Chapter 8—
Transforming Jointly

Douglas A. Macgregor

The Bush administration took office amid high hopes for the fundamental transformation of the Armed Forces. Yet within months, the problem that transformation was designed to solve—changing a large, expensive industrial age structure into a leaner, more strategically agile information age force—receded as more pressing issues arose. Instead of being transformed, Cold War military structures will remain unchanged for the time being, while morale and quality of life are shored up. Into this policy vacuum, military leaders have tossed an expensive collection of wish lists that tend to one of two extremes: a bigger, faster, better version of some platform already in use, or something out of science fiction with delivery timelines that stretch all the way to 2032.1 Although these modernization programs are billed as promoting transformation, they are business as usual.

Fortunately, this is not the whole story. The current Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) anticipates the emergence of new ground, naval, and air forces reorganized for “more rapidly responsive, scalable, modular task-organized units, capable of independent combat action as well as integration into larger joint and combined operations” sometime after 2006.2

Transformation—defined as change in the structure of command, control, training, readiness, doctrine, and organization for combat—can produce short-term economies and increased capability well before 2006. Transformation can be phased in now through continuous adaptation, using today’s forces and technology along with reform and reorganization to produce significant improvements in the quality of life and morale, as well as the fighting power, of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.

A unifying strategic vision for transformation involves, first, recognizing that a strategy based on known threats, doctrines, and orders of battle no longer applies. The second step requires developing a new strategic formula for the use of American military power that is neither scenario-dependent nor based on service-centric concepts and structures designed to deploy masses of troops and matériel. Instead, the focus must be on critical warfighting capabilities. This has been described as a shift from threat-based to capabilities-based planning.

Technology and the experiences of the 1990s point the way to a paradigm shift that can reshape the structure of American military power through the integration of ground, naval, and air forces within a joint, network-centric system of warfare. To cope with the new strategic environment, a new operational paradigm based on air, space, missile, and information power must emerge to support military operations scaled to meet the requirements of any given contingency. At the same time, a fresh approach to American military strategy and the employment of its military power is needed to buttress the stability of key states around the world, preserve U.S. access to critical bases and infrastructure, and operate to prevent regional crises and conflict rather than reacting to them.

Transformation, strategy, jointness, and even readiness are inextricably intertwined. Reducing transformation to a service-centric, industrial age quest for a new armored vehicle, ship, or plane that can transform warfare, as the rifled musket and the machine gun are thought to have done, would miss the real promise of the information age. The potential for revolutionary change and transformation arises from the integration of critical military capabilities across service lines.

Jointness Is Critical to Transformation

In his speech at The Citadel on September 23, 1999, Presidential candidate George W. Bush promised to begin an immediate, comprehensive review of the American military—the structure of its forces, the state of its strategy, the priorities of its procurement—conducted by a leadership team under the Secretary of Defense. Bush noted that he wanted to move beyond marginal improvements, to replace existing programs with new technologies and strategies, and to exploit the opportunity to skip a generation of technology. Shortly after being appointed Secretary of Defense in early 2001, Donald Rumsfeld used this guidance to create dozens of panels to study a range of security issues. The reviews ended in June 2001, and the Bush administration’s recognition of the criticality of jointness to transformation is discernible from the results that were released.

General James McCarthy, USAF (Ret.), who led a panel on transformation, presented recommendations on June 12, 2001, that highlighted the concept of multiservice early-entry “Global Joint Response Forces.” These forces would combine units from different services as tailorable force modules that train and exercise together and would use common building blocks: command and control (C2) systems; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities; space-based assets; and joint logistics capabilities. McCarthy stressed that “We are not talking about a new force...[but rather] how to organize, exercise, and train the existing forces and what capabilities to give them.”3

RAND analyst David Gompert led the panel on America’s conventional forces. He echoed McCarthy’s recommendations in stating that all joint units must be “ready, rapidly deployable, and employable; tailorable for [a] range of operations; easily integrated and networked; [and] supportable despite distance and dispersion.”4 When asked about transformation initiatives during testimony in Congress in June, Secretary Rumsfeld also mentioned “rapidly deployable standing joint forces” as part of a new approach to handling military operations in both the near and long term.5

