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.
of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.
The occasion is piled high with difficulty,
and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new,
so must we think anew and act anew.
Abraham Lincoln, addressing Congress in 1862
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?
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
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
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
• What is the expected impact of this change when the Nation confronts
traditional, irregular, disruptive, and catastrophic challenges and threats,
• 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
• 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
• 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
military operations on a global scale?
• Who is the final decision-making authority?
• At what frequency should a strategic assessment of potential changes
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.