How Joint Are We and Can We Be Better?
The U.S. military does not have a system in
place to institutionalize, direct, or even require regular joint
tactical training. When I discuss this deficiency with senior military
officers and civilian analysts, they point to the Goldwater-Nichols
Act as testament to our jointness. We believe that the Goldwater-Nichols
Act cured most of our ills and pronounced it good enough. But it
is not good enough, and there is ample evidence. We need to develop
a management system to ensure effective training at the joint tactical
Because of the nature of its mission, the Army
depends on the other services for help. It relies on the Air Force
or Navy for close air support from their fixed-wing bombers, supplies,
weapons, and for movement to a combat zone. It depends on the Air
Force for command and control, strategic attack, and interdiction
as well as such forms of intelligence as the Joint Surveillance
and Target Attack Radar System.
The other services depend on the Army to provide
security around airfields and ports and along ground routes. But
by and large, these are missions that the Army prepares for during
internal training. The tactics, techniques, and procedures for these
operations do not change when working with other services and do
not require training with them. The special operations community
does conduct considerable joint tactical training and has a system
that ensures that it takes place. Since the Army is the service
most dependent on the other services, this article focuses on joint
training involving the Army, but the lessons apply to the entire
It is important that we define tactical training
to ensure that the debate does not become entangled with the Goldwater-Nichols
Act, which addressed strategic issues and joint operational level
training. Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary
of Military Terms, defines the tactical level of warfare as:
The level of war at which battles and engagements
are planned and executed to accomplish military objectives assigned
to tactical units or task forces. Activities at this level focus
on the ordered arrangement and maneuver of combat elements in
relation to each other and to the enemy to achieve combat objectives.
The operational level of war is defined
The level of war at which campaigns and major
operations are planned, conducted, and sustained to accomplish
strategic objectives within theaters or other operational areas.
Activities at this level link tactics and strategy by establishing
operational objectives needed to accomplish the strategic objectives,
sequencing events to achieve the operational objectives, initiating
actions, and applying resources to bring about and sustain these
events. These activities imply a broader dimension of time or
space than do tactics; they ensure the logistic and administrative
support of tactical forces, and provide the means by which tactical
successes are exploited to achieve strategic objectives.
The tactical level of war, for the Army at
least, is that of the division and below but will increasingly become
that of the brigade and below. Therefore, it is increasingly important
to conduct joint tactical training for the Army brigade, or what
the Army will refer to as the unit of action.
How Joint Are We?
Recent combat experiences suggest that we are
fighting as an integrated joint team. However, integration problems
remain. Major General Frank Hagenbeck, USA, Commander, 10th Infantry
Division, started an interservice debate over his contention that
close air support (CAS) was unresponsive during Operation Anaconda
in Afghanistan.1 Joint coordination,
and explicitly joint fires coordination, seemed to improve during
Operation Iraqi Freedom, although command, control, communications,
and intelligence (C3I) digital systems are still incompatible among
the joint forces. The timeliness of CAS did not seem to be a widespread
problem during Iraqi Freedom, but there are concerns due to lack
of tactical training and understanding of the capabilities of the
CAS pilots from the Army perspective and the capabilities of ground
forces from the perspective of CAS pilots.
The 3d Infantry Division's after-action report
from Iraqi Freedom has positive things to say about the availability
of CAS during its rapid advance to Baghdad. The report specifically
gives accolades for the enlisted tactical air controllers assigned
to the brigade combat teams. However, the controllers experienced
problems in talking pilots onto the targets, delaying CAS in a counterfire
role against Iraqi artillery. This was reportedly due to the inability
of the pilots to identify the targets and a misunderstanding with
ground forces on what constituted positive identification of targets
as enemy. While the ground forces were satisfied with their counterfire
radar acquisitions as a positive identification, the special instructions
(SPINS) for the pilots did not authorize engagements based on acquisitions
alone. On the surface, this appears to be a rules-of-engagement
problem and should be addressed accordingly. But if the ground forces
had trained more with live pilots prior to the war, they would have
known that SPINS normally requires a CAS pilot or observer to positively
identify targets. Additionally, the situation in Iraq was skewed
by the fact that the fixed-wing aircraft were nearly all rigged
for bombing rather than counterair. This is important because in
a conflict with a country with fighter jets, many of our fixed-wing
assets would conduct counterair operations rather than bombing.