Thus, for the first time in recent history, a top-level defense review did not focus on what used to be the outputs of defense planning: carrier battlegroups, fighter wings, army divisions, and marine expeditionary forces. Instead, the defense review asked what capabilities a joint force commander will need today and in the future. The results of defense planning are, thus, the capabilities provided to a joint task force (JTF) pursuing an operational mission. In theory, this overturns the unstated World War II-era assumption (which survived the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act) that the process of developing tactical capabilities and conducting operations should be left to the individual services. The implications are profound for American defense policy.

If implemented as outlined by the panel in its public recommendations, JTFs would become the order of the day. Command at the three-star level and above would become joint. Service Title 10 functions would be modified to focus exclusively on organizing, training, and equipping for specific joint roles and missions versus current service missions. Each service would provide JTF building blocks or force modules based on its core competencies.

The recommendations set the stage for abolition of the World War II mode of relatively independent, sequential missions accomplished by service components under a regional warfighting commander in chief (CINC). This change implies the elimination of single-service three- and four-star headquarters that would no longer be required for the command and control of joint forces. If forces were converted to building-block
formations for JTFs, the reshaped Armed Forces could adopt a joint
rotational readiness base that would make deployments more predictable and that would identify the ground, naval, and air forces available at any given time for contingencies. If carried through to its logical end, the Bush administration brand of joint transformation could result in savings: it could end the practice of pouring billions into the services to build sufficient capability to compensate for an inefficient single-service mode of employment under an inadequate joint command and control structure. All of these measures could reduce unneeded bureaucratic layers and yield efficiencies that promise significant resource, dollar, and personnel savings.

Regardless of the national military strategy, however, the services will oppose change that does not give their core competencies due weight in defense planning and spending.6 Although the Goldwater-Nichols Act was supposed to address this problem, so many single-service headquarters and control structures survived the process—on the grounds that joint organizations had yet to demonstrate their merit—that enormous and expensive redundancies remain.

Given this conceptual groundwork, the issue is how to maintain the current readiness of the Armed Forces to conduct operations while transformation is implemented through changes in organization, doctrine, and technology.

From Implications to Implementation

The new national military strategy establishes four objectives: to assure friends and allies, dissuade future adversaries, deter threats and counter coercion, and defeat adversaries if deterrence fails.7 The scenario-based, two-major theater war requirement that has driven U.S. military strategy since the end of the Cold War has been replaced.

However, these statements provide neither a formula that translates theoretical goals into attainable strategic military objectives nor guidelines for sizing or employing the force. The United States no longer faces an identifiable enemy: no Soviet tank armies are poised to invade allied territory on short notice. Only North Korea fields a force designed to attack on short notice, and even this force is rapidly declining in capability and strength. Instead, a complex range of threats to American and allied interests is emerging that no single service can address. State and nonstate actors eventually are likely to acquire some form of weapon of mass destruction as well as precision-guided munitions, modern air defense technology, and access to electronic intelligence and satellite imagery provided by third powers. A broader range of enemies armed with new mixes of technologies—some industrial age and some information age capabilities—will confront the Armed Forces. Moreover, these adversaries do not require the ability to defeat U.S. forces, only to frustrate their employment in some way.

Thus, the Armed Forces must maintain an overseas military presence on land, at sea, and in the air in pivotal states or regions to ensure that the United States and its allies can either influence or become involved in crises or fight in conflicts that directly impinge on strategic interests. They also must be able to intervene militarily and fight in areas where America and its allies have no presence but have either declared strategic interests or a real political stake in the outcome.

