President's Commentary: Joint Operations Won't Wait

November 1, 2020
By Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC (Ret.)

The U.S. military is striving to develop concepts supporting broad-spectrum joint operations for future conflicts, yet hurdles remain. Military operations today are much more complex than ever before. Technology is driving change, and threats are evolving rapidly. U.S. forces could find themselves in an increasingly reactive role rather than one that drives the agenda for future operations.

Emerging threats from China, and to somewhat a lesser extent, Russia, are the primary focus of the current military thinking. Our forces must be able to compete and defeat a peer adversary that is rapidly developing capabilities that could neutralize or surpass many of the legacy capabilities that characterize the U.S. and allied military today. Further, the command and control of these forces should be examined.

The joint force of the future will be shaped around timely, accurate information, speed of action, mobility, lethality, precision, resilience and simplicity of use. The development of these elements will be essential to future success in the battlespace. The current National Defense Strategy assumes decision making based on less than perfect knowledge. Often in the past, we have had time to conduct deliberate planning. Now and in the future, we must have a more timely and responsive manner of rapidly assessing the threat and employing necessary joint capabilities across all warfighting domains.

This may require a review of service roles and functions. Individual services are taking the lead in different aspects of the push for joint warfighting capabilities, which often leads to biased service solutions or solutions by committee. The larger challenge is in developing strategies for effectively integrating the disparate modernization efforts. Not to be ignored is the goal of assimilating coalition partners who are likely moving at a different technological pace and who may have different resource priorities. To this end, we have to find a way to integrate coalition capabilities into a truly combined effort.

Another key challenge will be the transition strategy that takes us from legacy systems to systems that purposely support the new joint vision. This major task requires the synchronizing of programs and the fielding of capabilities supporting that vision. Each of the services has its own budget authority, and their interests often are not fully aligned or synchronized with the joint vision for a variety of reasons. Individual service programs may not fit into the strategic design in the same time frame as other developing services’ capabilities, leading to a disjointed effort.

For example, Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) “conceptually” provides a valuable framework for future joint operations. Yet, “conceptually” does not equal reality based on design alone. Advancing and disruptive technologies will both help define and change the nature of this critical capability as it evolves. Issues, such as data integration and data management, turning data into information, understanding and action will require integrating and synchronizing multiple disparate data sets and formats—a very complex and tedious undertaking.

If we can establish a system that effectively processes vast amounts of information in a joint/coalition milieu, the information must be accessible to its user community and across all domains. Further, while we must be able to operate in an expeditionary environment, we cannot yet move the data promptly to the user in a format they need, particularly in a contested or denied environment. The Internet-based network we have today was never intended to support future warfighting needs for a variety of reasons. Technically advanced, resilient, protected and ubiquitous networking in support of JADC2 is the “coin of the realm” for the future and requires a redoubling of emphasis.

Achieving the required all-encompassing networking capabilities that integrate future JADC2 capabilities is not rocket science—it’s much more complex. Therefore, moving forward, the key is the effective application of unity of authorities and efforts. There must be a central authority that can determine the course, set the pace and provide the leadership over a prolonged period.

While not a popular thought in many circles, there may be a need to revisit a “new Joint Forces Command” whose sole focus is the synchronization of joint capabilities and the operational agency that makes recommendations on the allocation of resources to senior leaders. Getting everyone focused on this goal is incredibly complicated, and the degree of complexity in developing joint capabilities is often brushed aside. With so many different approaches amidst service and agency parochialism, an essential activity will be adjudicating competing interests.

We are in a race against ourselves. We must make foundational decisions now to enable future joint operations.

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JADC2 and multi-int fusion are essential for a truly dominant posture in contested environments.
Despite advances in AI/ML, we still have some distance to cover.

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