April 1, 2009  

Joint’s true meaning

Jointness requires that separate services focus on core competencies

Service branches have always been required to be prepared for just about anything, and that’s only become more true in recent years. Yet maintaining preparedness for a diverse range of missions — and the difficulty of knowing the full parameters of those missions — can lead to services being tempted to seek self-sufficiency.

It’s an understandable reaction, and typically a temporary one.

In today’s world of limited resources, we cannot afford to have services seek self-sufficiency that results in excessive redundancies. It may be counterintuitive, but our military leaders need to place emphasis on eliminating — not extending — overlap, and moving toward still greater service interdependency.

There’s a word for it — “jointness” — and as important as it is, it is an often-misunderstood term.

Jointness does not mean homogeneity, nor does it stifle passion or competition. Jointness does not inhibit services from fostering great ideas. Moreover, jointness invokes an imperative within each service to build on their core competencies.

Jointness means that among the four services, a separate array of capabilities is provided to a joint force commander whose job is to assemble a plan from this “menu” of capabilities, applying the right force, at the right place and the right time for a particular contingency. It does not mean that four separate services deploy to a fight and simply align under a single commander. Nor does jointness mean that everybody necessarily gets an equal share of the action.

While on the surface it may seem that competition between service branches hinders “jointness,” having separate services is in fact a requirement to achieve jointness and enables us to specialize in our core competencies. It can take 25 years to develop the core skills required to be an Army commander, an admiral leading a Navy battle group or an air officer developing and executing an air campaign. Each service has core functions that when combined provide a joint force commander the right mix of capabilities to meet theater and environmental conditions. Homogeneity is the antithesis to the notion of jointness.


The reason joint force operations create needed synergies is because this interdependent approach allows each service to focus on, hone and offer its core competencies. The notion can be likened to doctors concentrating on healing the sick and firefighters focusing on rescuing people from burning buildings.

Drawing out this analogy, such an approach means joint force commanders have at their disposal the ability to both put out fires and cure sick people, no matter which is needed where — and both of these important tasks are being performed by specialists in their fields. The unfavorable alternative to interdependence is to have firefighters also attempting surgical procedures, and physicians darting in and out of blazing structures between seeing patients.

When a single service attempts to achieve war-fighting independence instead of embracing interdependence, jointness suffers, war-fighting effectiveness is reduced, and costly redundancies and gaps likely will emerge. The last thing we need to do is turn back the clock on the Goldwater-Nichols Act by allowing services to develop excessively redundant capabilities, thereby rejecting the premise of joint war-fighting.

It is imperative that services build the right mix of people, systems, and infrastructure that underlie their core competencies and functions. The beauty of the joint approach is that it allows joint force commanders to pick and choose the capabilities they require to meet the needs of the particular circumstances being dealt with, allowing them to adapt to changing environments.

It is not a one-size-fits-all game.

Each service component has core functions they offer in support of a joint force commander. It is when these core functions combine into one synergistic, seamless operation that true jointness occurs.


Jointness has an important role to play in the emerging unmanned aerial systems (UAS) sector, too — first, in the area of acquisitions.

UAS need to be acquired in the context of a joint concept of operations to ensure that the separate services are not duplicating effort, but at the same time are available to joint force commander to meet their needs at every conflict level — tactical, operational and strategic.

With UAS, the pilots and sensor operators can be miles — and often time zones — away. However, via advanced telecommunications, they can interface with forces engaged at great distances. For instance, U.S. Air Force and U.K. Royal Air Force aircrews operate from Nevada and elsewhere controlling aircraft in conjunction with U.S. Army ground troops in Iraq. With these new capabilities we can better project power without projecting as much vulnerability, but how these systems are prioritized by a joint force commander does not differ substantially from manned aircraft with the exception that small UAS — those with line-of-sight effects and those that are numerous enough to be allocated to individual units — may not need to be prioritized by a joint force commander, but rather assigned on a permanent basis to a particular unit.

According to the Goldwater-Nichols Act and subsequent joint doctrine, jointness is “owned” by the joint force commander. JFC decides objectives, and priorities and allocates service component forces accordingly. The challenge has been that in some of our most demanding operations the tenets of joint organizational structure have not been completely capitalized upon.

Joint doctrine designates the joint force air component commander (JFACC) as responsible for coordinating all air operations — to include theater capable UAS missions — to execute JFC priorities. Even though the JFACC has operational control to perform these functions, this does not limit or negate each service components’ access to use UAS to create local effects and perform service component-specific missions.

However, the challenge really goes beyond managing theater assets. It is first and foremost about standardizing the development, acquisition and procurement of UAS, associated data links, radios, ground control stations and sensor suites tailored to meet joint concept of operations (CONOPS) with the flexibility to also fulfill service component-specific missions.

Standardization promises to minimize the duplication of separate service acquisition efforts; reduce research, development, testing and evaluation and unit procurement costs; ensure interoperability and interdependency; and provide combat capability more rapidly to combatant commanders.

We must optimize theater-capable UAS use throughout a theater wherever they are needed to meet the immediate needs of the joint forces requiring them. The JFACC’s objective is to support the JFC and service components by ensuring we make the most and get the most out of our UAS capabilities.

As we look to the future, we need a joint CONOPs for every category of UAS: theater-capable systems, systems that achieve local effects but that operate in positive controlled airspace, and small/low-altitude systems. That CONOPS must define how each of these categories relate to one another and how their use should be optimized across theater or sector. Second, we need a common understanding, a system, and a doctrine for airspace control and theater air defense. Third, the Defense Department needs to achieve increased acquisition effectiveness, efficiency and standardization.

It’s a tall order, but eminently achievable, provided we embrace the value of — and necessity for — a joint approach, establish true joint task force structures in contingency operations, and apply the tenets of jointness in execution.

Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula is the Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Harold “Buck” Adams is a retired Air Force Brigadier General. He leads Booz Allen Hamilton’s Science and Technology business supporting OSD, Services and Combatant Commands.