February 1, 2011  

Learn together

Joint education is the key to effective joint operations

A major finding of the April report from the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) indicated an increasing need for additional joint and service-specific subject matter to be taught earlier in officers’ careers. Marine Gen. James Mattis, then-commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, commented that the military needs an educated, adaptable officer corps that is not married to any single view of war. The HASC report and Mattis’ comments are relevant because each understands that leader development — and professional military education in particular — must specifically provide an educational foundation that facilitates creative problem solving. This article proposes a model for early joint education for selected career fields by merging the education and training of common skills and functions across the services to provide a standard baseline of foundational joint knowledge and operational perspective. The proposed model positions the Defense Department to be in line with the Goldwater-Nichols Act, advances the effectiveness and efficiency of future joint warfare and saves millions of training dollars by avoiding unnecessary duplication of effort.

The model addresses four points of analysis:

• Defining the need to consolidate selected education and training curriculums.

• Reviewing the six “joint functions” to identify tasks and potential opportunities for consolidation.

• Aligning selected career fields and skill sets to improve joint operations.

• Testing the model for improved operational effectiveness and cost savings to the joint force commander.

What the model does not propose is the consolidation of service missions. Instead, focus is placed on the selected common skill sets required to perform individual and collective tasks associated with service missions. The skills required to synchronize, coordinate and deconflict support to operations as well as the development of a common knowledge base among and across support functions could be consolidated in a joint environment. Doing this enables the military to effectively conduct the full range of military operations.

Three of the original eight purposes of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act are:

• To increase attention to [joint] strategy formulation and contingency planning.

• To improve joint officer management policies.

• Otherwise to enhance the effectiveness of military operations and improve DoD management and administration.

To be clear, there has been much success toward achieving these goals. Several current and former military commanders have credited the Goldwater-Nichols Act for improving the armed forces’ performance in joint operations. However, more work is required. From a joint officer management perspective, a 1985 report on defense organization concluded: “[Military officers] are not prepared by either education or experience to perform their joint duties; and serve for only a relatively short period once they have learned their jobs.”

Although that report was written 25 years ago, aspects of it remain accurate. Initial officer professional military education (PME) is predominantly service-specific, with no focus on joint operations. If an officer is fortunate enough to be selected, the next level of PME is taught at the individual command and staff colleges. This venue provides excellent exposure to other services’ capabilities and the joint planning process, but the limited number of resident billets does not satisfy the vast numbers of officers in need. Finally, a select number of officers gain a joint educational experience, usually past the midpoint of their careers, via the Joint Forces Staff College’s joint PME program. Attendance is constrained by the limited number of billets and the operational tempo of deployed forces. In view of these educational shortfalls, the 1985 defense organization report is still relevant. In addition, operations in Iraq and Afghanistan provide perspective on how the U.S. military operates and performs as a joint force across all phases of conflict. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. David C. Jones provided insight: “Although most history books glorify our military accomplishments, a closer examination reveals a disconcerting pattern: unpreparedness at the start of war; initial failures; reorganizing while fighting … and ultimately prevailing by wearing down the enemy — by being bigger not smarter.”

This approach to modern warfare falls short in view of a shrinking defense budget and the true intent of the Goldwater-Nichols Act. With greater demands placed on the federal budget, military planners should develop and execute joint operations in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. The U.S. approach to modern warfare must do a better job of enhancing the effectiveness of joint military operations as well as improving joint education.

Moreover, in the new security environment that shapes modern warfare, U.S. forces are conducting significantly more complex operations requiring increased joint interoperability among participants in the theater and on the battlefield. Some argue the military should move beyond joint interoperability in a direction toward joint interdependence in an effort to maximize the commander’s operational effectiveness. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace elaborated on this concept when he noted that “[the joint force] must transition from an interoperable to an interdependent force where different capability sets can be rapidly integrated to achieve desired effects.”

The roles and missions among the various military departments and independent agencies should be converging toward a joint and interagency architecture that incrementally moves DoD and its related entities to a configuration that is joint in nature. If joint interdependence is the future, it will be enabled through early joint education that imparts a common lexicon and frame of reference to enhance collaboration and effective planning.

