The Future of Joint Operations

Real Cooperation for Real Threats

Courtesy Reuters

When I joined the Army in 1974, the United States military claimed to be committed to joint operations, but it was not. In Vietnam, the Air Force, Army, and Navy all fought completely different air wars, and Army and Marine generals sometimes disagreed on basic strategy on the ground. Almost a decade later in Grenada, tactical coordination between the Army and Marine Corps had improved only marginally. Incompatible communication systems caused numerous problems between ground forces and naval aviators, and led to a friendly fire incident that wounded 17 soldiers. By the 1991 Gulf War, inter-service cooperation had progressed, but not enough; the Army excluded the Marines from much of their ground operations planning and all of the services disagreed on how to use their respective air assets. More than 40 years after the creation of the Department of Defense, the U.S. armed forces still struggled to shoot, move, communicate, plan, or cooperate as a fully joint force.

Today, things are much different. After over a decade of continuous operation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed forces have made enormous strides towards true jointness, particularly in counterinsurgency. In Afghanistan today, air and ground operations, intelligence collection and fusion, as well as logistics and communications all bring together the talents of more than one service. Our special operations are completely joint and routinely integrate our general purpose forces. Visit any Regional Command, Forward Operating Base, or Afghan Army training center and you’ll find soldiers and sailors working hand in hand with airmen and Marines, as well as with Afghans and other international partners.

Despite these advances, the efforts to create a fully joint force are not yet complete, and if we are not careful, the gains of the last decade could be lost. In many ways, it is easier to work together in times of war because life-or-death stakes keep everyone focused on the same goal. But as wars end and defense budgets shrink, there is a temptation among the services to re-draw battle

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