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Filling a Strategic-Level Void

As the world’s only “hyperpower,” the United States seeks to maintain both the strategic high ground in world affairs and military superiority to advance and protect its interests. Our military is doing its part, along with the other instruments of national power (diplomatic, informational, and economic), by transforming on a massive scale to achieve a broad competitive advantage over any adversary. To many, structural changes, especially in the areas of force projection and sustainment, are necessary to achieving success. Although the word “structural” suggests permanence, or even rigidity, the term as used here refers to better defined relationships among an adaptive system’s capabilities. In other words, better defined relationships lead to new levels of teamwork and jointness that achieve stunning results.

Essentially, these structural changes extend from the highest levels of the Department of Defense (DOD), including its links to interagency, industrial, and multinational partners, down to the tactical levels within the individual armed services, where violence is actually applied. More precisely, structural changes must be driven at all levels, vertically and horizontally, to achieve coherence and convergence of functions, policies, organizations, doctrine, networks, and processes. To accomplish this, the capabilities of DOD, the Defense industrial base, and the Defense Transportation System (DTS) require redefinition and realignment. This effort is very complex and disruptive, but it is mandatory if the essential capabilities codified in the futuristic joint operating, functional, and integrating concepts are to become realities.

A Strategic-Level Void


My focus in this article is intentionally limited to the strategic level, with the understanding that the operational and tactical levels of warfare are affected directly and indirectly by structural changes, or the lack thereof, at the strategic level. In this article, the U.S. military’s strategic level includes the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD); the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (OCJCS); the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Joint Staff; the Defense agencies; the Defense industrial base; the DTS; strategic links to the National Security Council, the Department of Homeland Security, joint headquarters, and interagency, multinational, industrial, and academic partners; and the service-level headquarters.

A common framework already exists to develop and assess tactical-level and, to a lesser degree, operational-level structural changes. We know this framework as “DOTMLPF” (doctrine, organizations, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities). Unfortunately, at the strategic level, DOTMLPF development and assessment are difficult to perform. The reason is that there appears to be no disciplined process for capturing and assessing required structural changes at this high level and then making necessary changes in a timely manner. Given the “tyranny of time” and the “unforgiving high stakes” associated with national security, the U.S. military cannot allow strategic-level structural shortcomings to remain problems.

Today, the services, U.S. Joint Forces Command, and U.S. Special Operations Command are primarily responsible for DOTMLPF development. In fact, Title 10 of the U.S. Code assigns this set of responsibilities. This arrangement, however, is beginning to reveal alarming signs of inadequacy.

Due in large part to the absence of a disciplined, formal process to identify, assess, and make rapid changes at the strategic level, a significant structural void is emerging. This void is exacerbated by a distinctive blurring of strategic, operational, and tactical activities. Harmful DOTMLPF seams, gaps, and mismatches involving the regional combatant commands, Defense agencies, and services also must be addressed to achieve a more globally integrated, coherently joint, interdependent force. These problems can be found, for example, in mobilization processes, logistics, force protection, base closure and realignment, budget processes, and portions of Title 10 of the U.S. Code. More and more, the strategic level must be dynamically connected to joint, interagency, multinational, and industrial capabilities.

This strategic-level void, if left unchecked, will grow until a viable strategic-level solution is implemented. This begs the question: Is there a need to redefine and realign the U.S. Defense establishment’s strategic-level structure so that it can collaborate more effectively, anticipate sooner, adapt better, and act faster in future global scenarios requiring joint, interagency, and multinational intervention? I think that such a rebalancing is long overdue. If this is true, then what is the “forcing function” to make it occur—not just once, but as needed in the future?

Forcing Change

Today, strategic-level structural changes occur in response to Administration edicts, legislation and subsequent appropriations, and DOD- and service-level policies and directives. Regrettably, unless confronted with an urgent crisis, such as the events of 11 September 2001 and the subsequent Global War on Terrorism, significant structural changes take years to implement, if done at all. Short of catastrophic events, strategic-level structural changes within our military establishment do not occur rapidly. Said more precisely, a perceived or actual “need” for strategic-level structural change must become critically urgent to senior decision makers, some of whom are either elected officials or Presidential appointees, to receive the proper attention. Conceivably, a major event covered by the media, such as coalition civilian contractors being taken hostage or killed in Iraq, can illuminate the need for a strategic-level change.

Grand changes also are often slow to occur in the Defense industrial base and the DTS. This slowness results in part from a reluctance by U.S. manufacturing and transportation industry leaders to change and accept greater risk. Undue emphasis on efficiencies in procurement and transportation of forces and their supplies also can often overshadow the need for operational effectiveness.

I believe that not having a disciplined and formal process to make high-level DOTMLPF changes puts the United States at higher risk in terms of preventing, adapting to, and eliminating future threats. Some may argue that the DOD and service transformation campaign plans or roadmaps and the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System eventually will become the formal mechanisms for change. Potentially, this is true. However, these efforts tend to focus on service and joint forces in the aggregate and may not focus specifically on the military’s strategic level.

Evaluating Strategic-Level Changes

What are the strategic-level “golden nuggets” that cause military operations to occur with great speed, precision, adaptability, agility, sustainability, and protection? Collectively, these “golden nuggets” act as a catalyst for the changes that will yield unprecedented, seemingly unimaginable, capabilities in all domains—cognitive, informational, and social as well as physical. Essentially, a more balanced DOD-wide approach to military operations is the desired result. Here, “balanced” means having the capabilities in place to collaborate, anticipate, plan, adapt, and act faster and better to achieve desired end states.