Randomly choosing military skill sets to consolidate creates waste and overgeneralization of military personnel. Certain criteria should be met for those areas where it makes sense to consolidate training and education. First, the skill sets should use similar foundational techniques and procedures in planning and executing their function regardless of service-unique employment tactics. Second, the function should employ similar equipment or equipment with similar functions in the accomplishment of the mission. Third, the purpose of the function should be generally the same across all services. Finally, the common foundational knowledge inherent in a function must be significant enough in scope that it outweighs the additional service-specific training that is required. If the final element is not met, it makes little sense to expend valuable resources to consolidate training that is more effectively conducted by the individual services. Certain schools already embody these criteria. For example, the skills trained in a joint environment at the Defense Information School and the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal are excellent examples of foundational knowledge, using similar techniques and equipment that is focused through a similar purpose across all services. With this established criteria, it is possible to review the joint functions and identify areas to consolidate.


Of the six joint functions identified in Joint Publication 3-0, “Joint Operations,” there are a number of opportunities to consolidate training and improve effectiveness. The six functions are command and control, intelligence, fires, movement and maneuver, protection and sustainment. Each function is further broken down into a series of tasks performed in the execution of that function. Fundamental to the effectiveness and efficiency of joint operations are the combat support functions (war-fighting support functions) that are common among the services and inherent within these joint functions. Personnel engaged in conducting joint targeting or employing information operations (IO) capabilities use the same techniques and systems across all services. Many of the tasks included in the IO protection functions are not service-specific. For example, all services “conduct [operations security], computer network defense, information assurance, and electronic protection activities” in what are likely very similar ways using many of the same systems. Other such similarities are obvious in the fields of sustainment, personnel services, health service support, protection and specific areas of fires.

Just as it is important to look at where skill sets are similar, we should not overlook where they are divergent. While there are commonalities in the function of movement and maneuver, these concepts mean something very different to airmen and soldiers. The skills required to plan and execute a tank attack are distinct from those required to plan and execute an amphibious landing. The requirements and techniques for sustaining a carrier strike group bear little resemblance to those required to sustain a mechanized division. In general, the areas of movement and maneuver, fires in general, and logistics do not satisfy the established criteria, nor do they lend themselves easily to consolidated training.

History has validated the the importance of combining these war-fighting support functions to meet the present and future requirements of fighting joint in an era of “persistent conflict.” For example, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines blend their skills and service capabilities to counter the threat of improvised explosive devices in Iraq and to hunt high-value targets in Afghanistan. Intelligence analysts from all the services man targeting cells, fusion centers and combat outposts, all part of an integrated system of systems based on the same foundational knowledge and a common set of techniques for target analysis.

DoD has not identified a clear set of core competencies to focus consolidated training on common skill sets for officers and noncommissioned officers. The most recent Quadrennial Defense Review noted a number of initiatives for the coming years that described the department’s goals and objectives, but it did not discuss how the military services do business. The 2008 National Defense Strategy identified four general capabilities of DoD: “defeating terrorist networks, defending the homeland in depth, shaping the choices of countries at strategic crossroads, and preventing adversaries’ acquisition and use of weapons of mass destruction.” The 2004 National Military Strategy identified four capabilities of our joint force: applying force, deploying and sustaining military capabilities, securing battle space and achieving decision superiority. This last set begins to indicate areas of commonality across the force; however, they remain too broad to determine opportunities for consolidated training.


Each of the services has described its core competencies in different ways with varying levels of specificity. In general, each focuses on what the service does and not on the skill sets that enable it to do these things. The Army does not define core competencies; rather, Field Manual 1-0 describes four basic characteristics of operations: “combined arms, joint interdependence, full spectrum operations, and mission command.” The Navy identifies three core missions: defense of the maritime maneuver area, maritime suppression and homeland defense. The Marines have a narrowly focused set of defined core competencies described in Vision and Strategy 2025 that could serve as a starting point for functional staff training but do not discuss the specific skills required to conduct operations. The notable exception to this trend is the Air Force. Its foundation document identifies three broad core competencies that enable six specific capabilities: “information superiority, air and space superiority, global attack, precision engagement, rapid global mobility and agile combat support.” Each contains a number of concepts that could point to areas for joint training. Military professionals engaged in gaining and maintaining information superiority or precision engagement could be initially trained together before undergoing service- or platform-specific training, for example.

