that have popped up in a number of places, including Armed Forces Journal, like this one, by Seth Cropsey, discussing the power and limits of jointness.

"Jointness" can be most easily defined as "unity of effort at the combatant command level" between all military services. But that definition is precisely where the trouble begins. It describes an end state, not a process. And, unfortunately, practically everyone has a different idea about what the process should be. As a result, jointness, as an operational concept, can mean practically anything, depending on who's speaking.
The question remains: Does a definition in a JCS publication exhaust the meaning of the term? Does "jointness" really describe the way members of the armed forces think, which service's procedures are followed in a joint command, how the lines in an organizational chart are drawn?

The term has intelligent substance in the U.S. military's training and operations. But, as retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor and New York Times military correspondent Michael Gordon relate in their book on the war in Iraq, "Cobra II," jointness has also transmogrified into a buzzword. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld worked directly with U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Tommy Franks throughout the planning and execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This irritated the Joint Chiefs, who did not always agree with the secretary or the combatant commander. Trainor and Gordon write that in a meeting with the JCS, Franks brushed aside criticism of the conduct of the war. The CentCom commander remarked that jointness is the "center of gravity of the U.S. military." He noted that "the [secretary of defense] has made his mark on the future. More joint, not less joint." That's a strange observation, because while the size of U.S. forces in Iraq, their ability to exploit transformation weapons and the military's plans for post-combat operations were — and remain — points of debate, jointness was not. "Jointness" has come to mean whatever the speaker wants. It's nearly empty of independent meaning.
Additionally, the concept has come to serve other purposes than the operational ones for which it was intended. On the policy-making side, it's often been used as an excuse to cut military acquisition programs, by claiming they duplicate systems already in use by another service, or to try to get all services to sign on to a single weapons system, such as the Joint Strike Fighter.

Where this confusion about jointness is most bothersome is where it intersects some important areas of our warfighting capability.

First, the method we've used to increase jointness, starting in WWII, and culminating in the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act, was to increase the voice of the combatant commanders, at the expense of the service commanders.

At first glance, this seems like a very good idea—and, in many ways, it is. The problem though, is that while the combatant commanders are the go-to guys when it comes to actually fighting wars, the service commanders are the go-to guys for training, force levels, and force structures. The combatant commander is most concerned with the short-term; what he needs right now to kill foreigners. The service commander, on the other hand, is concerned with the long term; what is our national security strategy, and what levels of force, and what types of forces and weapons systems do we need to conform to that strategy?

The combatant commander knows what he needs to fight the war he has, but he can only get what he needs from the service commanders, who may or may not have been training and equipping the force in the way the combatant commander finds most useful.

There have been a number of examples when this has cropped up.
There were interservice communications problems in Operation Urgent Fury, the 1983 invasion that replaced a communist government in Grenada. These may be part of the irreducible fog of war — a condition of combat not subject to legislation. Operation Iraqi Freedom, as one-sided a blitzkrieg as history has known, recorded similar problems. Some Air Force tankers were unable to refuel F-117s because they were configured solely for Navy aircraft. A failure to agree in advance on whether to use local or Greenwich Mean Time resulted in a near-disastrous delay of three hours before a Special Forces unit could receive reinforcement from larger conventional forces at a bridge on Iraqi Highway 1, the main invasion route north. Resolving these issues remains important, but larger ones have overtaken them.
The most important of these larger issues is that the service commanders are still stuck with a mandate to provide force-on-force training and weapons systems, but the combatant commanders are fighting asymmetrical conflicts. And that's a tension that won't be going away any time soon.
Traditional threats — in the form of states with territories, uniformed militaries and standing forces — still exist. China wants a military that matches the accelerating global power of its robust economy and, unlike the Soviet Union, has the means to buy one. North Korea, although desperately poor, has nuclear weapons and is working to increase the reach of the missiles that carry them. Iran's ruling mullahs, who surpass all other world leaders in hatred of the U.S., have missiles that can reach Europe and are trying to build nuclear weapons.

During the Cold War, U.S. defense planners argued about whether to plan to fight this or that number of wars of variable size and scope. But they were traditional wars fought with and against tanks, planes and ships that sortied from known positions with logistical requirements that, if difficult to interdict, were at least well-understood. Today, we must be prepared to fight two markedly different varieties of conflict: the shadowy kind and the traditional. But it is difficult for troops trained to the requirements of one mission to be equally proficient at the other.
As the JCS has put it, there's still a problem when "one compares the way the services train and prepare forces to perform service missions and the way the joint world prepares its forces to operate."

Second, and perhaps even more troubling, though far more subtle, is the quality of military advice the National Command Authority (NCA) receives. Say what you will about inter-service rivalry, but one of the things jointness tends to do is shut down competing voices in order to preserve the single joint voice advising the NCA on strategy and tactics. The final, corporate advice the NCA receives may not be the best advice, but rather the advice that's most palatable to the combatant commander. As a result, the NCA does not hear competing voices, or receive strategic or tactical alternatives to the "joint" advice of the combatant commander. We might pay a significant price in blood and treasure for this diminution of alternatives at a critical time.


It's almost impossible to argue against jointness as an operational concept, of course. Clearly combat power can be increased if all branches of the service can interoperate well. But, with that understood, there is no clear agreement on even how to achieve that.
[T]here are at least two competing views of how different force components should be used to increase combat effectiveness.

One view argues in favor of using the best qualified force component for a given mission which implies that overall combat effectiveness can be best enhanced by fitting forces to missions for which they are specialized. Let’s call this view the specialization argument. The other claims that higher combat effectiveness is made possible by combining forces in such a way that higher outputs result than could be achieved by simply adding the outputs of different forces. Let’s call this the synergism argument. These views don’t really represent two sides of the same jointness coin, and accepting one or the other ultimately leads to differing operational behavior and force structures.
This leads up back to the service commanders. Without a clear understanding of what jointness means, and how it's implemented at the operational level, the service commanders are at a loss to determine the training and force structure required.