These forces must be organized into specialized modules of combat power on rotational readiness so that they can rapidly assemble into joint task forces. JTFs will be needed both in war and in peace to buttress the stability of key states and to prevent regional crises and conflicts rather than reacting to them. This has several implications for force design and employment. First, JTFs will need highly mobile, rapidly deployable forces-in-being. These forces must be structured for interoperability within an evolving joint framework to incorporate and exploit new technology on a continuous basis. Second, some portion of the ground, naval, and air forces is likely to be forward deployed in key states to preserve U.S. access to critical infrastructure so that the United States can project military power inland. Forward-deployed forces provide tangible evidence of American commitment and a link to the larger strategic power of the United States. In the absence of large forces poised to attack our allies, fewer forces will be needed in a forward-deployed posture than previously, which presents the opportunity to reduce, although not eliminate, expensive overseas garrisons. Third, what military power remains—the bulk of American military forces—must be capable of moving rapidly from widely dispersed staging areas overseas and within the continental United States, deploying into crisis or conflict and initiating offensive operations.

The 1999 Kosovo crisis illustrates the need for rapidly deployable, ready ground forces that can integrate seamlessly into the global strike capabilities that American air, missile, information, and space power make possible, both to exploit their potential and to guarantee the safety of the deployed American and allied ground forces. Technology can be exploited to create the conditions for an Inchon-style operation wherever strikes are concentrated, but this requires the development of a new structure for readiness and training that is inherently joint.

One proposal is to treat the forces under service control as a pool of capability packages and place them into a joint rotational readiness structure. This would be substantially different from the notion of having standing JTFs that would permanently control large numbers of forces nominally under service command and control. The military organization chart that evolved during the Cold War is no longer suitable because the same number of higher echelon headquarters must share fewer forces.8

The echelons clearly need to be reduced, but replacing them with standing JTFs that permanently control the shrunken forces at the bottom may not be the answer. For example, the two JTFs or global joint response forces suggested by Gompert would have to be designed for the full range of missions, from an Operation Desert Storm to an Operation Sea Angel. This seems unworkable and would limit flexibility.

Instead, reconfiguring existing single service three- and four-star headquarters to U.S. Joint Force Command modules and assigning them to joint command and control in the regional warfighting commands could provide the assets from which the CINCs can establish operational JTF command structures to command these forces. The JTFs could be established on the basis of specific mission requirements much more rapidly and effectively than is the case today. This arrangement also avoids the complicated and unrewarding interservice squabbling associated with the establishment of any one-size-fits-all JTF headquarters.

This approach would preserve today’s forces that deploy and fight by creating a larger, predictable pool of ready and available ground, naval, and air forces on rotational readiness. These forces could be rapidly deployed to regional commands with a combination of strategic air and fast sealift to arrive in strategically pivotal regions “before the peace is lost.” This approach would preserve the vital readiness of today’s forces while routine joint experimentation and modernization are conducted. It also could reduce personnel tempo and make deployments and costs more predictable. A possible structure could resemble the following:

  • Training cycle (6 months): Unit and individual training is conducted under service control.
  • Deployment cycle (6 months): Units are ready for deployment to joint command and control and become part of the pool that responds to major theater of war missions, crises, peace support operations, or whatever mission the Secretary of Defense assigns.
  • Reconstitution cycle (6 months): Unit returns to home station for refitting, modernization (if required), and leave.

This structure also facilitates regular joint training of the forces that are likely to be committed and makes the commitment of the Armed Forces more comprehensible to the Secretary of Defense. It allows more humane treatment of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who must deploy on a routine basis.

Transforming Concepts and Organization for Improved Joint Operations

Secretary Rumsfeld has declared that new joint operational concepts are the keys to both transformation and rationalizing defense. A joint operational concept involves the integration of service core tactical capabilities on the operational level to achieve unity of purpose and action in the conduct of military operations. This has precedent: U.S. naval aviators in the interwar period experimented with carrier-based aviation and ultimately reversed the striking and supporting roles of battleships and aircraft carriers. American naval tactics evolved throughout World War II, and by 1945 no category of warship except minesweepers was employed for the purpose for which it originally had been built.

History suggests the required components of transformation:

  • a new operational concept
  • a new doctrine and organization to execute the concept that increases fighting power
  • a new joint operational architecture to integrate the technologies of ground, naval, and air warfare
  • a new approach to modernization, education, training, and readiness.

Information processes are also sources of combat power and should drive organizational design for combat. Warfighting systems, too, must evolve along with concepts and organizations.

