Joint Operations Are Complex and Diverse

May 2010
By Kent R. Schneider, SIGNAL Magazine

This edition of SIGNAL Magazine includes a focus report on joint operations, and AFCEA holds its Joint Warfighting Conference, partnered with the U.S. Naval Institute, this month at the Virginia BeachConvention Center, May 11-13. The joint environment has more players and a more comprehensive potential mission set than we have routinely considered in the past. The concept of joint now includes interagency, and joint and coalition are nearly inseparable. Missions range from conventional and asymmetric warfare to humanitarian assistance/disaster relief.

The program for the Joint Warfighting Conference, developed with the commander and staff of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, illustrates this complexity. Speakers include the expected key joint commanders and senior leaders: the Honorable Michèle Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, U.S. Defense Department; Adm. Michael Mullen, USN, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Stéphane Abrial, FAF, supreme allied commander transformation, NATO; Gen. David Petraeus, USA, commander, U.S. Central Command; Vice Adm. Robert Papp Jr., USCG, commander, Coast Guard Atlantic Area; and Gen. James Mattis, USMC, commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command.

Because the commands cannot tell the entire story, the conference also features representatives from a broad range of perspectives: the military services, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, law enforcement, the cyberspace environment, the research and development community, the acquisition community, innovative authors, the media and others.

The theme of this year’s Joint Warfighting Conference is, “Combatant and Coalition Commanders: What Will They Need Five Years From Now?” The goal is to look forward at the changes needed to accommodate the findings of the Quadrennial Defense Review completed this year, as well as to adjust to changes in strategic planning. For example, Gen. Mattis has gone on record saying that we have gone too far in planning and training with our focus on asymmetric warfare and counterterrorism. In doing so, he says, we have lost balance and are not preparing adequately for the remainder of the mission spectrum. Panels at this year’s conference will address the full spectrum of warfare and other mission sets. Both defense and homeland security will be discussed.

In recent years the combatant commands have changed the composition of their staffs and close alliances to include interagency components and coalition partners. A visitor to MacDill Air Force Base can see the size and diversity of the international village of coalition partners in the Central Command area of responsibility. This is a visible example of the complexity of the joint warfighting environment today. A visit to the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) will show the way it has incorporated interagency partners in its staff. Nearly 20 non-Defense Department federal agencies are represented on the SOUTHCOM staff. The challenges associated with coordination, collaboration, command and control and information sharing among such diverse staffs and partners will be addressed in conference discussions as well. Layer on top of that the contested cyber environment and the efforts directed at preserving warfighting capability in that arena, and this Joint Warfighting conference becomes an interesting set of opportunities and challenges.

Lt. Gen. Carroll Pollett, USA,  director, Defense Information Systems Agency, recently was quoted as saying, “The strategic environment has collapsed inside of the tactical environment, and we’re never going back.” This seamlessness is causing the military services, federal agencies, and joint commands and organizations to emphasize enterprise capabilities for information sharing in a way we have never seen before. And the ability to federate across enterprise boundaries also is at a premium. Industry needs to address solutions in these areas, as the requirements will continue to grow. We are bringing some key industry contributors to the Joint Warfighting Conference to talk about what they are seeing in trends and solutions in these areas. Other members of industry should come prepared to enter into this dialogue.

The joint environment has changed, and it will continue changing. Warfare and other missions in this space have gone well beyond the vision in the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. Some authors on this subject have suggested that a “Goldwater-Nichols II” is needed to bring together the players not envisioned in this joint mandate legislation. I believe this expanded community is coming together naturally, simply because it is in its best interest to do so. I also would argue that it is in the best interest of industry to get ahead of this new set of requirements so that solutions to the expanded challenges can be offered.

I hope to see many of you at the conference this year because I think it is a critical time in the evolution of the joint community—and this is a critical discussion.


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