Beyond that, one also notes another subtle, pernicious effect of the way we implement jointness at the operational level, which is that everybody gets a piece of the mission. We've seen this in both Gulf Wars. When we launched the air campaign, we didn't turn to the USAF—presumably the service with the greatest experience and training in conducting bombing campaigns. Instead, we let everybody fly. The Navy got to bomb things, and the Marine Air Wing pilots got to fly their sorties, too.

In short, our implementation of jointness seems just as—or more?—concerned with ensuring that all the services get a satisfyingly large piece of the pie, as it is with with ensuring the mission is carried out effectively. Surely, jointness has to mean something more than satisfying the demands of the various services to take part in combat operations, simply to mollify them. But one has to at least wonder if "service mollification" is taking up too large a share of concern when planning large-scale operations. If so, that seems to be more of a perversion of jointness than it does an effective application of it.

Achieving jointness is a laudable goal. But if we don't really have a clear doctrine of what it means, and how to implement it at both the service and combatant level, then it will continue to remain a goal, rather than a reality.


P.S. I don't know about you, but I'd be interested in reading a post containing McQ's thoughts on the matter.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

I’m off to celebrate 12 years of joy with my partner, so good luck in this. I think "jointness" is good. It ISN’T just about getting your share of the budget pie. The Second Gulf War and later operations have demonstrated that the CinC can make his component services and units obey and follow HIS plan. The Army and Marines, "the ground forces" were not too keen on the opening weeks of Desert Storm, it made the air forces, look supreme..."Victory Thru Airpower", Schwartzkopf said "Tough" and without an ability to call the CoS or the CNO or the Commandant they really had to take it. Oddly it’s what got the CoS of the USAF fired, McPeak(?), he came in received briefings from the JFACC and proceeded to run his mouth about just that, Victory Thru Airpower, it angered the CinC CentCom enough that the CoS was FIRED. Schwartzkopf told the "Airborne Mafia" "tough" when they advocated for a combat drop for the 82nd Airborne (The Jumping Junkies). My point is that a CinC melded the divergent services into the tool HE desired, and enforced a discipline and vision of operations that HE desired. And the services didn’t like it, but had to go with it. I think it works out.

And "jointness" today, is not about budgetary pie, either. The ground forces are receiving an INCREASING share of DoD’s budget, something unheard of, because THEY, not the Navy or USAF, are doing the fighting and dying, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the GWoT in general. It’s the Navy and USAF that are undergoing a RIF, not the Marines or the Army. I know that will change once combat in Iraq is over, in a matter of a few years MK, Pogue, and others, and the air forces will once again be able to proclaim theories that are a variant of "Victory thru Airpower" (which is popular because it promises low casualties and lots of defense spending on THINGS-Congress likes THINGS, making THINGS employs constituents) unencumbered by the nasty empirical reality of combat, but still for now, the people that are doing the work are getting the work are getting the money.

Bottom-Line: I would disagree about jointness being about the budget, solely or even in a majority sense.

And a joint publication on terms and concepts is good. It allows the services to speak to one another, in a mutually intelligible manner. Even if the services don’t agree on the base concepts, they can understand what each service means when it presents it’s analyses.

Jointness is bad when it:
a) is a fetish, somethings are mostly a purview of one service, and not all services need to be involved, Grenada springs to mind. The Navy and the USMC were capable of handling the situation, the Army and the Airforce became involved because they wanted a piece of the action. The result was a muddle.
b) When it seeks to eliminate the "corporate culture" of the various services. The Army is NOT the Marine Corps (Thank God) and the USAF is what it is, for me and my friends it’s the Postal Service with guns, BUT it’s culture works for it. It is the liberal diversity idea, the Army, the Navy, Marines, the USAF, all have differing world views and cultures, it is in the mixing of these cultures and capabilities that the US propsers, not in the melding of them....Heaven Forfend that we should EVER achieve the dream of some Defense Reformers and create a "Purple Suit" culture.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Dude! Totally not what I thought this post was going to be about.
Written By: MichaelW
I’m in a Joint environment right now.

Joint Commands are interesting. From what I’ve seen/heard, they are generally hated as a necessary evil, because it’s easier to get promoted if all your assignments are within your own service, i.e., you get promoted in the Army by doing cool Army things, not cool Joint things.
There is absolutely a different feel between a single-service posting and a joing posting. Joint means more chaos, more bosses (like Office Space, I have 8 different bosses, depending on what the issue is).

The thing is, we do Joint better than any nation in the world. It’s necessary to good warfighting, because otherwise you have to use a script to deconflict. Meaning: you have to know that at 1530, the artillery has to stop and the Air Defense missiles have to be turned off so that at 1545 the air force planes can fly over and bomb the enemy. If one unit forgets, or doesn’t get the word, you have a bunch of shot-down planes. That sort of scripting to prevent fratricide doesn’t allow you much flexibility to react to enemy actions. But in a Joint situation, the Commander has the Army, Navy, and Air Force commanders right there, and they can work together to respond to enemy actions, and maybe get inside his decision cycle (meaning: act, then do something else before the enemy can decide what to do about your first action...keeps ’em on the ropes).
But even at their height of power, the Soviets had to follow scripts to deconflict. By the mid-80s, we’d have run circles around them in a conventional conflict.

That’s true for China, too. They’ve been trying to go Joint for decades, but their top-down, bureaucratic system makes it nearly impossible.
Written By: Nathan
Dale - I do indeed want to comment but it will probably be this weekend. But as a hat tip to you, you pretty well have the big parts all worked out. Good post.
Written By: McQ

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