The current pace of technological development is so fast that static organizational thinking is not possible. Adaptive structures for the continuous incorporation of new technologies to provide new capabilities are essential. Such a structure would integrate strike and maneuver assets through a nodal architecture empowered by advanced terrestrial and space-based communications. This structure would be the foundation for a new joint operational concept with enormous potential, but few people are sure how it would work in a purely joint setting.

Effects-based operations, which originated in the air and naval forces, present an opportunity to demonstrate the integrative nature of joint network-centric warfare in action. Effects-based operations would be inherently joint and network-centric; the ground, naval, and air forces involved must be interconnected or netted to be effective. All parts of the joint force must see the same scenario; what one part perceives and plans must be available to the whole force.9 The United States will be able to exploit its airborne ground surveillance and precision-targeting capabilities by detecting, tracking, and targeting a moving or dispersed enemy with speed and precision throughout a large area. This creates an immensely powerful joint warfighting synergy by enabling a joint commander to orchestrate ground, naval, and air forces to achieve effects that complement each other dynamically at the operational and tactical levels of war.

New joint operational concepts and structures that integrate diverse service capabilities require a new joint operational architecture to be effective. A new set of command relationships different from today’s single-service warfighting C2 structure would provide the C2 elements for joint task forces. This requires change on the operational level to supplant the multitude of single-service component commands at home and overseas with joint command and control elements from which JTFs can be constituted. The services also must organize their core capabilities into specialized modules of mission-focused combat power that can be integrated as required into JTFs. This requires change on the tactical level to achieve the interoperability essential to joint operations.

Scaling and equipping air and naval forces for integration into a plug-and-play joint operational architecture might entail modifications in communications and procedures to facilitate joint interoperability, but this would not necessitate dramatic organizational change. For the Army, however, the challenge of integration for joint interoperability has proved thus far insurmountable.

Air and Naval Forces

For the air and naval services, grouping forces to become mission-focused capability packages within a joint network-centric framework is easier than it sounds. Operational thinking in the air and naval forces is converging on ways to exploit jointly the global reconnaissance-strike complex. The Air Force plan to establish 10 air expeditionary forces is a critical step in this direction. Air Force strike packages can be modified in response to the required mission and target set. The Navy is accustomed to assembling ships into task forces for specific missions. While new naval platforms are designed and built for strike and maneuver operations in the littoral, existing platforms can be equipped and employed differently to provide the specific capabilities that JTF commanders require.

In recent months, the concept of the Marine expeditionary brigade (MEB) has also received attention. The MEB is capable of deploying a force of 5,000 or more marines quickly and sustaining combat over a wider area than the 2,000-person Marine expeditionary unit can. The MEB is scalable in size and can execute independent missions within JTFs but cannot sustain the long deployment timelines that a larger Marine expeditionary force (the Marine equivalent of an Army corps) can handle.10


Army adaptation to joint operations has been less promising. U.S. Army ground forces in the Gulf War were deployed slowly and deliberately against Iraq’s strength, the Republican Guard Corps. The opportunity to exploit the paralysis achieved in the opening days of the air campaign was lost, and as a result the strategic realities of Baghdad’s regional influence remained unchanged. During the Kosovo crisis in 1999, the Army and Air Force were unable to overcome the single-service nature of American warfare. Yugoslav forces never faced a robust allied combat force on the ground capable of decisive maneuver operations, and thus they were never compelled to mass and present the target array allied air forces sought.

In the middle of the 20th century, General George Marshall’s structure and vision for efficiently expanding an army of 200,000 to one of more than 6 million drew upon Henry Ford’s assembly-line concepts. These are now outdated. Present-day organization for combat and concepts of warfare were developed when theater missile defense, deep strike operations, JTFs, and real-time information-sharing did not exist, and when new missions for today’s ground forces were unknown or unanticipated. Without fundamental reorganization and reform of the Army’s warfighting structure, the Army cannot integrate its ground formations. They must be able to maneuver around and through massed precision strikes from joint ground, naval, and air forces to seize the positional advantage in future war.