Therefore, it is imperative that each CAS aircraft is used efficiently
The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 is widely
praised as having reformed the Department of Defense (DOD) and contributed
to making the U.S. military the most powerful ever assembled. Today's
capabilities to plan and operate at the strategic level are unequaled.
Prior to the legislation, officers often avoided joint duty, preferring
to stay within their services. Goldwater-Nichols forced the services
to send some of their best personnel to joint billets by setting
an objective that joint officers would be promoted at the same or
higher rates than officers not joint qualified. Additionally, the
law created critical joint billets that had to be filled by the
services. As a final incentive, the law made it mandatory for all
officers to be joint qualified prior to flag rank. Many believe
that the law has changed the military culture. However, the cultural
change is only now filtering down to the operational level. It is
imperative to ensure that it continues to the tactical level.
There are ongoing efforts by U.S. Joint Forces
Command (JFCOM) to create a Joint National Training Capability (JNTC).
These initiatives show great promise in bringing joint forces together
in the live, virtual, and constructive environments to train at
the operational level. The Deputy Secretary of Defense formally
established the joint national training concept in January 2003
and made JFCOM responsible for the initiative. JNTC is envisioned
as linking the tactical, operational, and strategic players in a
single exercise to increase joint effectiveness. Although the approach
shows promise, little has been accomplished in bringing the joint
players together at the operational and tactical level.
An operational-level exercise was recently
conducted by III Corps headquarters, acting as the coalition joint
task force (CJTF) headquarters. CJTF commanded and controlled forces
from Arizona to Texas in live, virtual, and constructive environments
and declared the exercise successful. The III Corps Commander wrote
an article arguing that the exercise validated the joint training
concept.2 Although we should applaud
the efforts of all involved to execute and validate this difficult
and overdue training event, we should ask just how joint the exercise
was and at what level. The table in the article showed the training
audience for the exercise, but conspicuously missing was any participation
from services other than the Army. Potential participants are listed
in the table below, with their involvement annotated.
Was this joint training? As the author pointed
out, this was a test to validate the JNTC concept, but it seems
implausible to validate a joint training system when the full joint
team is not participating. Even if the joint forces air component
commander or the Combined Air Operations Center took part, there
was no tactical participation of CAS or reconnaissance aircraft.
Looking for Opportunities
Discussions with numerous former and serving
battalion and brigade commanders and former combat training center
(CTC) observer/controllers indicate that joint tactical training
is simply not happening often enough. Where it does occur, it takes
place mainly through a valiant effort, mostly by an individual Army
staff officer or Air Force air liaison officer (ALO), who must persuade
other joint forces to become involved. The following are just a
few examples from my own experiences serving in both the United
States and the Republic of Korea.
The 6th Cavalry Brigade (Air Combat) is U.S.
Forces Korea's reserve in the event of conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
It consists of two AH-64 Apache helicopter squadrons and a Patriot
air defense battalion. Plans call for elements of the brigade to
work with the Navy during the early stages of a potential conflict.
The brigade conducts over-water training for this eventuality both
with the Navy and independently. Because no other Apache unit in
the Army has a similar mission, new crews must learn the particular
tactics, techniques, and procedures. Training with the Navy is key
to executing the operation. However, there is no mechanism to ensure
that this training takes place other than the good relations between
6th Cavalry and the fleet. There is no command above either of the
organizations responsible for planning and resourcing joint training.
The result is that scheduled joint training is sometimes cancelled
due to changes in the operational calendar for one or the other
commands with little regard for the priority of joint tactical training.
When I served as a squadron commander in 6th
Cavalry Brigade, my staff searched for opportunities to train in
a joint environment, especially in live fire conditions. Since we
had a low priority on live fire ranges in Korea, we turned to the
Air Force 25th Fighter Squadron (A-10s) to conduct training. This
proved to be a beneficial opportunity for both organizations because
they had access to a range, and both received excellent joint air
attack team training while over water. Although this worked occasionally,
we should not depend on tactical-level commanders to find joint
training opportunities as the only alternative.
The 2d Infantry Division is the Army's forward-deployed
ground force in the Republic of Korea. The division executes quarterly
brigade-level exercises to keep its edge honed for combat. My squadron
participated in the training because the division's Apache unit
was undergoing training back in the States as a Longbow battalion.
The division had issued an operations order to the brigade that
was conducting the training, and the brigade had completed its analysis
and was issuing its operations order to the subordinate commanders
and to the division commander. Unfortunately, the exercise had to
be conducted with no CAS and critical training was lost.
