In his latest, and downright grim, communiqué about the situation in Iraq, retired four-star general and West Point professor Barry McCaffrey marvels at the miracle of joint-service combat power.
The report, which concludes that U.S. forces
in Iraq are “in a position of strategic peril,” also offers a glimpse of how four years of grueling deployments there have managed to upend tradition. Officers from earlier generations such as McCaffrey who have closely followed U.S. military actions in Iraq continue to be amazed by the ability of Army and Marine Corps troops on the ground to smoothly blend into integrated units. What is even more astonishing to McCaffrey is that soldiers and Marines are utterly nonchalant about their unity.
“The joint integration of combat power is extremely effective — but is deemed unremarkable by the involved units,” McCaffrey writes. “I found a Marine battalion with all three of its fighting companies attached from an Army battalion.” Marines and soldiers also are able to synchronize air and ground weapons with impressive speed, he notes.
McCaffrey’s ruminations about cross-service teamwork at the grass roots, conversely, stand in sharp contrast to the internecine battles that continue to rage at the Pentagon.
The bureaucratic rivalries come in many forms and varieties, predictably, over money and power. When it comes to money, especially, the underlying motivator is the presumption that the defense budget is a zero-sum game. The Army and the Marine Corps need massive infusions of cash to pay for additional equipment and people as long as they are committed in Iraq; and the Navy and the Air Force will be expected to tighten their belts, possibly for years to come. Already we have seen a procession of Navy and Air Force officers on Capitol Hill pleading their case that they should not have to sacrifice their weapons modernization plans to pay for war expenses.
Big-ticket weapon systems and technology programs in recent years have spawned bitter turf wars. One case in point being the $5 billion procurement of a “joint cargo aircraft,” which is to be purchased by both the Army and the Air Force. The Defense Department’s decision to allow the Army to buy its own fleet of fixed-wing cargo planes sparked a “roles and missions” tussle, with the Air Force arguing that aerial transportation is inherently its job. Although both services said they have agreed to cooperate, the atmosphere surrounding the program has been less than collegial, according to Brig. Gen. Stephen Mundt, the director of Army aviation.
In a similar vein, Army officials have been disgruntled in recent weeks by what they characterized as a backhanded move by the Air Force to seize control over the procurement and management of tactical unmanned aircraft. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley has maintained that the service just wants to help the Pentagon save money and better coordinate unmanned aircraft operations. Mundt said the Army had been caught off guard by the Air Force’s proposal to take over unmanned aircraft programs and accused “his brothers in blue” of being bad sports.
The Air Force and the Navy, for their part, have been engaged in a bureaucratic dogfight over who is responsible for funding the next generation of electronic-jamming aircraft and related technologies. The Air Force gave up its electronic warfare assets more than a decade ago, on the assumption that the Navy could handle that mission on its own. But the Navy’s electronic jamming assets became too thinly stretched and the Air Force decided to get back in the game. Officials from both services have publicly criticized the other for being uncooperative in crafting a joint plan for electronic warfare. Last November, Air Force Gen. Ronald Keys, head of the Air Combat Command, blamed the Navy for “not contributing to the joint fight.”
During the past decade, a number of multibillion-dollar acquisition efforts that were conceived as “joint” programs have been derailed by inter-service disagreements and reluctance to commit carefully guarded funds to projects that are viewed as providing questionable value. Examples include the joint tactical radio system, joint global command support system, joint standoff attack missile, joint unmanned combat aircraft, and joint common missile. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld thought his iron fist rule would bring the services in line behind joint procurements. But he only achieved marginal results. At the Pentagon, an officialdom of managers is in place, enforcing and overseeing joint weapon requirements and procurements. But they have yet to show marked improvements in the track record of joint programs.
Commanders on the front line often dismiss suggestions that the services don’t get along. As Iraq and other conflicts have proved, they work together just fine. But at the Pentagon, for better or for worse, teamwork just isn’t the same.
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