Victories are not achieved by the most blood lost or by the crushing weight of numbers, but by surprise, joint strike, and maneuver to paralyze the enemy. These capabilities cannot be attained if the Army attempts transformation in isolation from the other services, nor can it transform by reequipping the old division-based World War II force with new platforms, whether they are wheeled or tracked.

When applied to land warfare, joint network-centric warfare demands a “dispersed mobile warfare” design that differs radically from the traditional army, corps, division, and brigade formations of linear warfare. It requires fewer echelons of C2 and a faster decision cycle that employs joint sensors forward with maneuver elements to provide the coverage needed to exploit the joint potential in the Army’s strike formations, as well as the advanced aviation and ground combat platforms in the Army’s close combat formations. Maneuver and strike formations must be transformed into nodes of joint combat power—deep, close, or sustaining—that have the capacity for joint operations on land similar to the operation of ships at sea.

To do this, Army forces must be reorganized into mission-focused force packages that provide the building blocks for the integration of critical army capabilities into JTFs. These capabilities range from theater missile defense assets and rocket artillery to combat maneuver forces and modern attack helicopters.

Integrating Critical Military Capabilities across Service Lines

In the information age, national military strategy, operational concepts, and force designs must lead to the creation of new interdisciplinary teams of armed forces capable of both adaptation and rapid joint employment. Developing forces to operate jointly within a new joint network-centric warfighting structure takes more than simply recapitalizing old warfighting structures. Old structures and old thinking are linked. There is a widening gulf between service transformation programs and transformation at the operational level, which must be joint. The various service transformation programs, if pursued separately, mostly tinker on the margins of America’s military status quo. They seek, in effect, to electrify the horse cavalry. Without structural and organizational change, thinking is unlikely to change. Until the Armed Forces begin to operate differently with existing assets, the parameters of modernization will not change, unneeded equipment sets cannot be eliminated, and new requirements will not be identified. The Armed Forces must emulate successful businesses by incorporating some new technologies, rejecting others, adapting practices and structures, narrowing or broadening activities—all in response to changing conditions.

The task ahead is nothing less than the conversion of today’s disjointed armed services into a truly joint force that can guarantee American security and influence for the remainder of this century.


 1.  Fred E. Saalfeld and John F. Petrik, “Disruptive Technologies: A Concept for Moving Innovative Military Technologies Rapidly to Warfighters,” Armed Forces Journal International, May 2001, 48. [BACK]

 2. Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough, “Inside The Ring,” The Washington Times, August 17, 2001, 7.[BACK]
 3. John T. Correll, “Rumsfeld’s Review: The Closed-Door Approach Led to Problems, and They Are Not Over Yet,” Air Force Magazine, July 2001, 2. [BACK]

4. Nicholas Lemann, “Letter from Washington: Dreaming about War,” The New Yorker, July 16, 2001, 32. [BACK]

5. “Joint Operations Reality,” Defense News, July 9–15, 2001, 10. [BACK]

6. These core competencies include the Navy and Marine Corps forward presence around the globe, the Air Force global precision strike forces, and the Army capacity to seize and hold strategic territory. Elaine M. Grossman, “DOD Is Shaping Major Review Outcomes Prior to Releasing Strategy,” Inside the Pentagon, June 14, 2001, 1. [BACK]

7. Thom Shanker, “Defense Chief Will Propose Military Change in Course,” The New York Times, June 15, 2001, 2. [BACK]

8. At the top was the Secretary of Defense; below that came the CINCs, the service component four-star headquarters, the three-star numbered fleets, air forces, Army corps, and marine expeditionary force headquarters. Below these were the “above-the-line” forces such as Army divisions and Air Force fighter wings. Today, nothing has changed at the top, but the bottom layer has contracted. [BACK]

9. Kenneth Watman, “Global 2000,” Naval War College Review 54, no. 2 (Spring 2001), 76. [BACK]

10. Christian Lowe, “Marine Corps Resurrects Medium-Weight Force,” Defense Week, August 20, 2001, 1. [BACK]



Table of Contents  |  Chapter Nine