Document created: 20 August 02
Air & Space Power Journal - Fall 2002
Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
Lt Col D. Robert Poynor, USAF, Retired*
*Colonel Poynor is a doctrine analyst at the Air Force Doctrine Center, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.
IN THE CLIMATE of the recent Quadrennial Defense Review, US Joint Forces Command’s proposed experiments, and the secretary of defense’s push for transformation, “jointness” has recently become a very visible issue. Unfortunately, many joint initiatives actually are not very joint, especially regarding organizational structures, largely because service members tend to view new ideas through their own institutional lenses. How they were brought up colors their decisions and thinking. This is neither evil nor wrong—one just has to be aware of the characteristics of one’s paradigm and consciously step outside them.
The differences in service perspectives originate in the way each service organizes for war fighting. The three surface services organize “organically”; that is, each sets up a large organization consisting only of its own forces—witness the Marine Corps’s Air-Ground Task Force; the Navy’s carrier battle group; and the Army’s deployment by corps, division, or brigade. This means that the Army fights strictly as a separate US Army component; the Navy as a separate US Navy component; and the Marines as a separate US Marine Corps component. Their models achieve jointness by receiving support “from joint forces”—almost always in the form of Air Force airpower. But when bits of one service are merely added to another service’s organic model, the result is not some new form of synergy but, more usually, an increase in efficiency. For example, to the Navy, jointness oftentimes simply means support from the Air Force’s tankers and from its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets; to the Army, it’s usually airlift, close air support (CAS), and (again) ISR. Such supporting arrangements are not necessarily bad—increased efficiency and effectiveness are good—but let’s not kid ourselves that they are transformational. Do the other services offer up elements of their forces for employment by other services? Yes, but there’s a catch: they offer up only those forces and capabilities deemed “in excess of their organic needs” to the rest of the joint force. In reality, how much gets offered up? Not much.
The Air Force, on the other hand, has no organic model for employing its forces; it gives everything to the joint force commander (JFC) through the joint force air and space component commander (JFASCC). The US Air Force expects to fight—in fact, demands that it fight—as part of a joint air and space component made up of air and space forces from all services. In fact, Air Force doctrine explicitly states that the expected norm is joint employment and joint command. No other service can make this claim.
This makes the Air Force’s employment paradigm the only truly joint model. Although the other services frequently claim that they are “inherently joint,” they are in fact only employing a combined-arms model, each one making use of its own various branches.
What might happen if the Air Force emulated the other services and used an organic scheme as its war-fighting model?
• We could assume that we would make available only those forces “excess to our organic scheme of maneuver” to support the rest of the joint force. CAS would probably dry up, but this might be a reasonable trade-off for simplicity in planning and command and control among the services.
• We might use “our” airlift (it says “US Air Force” on the sides of all those airlifters, doesn’t it?) to get our forces into a theater first. That solves most of the deployment squabbles over the flow of time-phased force and deployment data—any airlift “excess to our organic needs” would then be made available later to move the rest of the joint force. Besides, most of the other services’ heavy stuff goes by ship anyway.
• We could solve the “halt phase” debate simply by declaring it part of our organic scheme of maneuver. The Air Force would then be free to optimize its own operational concepts for truly independent operational maneuver. Since organic operations fall under Title X service prerogatives, the other services don’t have a say on how and why we employ.1
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? That’s the point: service-only organic models are easy but suboptimal. Joint integration is hard work—but it optimizes above the service level at the operational level, where the JFC has to operate. n
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
1. For a more complete discussion along these lines, see my “ ‘Organic’ versus Joint: Thoughts on How the Air Force Fights,” Strategic Review 29, no. 1 (Winter 2001): 58–62.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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