Joint Forces Redo Warfighting Doctrine

June 2008
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A U.S. soldier peers through a narrow doorway on a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) is becoming even more important as U.S. forces adjust to fighting an asymmetric enemy.
The change must be fundamental to deal with an unconventional enemy.

U.S. defense planners are redesigning military doctrine and capabilities to adapt to the new realities of insurgent and asymmetrical warfare. To build an effective force in this era, the military may have to empower the 21st century warrior with new capabilities previously limited to higher-level commanders.

Incorporating these new capabilities goes far beyond extending networks down to the tactical level. The tools for analysis and decision making will have to be adapted to empower individual warfighters to make what would amount to command decisions—the individual being both the command and the commander—in asymmetric combat situations.

A major challenge facing defense experts is to enable these new capabilities without sacrificing many of the traditional tenets of conventional force-on-force warfighting. The United States and its Free World allies cannot count on facing only an asymmetric enemy in the future. The force must be able to face the conventional threat if it re-emerges, but it must be fully trained and equipped to fight effectively in a changing combat environment.

Lt. Gen. John R. Wood, USA, deputy commander of the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), characterizes today’s fight as one that pits allied forces against a disruptive threat that tries to exploit an asymmetric weakness. Combating it will require advanced education and training, flexible and adaptive technology, and a coordinated effort with a variety of partners—other countries, academia and industry—that can help the force quickly adapt to the nature of the enemy. Above all, warfare is fundamentally a human endeavor, he emphasizes.

The United States faces a determined enemy that promises to make the conflict persistent, Gen. Wood declares. “We’re doing well now, but we’ve got an enemy that wants to take us into complexity,” he says. “This enemy wants to take us into areas where we’re not necessarily as comfortable as we’ve been in the past—areas where we in fact may not be dominant.”

These areas might involve irregular warfare, urban operations or just warfare fought with means that the United States is not routinely using, the general continues. The challenge is for U.S. forces to adapt while in conflict with an enemy that is committed to defeating the United States.

The United States is meeting that challenge in part by incorporating lessons learned from experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, he says. These lessons include how to build and operate inside of a coalition; how to be joint in both planning and execution; and how to be more interdependent operationally and more comfortable with systems and partners.

The U.S. military also must build toward new operational concepts that allow forces to apply their strengths while dealing with weaknesses in others. For example, integrating air and ground operations in an irregular fight actually is leveraging tactical dominance to meet new challenges in unfamiliar environments, the general points out. This is transferring dominance in one or two areas to be relevant in areas where the enemy has chosen to fight.

Gen. Wood believes that the United States has a good training model that allows its forces to adapt to this asymmetrical enemy. The command is adept at building lessons learned into its joint force training, he offers.

The 21st century warrior will need to be comfortable with complexity, Gen. Wood declares. This warrior must be “culturally aware and tactically proficient,” able to work jointly with other services, and able to work with U.S. and coalition agencies. Describing these qualities as a legacy of ongoing conflicts, the general adds that they will be the outcome of the command’s future training plan.

This 21st century warrior has both an education and a training requirement, he continues. The education must enable that warrior to understand the nature of the fights U.S. forces are in, particularly cultures as well as the complexity of the operational setting. The training must enable the warrior to grow comfortable with technology amid tactics, techniques and procedures. The command is involving U.S. agency and foreign partners to build a much richer multinational and joint coalition training context for pre-deployment, he adds.

New skills and competencies will be needed for this war, and the command is hard at work identifying them. These might include cyberwarfare, biometric tools and operations in a netted organization, for example.

“It’s been a long period of learning from the fights we faced initially in Iraq and Afghanistan to a new set of added competencies that are important against an enemy that is adaptive and is rapidly changing its tactics to fight us,” Gen. Wood states.

A U.S. Army lieutenant monitors his radio during a search for hidden weapons in a field amid local civilians near Salman Pak, Iraq. JFCOM leaders are planning for soldiers to be more culturally aware as well as tactically proficient when they go into combat.
One of the enduring lessons from counterinsurgency operations is that priorities are determined by local conditions. No single solution exists, and allied forces must be adaptive when they design operations.

Gen. Wood highlights the importance of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to forces in Southwest Asia. The primary customers are local commanders at brigade level and below, and the military must adapt, procure and improve ISR networks that support the forward edge of the battle.

He emphasizes that these ISR networks must function in ways that are far different from Cold War designs. For example, the analysis, network and planning that suited ISR in the Cold War must be adapted to enable lower-level commanders to fight a fleeting enemy in urban or border regions. “[We need] better analysis at a lower level, a better integration capability at a lower level, and the ability to bring national means and systems down to the forward edge of the fight,” the general declares.