Using this starting point, and applying the four criteria for consolidation, the war-fighting support functions of intelligence, IO, signals and communications, security forces, public affairs and EOD are the best candidates for consolidated training; the latter two having already consolidated their foundational schools. Each area is similar across the doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities joint capabilities integration and developments system.


What is the long-term approach to “fighting joint”? How can we gain efficiencies and adaptability to meet future requirements? To answer these questions, national strategy looks to a whole-of-government approach. Present-day joint C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) architectures, systems, methods and training are evolving toward the dynamic and fluid operational environments where all instruments of national power are being applied to defined problem sets. Joint task force (JTF) commanders rely on dependable, timely and competent joint war-fighting support functions to enable the full range of diplomacy, intelligence, military and economics applications. To improve our joint capacity, and our ability to fit into the whole-of-government strategy, we must gain the efficiencies inherent in consolidated training.

A vision for providing the most agile, adaptable and efficient joint force begins with the recruiting effort and advanced skills training. It continues with assignment to the force-provider units and allocation among the service proponents for deployment in support of a given JTF command requirement. War-fighting support functions essential to all JTF missions and operations are provided a common-baseline ready force through early joint education. Each service gains an expected commonality of performance, capabilities, training and proficiency. Each support function would develop a functional support chain of command through their joint schoolhouses for reachback, continuing education and potentially a surge capability. Individual services retain propensity of specific functions for advanced training and subject matter expertise. However, the support function force is managed and apportioned by Joint Forces Command or Joint Staff in support of all the combatant and functional commands as required.

The proposed model advocates that skill sets common across each service be taught in a consolidated joint schoolhouse upon initial entry into a particular career field. The model proves sound fiscally and operationally. Consolidating selected schoolhouses into a single joint school would save a considerable amount of taxpayer dollars. This type of fiscal consolidation is not the first of its kind. The services combined five public-affairs-focused schools into one school (the Defense Information School), resulting in millions of dollars saved. The next logical step is to consolidate the other support functions that meet the established criteria; these include intelligence, IO, signals and communications and security forces. As much as the model provides in fiscal savings, it may provide a greater return to the joint force commander by improving operational effectiveness.

In March 2002, Operation Anaconda was executed by Combined Joint Task Force Mountain and its components in Afghanistan’s Shahikot Valley to target al-Qaida and Taliban personnel. Although it was considered a tactical success, the operation has been widely discussed and written about in academic circles because of major planning blunders. Opinions vary, but there were significant problems integrating air and ground operations during the opening phase. A March 2009 study from the National Defense University listed several problems that occurred, including erroneous intelligence estimates, late involvement of the combined forces air component commander and air operations center in the planning effort, and few CJTF Mountain headquarters personnel who had previous joint experience at the JTF level. A model that advocates early joint training in selected career fields, such as intelligence, and maintains a focused schoolhouse approach on joint planning, systems, capabilities, limitations and doctrine of the other services would develop a cadre of officers with the forethought to demand the necessary cross-component coordination and avoid a group-think approach to operational planning.

In the Army’s capstone guidance, Field Manual 3-0, “Operations,” Gen. William Wallace’s foreword captures the nature of the future environment in which the joint force will operate:

The [military] has analytically looked at the future, and we believe our Nation will continue to be engaged in an era of “persistent conflict” — a period of protracted confrontation among states, nonstate, and individual actors increasingly willing to use violence to achieve their political and ideological ends. The operational environment in which this persistent conflict will be waged will be complex [and] multidimensional … where commanders employ offensive, defensive, and stability or civil support operations simultaneously as part of an interdependent joint force.

The future environment demands a military that is more agile, adaptive, efficient and flexible — it demands a military that is more joint in nature. Early joint education in selected career fields will deliver such a military. AFJ

LT. COL. PAUL T. BROOKS is an Army information operations officer on assignment to the International Military Staff at NATO headquarters. CMDR. JOHN M. MYERS is the executive officer of the Navy Information Operations Command. LT. COL. SCOTT A. STEPHENS is an Army military intelligence officer currently serving as chief of staff for tailored access operations at the Cryptologic Center in San Antonio, Texas. The views expressed here are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of their services or the Defense Department.