The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Goldwater – Nichols: Mission complete?


Arguably the U.S. military is the only truly “joint fighting force” in the world today.  Few if any other nations have the full spectrum global capability of the U.S. military, for example, name another military that has a global strategic mobility capability similar to TRANSCOM?  Given these capabilities, and the fact that Goldwater- Nichols integrates these capbilities with a joint command structure, joint doctrine, and joint education and training, some would argue that it is time to rank the U.S. military as a “Go” at joint operations and move on to the next doctrinal hurdleinteragency capabilities

Others would argue that under the stress of real world decision making, budget constraints, and history,  U.S. jointness is revealed to be just a facade.  For example, the army sees only massive ground force as a military solution to most problems; the Navy ignores the other services; and USAF priority will always be winning through airpower.  These individuals believe that the U.S. military has to continue to reform:  make joint education and assignments even more prevalent; make all the CTCs into JCTCs; and start to moved to the idea of a U.S. Armed Forces instead of services.  These people would argue that the trends are not really toward “jointness,” but rather the opposite.  As money becomes tight the services will dig in and protect their “turf.”  If the U.S. was really moving toward jointness then how come ten years ago all the services shared the “BDU” field uniform, and now each service, at considerable cost, has its own unique field uniform to do exactly the same thing?


March 5, 2009 - Posted by | H300 | , , , , ,


  1. The Goldwater-Nichols Act was a significant stride forward in joint warfighting primarily because it put in place a leadership structure that encourages joint operations. Although joint operations aren’t new to the US military, the desire of the individual services to seek out and advocate joint capabilities for the sake of their effectiveness on the battlefield, particularly during times of relative peace, seems to still leave something to be desired.

    While it is possible there might one day exist a single joint US military force, the small initial step (and I would argue success) of Goldwater-Nichols suggests it is time for another small step toward a more combat effective joint force. I think the key to unlocking the next phase of our developing joint force is creating the requirement for joint education and training. The youngest members of today’s force, comfortable with the shrinking world of interconnectivity, is the perfect starting point for making a sincere attempt to build a joint focus from the bottom up.

    While conflicts in personality will remain among leaders regardless of their branch of service, future leaders of the joint force will not tolerate the inefficiencies of “service-centric” leadership if they learn the capabilities and strengths of their brothers and sisters in arms, and train with them, when they are young. Given the right education and training requirements with a focus on joint development, this same generation will seek to increase the US’ ability to defend its interests with less bias toward gaining an “equitable share for my branch”–a concept we cannot afford during a time of increased threats, tight budgets and dwindling resources.

    Comment by Randy | March 6, 2009

  2. There is no doubt that the concept of “joint-ness” is extremely prevalent today due to the necessity of all the services having to cooperate and work together within the GWOT environment. No one service has a distince advantage over the other when it comes to winning this prolonged conflict against global terrorism. And the added responsibilities that have been placed on all the Geographic Combatant Commanders and Unified Commanders since 9/11 have emphasized the need for syncronized team work and requirements for joint planning and coordination to create synergy among all service capabilities.

    However, just because the Goldwater-Nichols Act mandated “compliance” from all the services to adhere to the concept of joint operations, it did not necessarily translate to a full “commitment” by soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marine to fully embrace this initiative. Recent case studies from past conflicts since the institution of the Goldwater-Nichols Act have demonstrated that some level of parochialism still exists in each branch of service. This is only natural since each branch of service specializes in some form of warfare (i.e., Army for land warfare, Navy for maritime warfare, etc.).

    However, there are other major factors that stifle a fully joint environment. One of those factors already discussed earlier is the inescapable issue of budget constraints that have played a role in political affairs since World War I. Each service had to compete for a piece of the $$$ pie in order to sufficiently man and equip its forces. Unfortunately, this competition for military dollars will only become more exacerbated in today’s recession and defense budget cuts.

    Another key element that has significantly limited the expansion of jointness in the military is the issue of joint education. Today, more and more military personnel deploying overseas are being forced to serve in or are being exposed to joint operations at the lower eschelons of military operations. These military personnel include your junior enlisted, NCOs, and junior officers. However, military joint education (i.e., JPME Phase 1 and 2) are currently taught only at the field grade level. Therefore, I pose the question, how can one truly embrace jointness and expect to operate effectively in a joint environment when he or she has not even been indoctrinated in the basic tenets of joint operations (which should have been taught to them from the time they entered their basic career courses)?

    There is speculation that there may be a Goldwater-Nichols Act for “interagency” cooperation. Regardless of what is instituted by law to instill interagency cooperation, chances are high that agency parochialism and agency-centric conflicts will still exist among all the various government organizations. We are all human beings subject to human nature. To illustrate this point, I will simply direct your attention to the recent Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. One of the primary objectives of IRTPA was to create greater information sharing and improved intelligence cooperation among all the 16 members of the intelligence community under the supervision and direction of the Director of National Intelligence. The question I pose is just how effective do you think this Act has been in instilling jointness and cooperation between all these agencies? If you were to present this question to an FBI agent and an officer from the CIA (agencies that have two completely different missions and opposing measures of performance), you may be sorely disappointed or more surprised that little has changed within these well-engrained organizational cultures in the past 5 years. Only time will tell.

    Comment by MAJ Lance A. Okamura | March 6, 2009

  3. I would argue that the U.S. military is a “Go” at the joint operations station. Despite the ego clashes between the Army and Air Force that caused some of the confusion during Operation Anaconda in the Shahi Kot Valley, the backbone that Goldwater-Nichols established over 22 years ago to facilitate training and operations between the services is working. What is not working is interagency integration. For example, the CIA’s actions at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq caused an international uproar against the U.S. military because there were no checks and balances between the two agencies. There has been some progress made in discussions between the Department of Defense and the Department of State, but it could take more than 22 years at the pace that it is progressing to develop the same relationship that the Army and Air Force currently enjoy.

    Comment by Damon LaCour | March 12, 2009

  4. The Goldwater-Nichols Act changed the U.S. command structure to facilitate better joint operations and in order to preclude the inter-service friction. I argue that the act successfully launched the military services on the path toward better unity of effort in support of the combatant commander regardless of the type of conflict the military is involved in. This is evident in the existence of joint doctrine developed to address the full spectrum of operations and the mandatory joint education and joint service jobs requirements that officers must fulfill in order to meet eligibility requirements for promotion. Randy suggested in his blog entry that now is the time to inculcate future generations of leaders by introducing a joint education and training to junior leaders so that they will be very comfortable with joint capabilities when they reach senior leader levels. I concur that joint education and training would be a value added; however, the value decreases for anything more than an introduction to joint operations. The likelihood of a tactical unit working in a joint environment is high, but being able to see significant differences between service centric and joint operations on that level will be small. I pose that it is more likely for a junior leader to interact with NGOs and OGAs than with other services in their battle space. Perhaps a compromise would be to introduce all soldiers to joint concepts and OGAs simultaneously and build on that knowledge at each professional school and through distance education, CBTs and joint exercises.

    Comment by Karen Dill | March 21, 2009

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