To start, some fundamental questions must be debated and resolved with each potential change at the strategic level—

• What is driving the need for this strategic-level change? Is it the emerging geopolitical landscape? A new, more advanced threat? An emerging technology? A new type of mission? A more thorough understanding of an existing or potential threat?
• What is the expected impact of this change when the Nation confronts traditional, irregular, disruptive, and catastrophic challenges and threats, possibly simultaneously?
• Which domains are involved in this change—physical, informational, cognitive, or social?
• What is the potential ripple effect caused by implementing this change? How are the services affected? How are interagency and multinational partners, industry, and academia affected? Do responsibilities, authorities, and accountabilities change? Is congressional legislation required?
• Does this change effectively balance centralization and decentralization in terms of command and control, planning, and execution?
•What type of strategic-level change is required? Will it affect the size of forces? Their capabilities? Composition? Processes? Behaviors? Active or Reserve component units?
• Are readiness, effectiveness, adaptability, and efficiency improved at the joint force commander (JFC) level? Do the JFC’s employment options increase because of this change?
• Does this change improve strategic-level agility, flexibility, and adaptability?
• Does this change contribute to networked joint, interagency, and multinational operations?
• Does this change either eliminate or reduce harmful seams and gaps in force projection, employment, and sustainment operations?
• Is this change affordable in terms of risk or funding? Does it improve readiness? Is it politically feasible? Are cost savings realized by retiring legacy systems, processes, or organizations?
• Does this change reduce the challenges associated with high demand for low-density capabilities that currently plague our military?
• Who is championing, advocating, or opposing this change and why?
• Is this change potentially revolutionary in terms of prosecuting and supporting military operations on a global scale?
• Who is the final decision-making authority?
• At what frequency should a strategic assessment of potential changes occur?

Remedying the Void

Obviously, the answers to these questions will provide clarity, insight, and possibly justification for potential change. However, once the preliminary answers are known at the strategic level, then what? The solution set still must be approved, resourced, and implemented. Here is a partial list of remedies—

• Since intelligent, determined, and capable adversaries will oppose the United States and its allies and friends, the United States must be capable of making extremely rapid strategic-level structural changes that allow preemptive and simultaneous tactical-level actions to thwart adversaries.
• Strategic-level changes must be preventive in meeting security challenges rather than just punitive.
• DOD and service transformation campaign plans must place sufficient emphasis on internal structural changes at the senior levels.
• The strategic-level structure must be designed to achieve coherence and convergence of functions, policies, organizations, doctrine, networks, and processes that, in turn, produce higher operational- and tactical-level readiness and effectiveness.
• Strategic-level structural decisions must be made early so benefits are available before they are critically needed. For example, if a joint Sea Basing concept is essential, or customer wait time for sustainment replenishment must be reduced dramatically, in the 2015 timeframe, then strategic-level decisions must be made now. Significant penalties from the strategic to the tactical levels normally occur when strategic-level decisions are delayed. The potential consequences of postponing strategic-level decisions are deadly. Timing is crucial.
• The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) process must be expanded to include a more thorough internal assessment of DOD’s structure, including OSD itself, the OCJCS, the Joint Staff, the roles and missions of the services and the unified commands, and all other DOD supporting agencies. This assessment also must include the viability of the Defense industrial base and the DTS. The QDR process actually can become the primary means of forcing strategic-level structural changes.
• The QDR process must be used to identify and prioritize required structural changes at the senior levels; determine DOD’s progress in collaborating and developing interoperability with interagency, multinational, industrial, and academic partners; assess mutually beneficial interdependencies among the services and other Federal agencies; and evaluate progress in minimizing and eliminating harmful DOTMLPF gaps, seams, and mismatches.
• New metrics must be employed to drive force planning processes. These metrics should include the ability to create and preserve options and develop high transaction rates and high learning rates and should achieve complexity that overmatches an adversary at a scale in proportion to the operation.
• As necessary, DOD’s own transformation pro-
cess must be transformed to accommodate rapid strategic change.

Today, many world leaders perceive the United States as a 21st century “information age” empire. History teaches us that empires can and do collapse; remember the British and Soviet empires. If the United States is indeed a de facto empire, albeit of a different kind, how long will it maintain this singular status? What are the strategic military and security implications of managing empire status?

The U.S. military is not preordained to remain the world’s premier combat power and exporter of armed security. In its quest to remain second to none, the U.S. military must lead all of the world’s militaries in creativity, initiative, learning, adaptability, agility, and power—not just in the physical domain, but in the informational, social, and especially the cognitive domains as well. Obviously, the U.S. military must dominate the conventional and unconventional threat spectrum when called to do so. To achieve the required level of readiness, no strategic-level structural void can remain untended; otherwise, exposed vulnerabilities may be exploited by an intelligent and determined adversary or combination of adversaries.

The United States must seize the opportunities now available to shape the evolving strategic landscape, not simply cope with it and react to it. Ultimately, this shaping effort begins at and depends on our strategic level. Yes, our tactical and operational capabilities must be rapidly deployable, immediately employable, highly mobile and lethal, durable, and sustainable. But it is at the wisely structured strategic level that our global military strategy is envisioned, developed, resourced, and set into motion. We must never underestimate the importance of an effective strategic-level military structure that is well organized, resourced, networked, well informed, highly adaptive, and as “close to perfect” as it can be, all the time. Nothing less is acceptable. ALOG

Colonel Larry D. Harman, USA (Ret.), is a senior concept developer with J–9, Joint Experimentation Directorate, at the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Suffolk, Virginia. He retired from the Army in 2003 with 30 years of service.