“In the past, ISR served warfighting in a level well above tactical,” he says. Traditional ISR was good at corps level, not quite as good at division level and greatly reduced in effectiveness below. It generally served a specific analytic environment for maneuver warfare or air-ground integration. But the current fight is against individuals who tend to be a fleeting target hiding in the complexity of the battlefield. Servicing corps, divisions, wings or squadrons with ISR for mission planning is not sufficient for winning the current fight.

“We need to bring ISR down, in both fidelity and timeliness, to a product that is useful at the forward edge that is fighting the individual terrorist or the fleeting target at sea or near shore—in ways that are different than the earlier approach to the structure of ISR,” he states. “We need to bring useful products down to the level nearest and closest to the enemy we face. That is an architectural and training challenge.”

Gen. Wood elaborates that this desired tactical ISR is both a tailored product and a delivery scheme that allows rapid analysis at the lowest level. It may not require control of collection assets. Many battalions and even companies that are fighting insurgents in the streets are employing various methods to produce analysis rapidly against targets. These U.S. forces at the lowest levels are adapting to have intelligence and analyst functions without the personnel or structures needed to support them, the general points out. This situation begs for useful ISR at those levels.

JFCOM has established its own intelligence laboratory to focus on the operational level of war. Gen. Wood offers that it is working toward the concept of fusion of operations and intelligence to achieve decision speed against the rapidly adapting enemy. The laboratory provides a full-service, all-source intelligence setting, and this enables experts to bring new technologies, processes, methodologies and concepts of operations to bear on significant warfighting challenges, he points out.

It will require a partnership among multiple agencies and industry, the general continues. This partnership will be needed to generate new tools that can be employed inside the intelligence systems that are being built. By adding lessons learned from the field, the laboratory will be able to move “from hypothesis to product” in intelligence integration and operational intelligence fusion more quickly than previously attainable.

This approach particularly plays into the need for better battlefield ISR, Gen. Wood emphasizes. The laboratory will be able to focus on the tools and processes needed for faster and better local intelligence, as well as the ability to take proven practices from the battlefield and then provide the technology that can accelerate the process or improve integration. And, it achieves these feats in a structured environment that permits testing to field new capabilities.

The general relates that, while platforms and their coverage are important, it is equally important for an analyst at the appropriate level on the battlefield to have the tools necessary for focusing on the force’s specific targets.

The command is leading development of the newest version of the Capstone Concepts for Joint Operations. This third edition is being developed by experts providing individual service perspective along with senior leaders. What may differentiate it from its two predecessors is a better historical basis, Gen. Wood offers. It features a clearer understanding of contemporary experience along with a richer involvement from the combatant command level. It also is more exposed to competitive thinking—“better red-teamed,” he states.

The plan should be supportive of three areas: the major conventional fight that has defined military forces for years; irregular warfare such as against an asymmetric adversary; and a fight against an enemy that would employ weapons of mass destruction actively instead of deterrently. The goal is to develop a plan to execute integrated, comprehensive campaigns against adaptive-thinking adversaries.

Despite the strides made toward interoperability, true jointness remains elusive. Many gains have come about from better command and control (C2) of ongoing fights, and this has come about more because of improved leadership than because of advanced technology, the general states.

“Promoting improved jointness will not boil down to a silver bullet or a crack technology,” the general declares. “It ultimately will result from training and education, along with the continual effort by leaders to arrive at better integrated solutions.

“We are greater than the sum of the parts,” he explains. “But, that isn’t accomplished in a natural way. It’s accomplished in day-in, day-out work/train/educate together.”

The command is using Web 2.0 capabilities to build intelligence products and training communities, particularly for collaborative activities in experimentation, the general says. He adds that it does seem to offer productive approaches to collaboration, so the command is using it in both development and experimentation.

One aspect that the general believes JFCOM needs most from the commercial sector is for industry to share the command’s sense of urgency for moving capabilities to the warfighter. Industry could provide solutions that “break the mold” in capabilities or ways that information technology is used, for example. One key need is for ways of sharing information broadly with allies, coalition partners and nontraditional partners.

Returning to his theme that war is a human endeavor, Gen. Wood states that industry must enable the important human interface without it being too complex or difficult. Joint C2 first and foremost also is a human endeavor, he observes. While material solutions, processes and engineering can enable jointness, C2 is not synonymous with network operations or advanced technology—it is about leadership. The emphasis must be on “leader-centric” net-enabled solutions, the general emphasizes.

He notes that the U.S. military is comfortable with a conventional scenario that involves building platforms that integrate at high or complex levels, and then using that activity as a paradigm for progress in speed and performance. However, using speed and performance against the current asymmetric threat may require a different operational scheme and material solution, he says.

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