An observer not familiar with the Joint Readiness
Training Center (JRTC) would probably think it is operated by a
joint organization with full support of the joint team. Actually,
the Army operates the center and depends on agreements with the
other services, particularly the Air Force, for their participation
in the training. The JRTC staff is constantly working to line up
CAS sorties and lift aircraft to ensure that brigades rotating through
the center receive the best joint tactical training possible. But
when CAS and lift aircraft are cancelled, the brigades are relegated
to "replication," the bane of serious trainers everywhere.
The fix is again an agreement between the services since JFCOM does
not command combat forces in either the Army or the Air Force.
Finally, despite years of increased focus,
with talking and more talking on joint operations by Congress, DOD,
and military commanders at all levels, the General Accounting Office
(GAO) issued a critical report on joint CAS training.3
CAS for ground forces is a hot issue when joint tactical operations
are discussed, but problems remain. The report specifically notes
that the Department of Defense has had limited success in overcoming
the barriers that prevent troops from receiving the realistic, standardized
close air support training necessary to prepare them for joint operations.
This is the result of four interrelated factors:
-ground and air forces have limited opportunities
to train together in a joint environment
-home station training is often restricted
and thus does not always provide realistic training to prepare troops
to perform the mission
-the services use different training standards
and certification requirements for personnel responsible for coordinating
close air support
-within the individual services, joint close
air support training is often a lower priority than other missions.
The report goes on to say that when CAS training
for ground forces does occur, usually at one of the combat training
centers, it does not meet the requirements of the ground commanders
because units are not adequately trained prior to their arrival
at the center. Additionally, the CTCs are the only maneuver training
areas that offer adequate range areas to conduct realistic training,
but individual brigades only get to train at the CTCs every 12 to
18 months. As the senior aviation observer controller at JRTC in
2002-2003, I came to the same conclusions. Units conducted the training
they needed prior to their arrival at the CTCs rather than executing
proficiently on arrival. Reports from Army CTCs and the Center for
Army Lessons Learned confirm that ground forces need to conduct
more CAS training.
The Joint National Training Capability concept
attempts to fix the training center problem by integrating the entire
joint force. But brigade or battalion commanders will likely be
involved less often than is currently the practice at the "dirt"
CTCs such as JRTC and the National Training Center.
Why We Must Train Jointly
The issue of joint training is important for
the Army because the service is truly dependent on the other services
for specific capabilities that do not exist in its inventory, especially
CAS and airlift. Army and joint doctrine call for the close integration
of ground and air components in executing tactical operations. A
major problem, however, is that the individual services are responsible
for training and equipping their combat units. Title 10, U.S. Code,
defines the Army's responsibility to organize, train, and equip
forces primarily for ground combat.4
Within the continental United States, the senior conventional Army
commander is Commander, U.S. Army Forces Command, and he is responsible
for training the forces within his command. Each overseas unit is
led by a senior Army commander in the region, such as the 8th Army
Commander in South Korea. The regional combatant commanders, such
as U.S. Central Command's, have responsibility for war planning
and fighting but no tasking authority to individual service organizations
for training. Any joint training is accomplished by cooperation
among individual commanders rather than any higher commander having
the authority to direct joint training across the services. Some
argue that this arrangement is acceptable and the military does
not need another training directive issued by a headquarters not
in touch with the units affected. But the consequences of not conducting
joint tactical training are potentially catastrophic.
The one command that has authority for directing
and resourcing joint training is U.S. Special Operations Command.
Joint training within the command is fairly routine since forces
from all the services fall under one commander. Air support and
operations for ground and maritime forces are coordinated and directed
by the higher joint headquarters and a r e o n l y s u b j e c t
to change by that headquarters. However, because the command lacks
CAS fixed-wing aircraft, close air support remains a problem within
the community; at least two incidents of friendly fire occurred
in Afghanistan against Special Forces troops by CAS aircraft.
The GAO report cited earlier points out that
there are no standards across the services for close air support
training or for how often controllers must train to the task. Air
Force CAS controllers assigned to Army brigades and battalions are
there only temporarily and are subject to the orders of their Air
Force parent unit and may not be available for training with Army
forces.5 This issue becomes of even
more concern as the Army transitions to units of action that are
roughly equivalent to our current brigades, or more accurately to
the brigade combat team that is formed from the standing maneuver
brigade (infantry or armor) with all its support forces from other
brigades within a division. Over the last decade, Army deployments
have involved smaller and smaller units to the point that we are
now putting battalion task forces and brigade combat teams on deployments
that used to involve at least a division level commander and staff.
Lower level commanders must therefore deal with increasingly complex
issues. What has not been created is a system to ensure that joint
training is taking place at the brigade and battalion level. Not
only will joint tactical training become even more important, but
also commanders at lower levels must become more adept at joint
operations at the operational as well as the tactical level.
There is much discussion about joint interdependence
within the Department of Defense and specifically the Army. The
argument is that we achieved the ability to deconflict joint operations
sometime in the 1990s and moved on not only to deconflict but also
to integrate joint operations in Iraqi Freedom. The argument, as
articulated in The Army Strategic Planning Guidance, goes further
to say that now, in order to reduce redundancies and gain efficiencies,
we must become interdependent. That is, each service must depend
on the other services for certain tasks so the entire force can
function at the lowest cost. Given the Army's decision to reduce
organic fire support assets in lieu of more ground forces, dependence
on CAS is increasingly an issue. The bottom line is that support
from the other services is necessary for Army success in current
and future combat.
There are several options for improving joint
tactical training ranging from redesigning the entire Department
of Defense as "purple suiters" to maintaining the status
quo. One is to align all tactical Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force
combat elements for training with each other based on a regional
alignment under the combatant commanders of the unified commands.
Combatant commanders would direct multi-echelon joint training and
issue training development guidance to the service commands. Commanders
of each of the aligned service component commands would then develop,
resource, coordinate, and execute multiechelon joint training. This
method fits well with the new Army doctrine of a capabilities-based
force that is ready to deploy, rapidly plug into a joint task force,
and win the fight.
Another option is to charge the JFCOM commander
with synchronizing assets to ensure that joint tactical training
is taking place. A quarterly joint training conference could take
place similar to the current joint airborne/air transportability
training conferences in which aircraft are resourced for parachute
and transport training and operations. This system has enabled the
Army to achieve mission success in maintaining parachute proficiency
for an entire division of paratroopers and other conventional and
Special Operations Forces (SOF). It has also worked for scheduling
lift aircraft. The most logical extension of this conference would
be adding close air support aircraft coordination. Additional players
in the joint coordination arena are Navy carriers for joint shipboard
operations and naval surface gunfire. The subsequent close interaction
of the entire joint team would inevitably bring up other training
opportunities that would benefit all the services and further reduce
redundancies across the board.
Prior to any of these options, the services
must identify key joint tasks that offer high-payoff training. Obviously,
CAS is one of those areas. The services should establish joint standards
for aircrews, controllers, companies, battalions, and brigades that
require training in key joint tasks. Next, enlisted tactical air
controllers and ALOs should be assigned directly to the command
Due to the changing operating environment,
it is becoming more critical that all forces are able to operate
together, including SOF. As a corollary, all SOF troops should be
included in training conferences to better enable conventional forces
to schedule training with them.
Electronic training sensors for ground and
air combat forces are another key aspect of enticing units to train
jointly. The Navy and Air Force are correctly concerned that aircraft
training involve the replication of enemy air defenses, and both
have built sophisticated training areas for their crews. The Army
has sophisticated ground force training systems at their CTCs and
increasingly at home bases, especially in the urban training environment.
Nowhere in the military do we have both systems tied together to
totally enable joint tactical training and hold commanders accountable.
Decisionmakers should review all planned and current electronic
Warriors should not have to figure out how
to fight jointly under fire. It is not that we are not training
in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force; we just do not do
it together well enough. We are executing together in combat, so
let us not waste the lessons from the last several years of combat
by failing to incorporate them into a truly joint training system.
1. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, "Afghanistan:
Fire Support for Operation Anaconda," Field Artillery Journal
(September-October 2002), 5-9.
2. Thomas F. Metz and
Christopher A. Joslin, "Time to Train How We Fight: Validation
of the Joint Training Concept," Army Aviation (December 31,
3. U.S. General Accounting
Office, "Military Readiness: Lingering Training and Equipment
Issues Hamper Air Support of Ground Forces," GAO-03-505, May
4. Title 10, U.S. Code,
subtitle B, part 1, chapter 307, section 3062.
5. GAO-03-505, 9.
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