Dempsey Calls for Faster, Flexible Force in ‘Joint Force 2020’ Capstone
The U.S. military needs to rebuild, reposition, and restructure itself so that it is able to rapidly respond to a future international security outlook that is bleak, unpredictable, and inevitably violent, according to General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Some of you may have heard that before. Since taking office one ...
The U.S. military needs to rebuild, reposition, and restructure itself so that it is able to rapidly respond to a future international security outlook that is bleak, unpredictable, and inevitably violent, according to General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Some of you may have heard that before. Since taking office one year ago, Dempsey has publicly talked about using his tenure to set a plan in place for building exactly that kind of a military, calling it Joint Force 2020.
On Thursday, the E-Ring was provided an exclusive look the first formal guidance to set that plan in motion, in Dempsey’s “Capstone Concept for Joint Operations: Joint Force 2020.”
According to the 15-page document, the world is heading in a dark direction. To match it, the military needs to reshape its forward-deployed joint capabilities to be more flexible, easily adaptable, and ready to handle an increasingly diffuse array of security threats at a clip faster than its enemies. And it must do so with a new battle “domain” in mind: cyber.
That means that everything, including the combatant command (or COCOM) system itself, the laydown of forces, the weapons the Defense Department buys, all of it, is up for discussion.
“We’re trying to say that the world is changing, and we have to change to the world,” said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. George Flynn, Dempsey’s J-7 or director for Joint Force Development, in an interview in his D-ring office. This document, he explained, is the starting point.
Dempsey, who personally wrote several sections, argues the military needs to embrace an “ethic of decentralization.” The phrase means giving subordinate commanders greater power — and trust — to carry out their missions independently, using all the means available to them in the digital world.
That’s the core of what Dempsey has dubbed “globally integrated operations.”
As the report puts it, “It will improve a commander’s ability to tailor the force to the situation. It will aid a commander’s ability to scale military force as required. It will help commanders down to the lowest-echelons exercise initiative.”
In plainer English, Flynn explained, “You need leaders who are comfortable trusting people, are willing to empower people, and are willing to let people operate on their intent so that everybody can be focused on what they’re supposed to be doing.”
One reason for all of that trust is the fear of a cyber-blackout during conflict, disconnecting commanders from each other.
Many of the chairman’s recommendations do not sound new: develop deeper regional knowledge, build up anti-access and area-denial weaponry, use more cloud computing in localized operations, get better at exploiting big data, provide cyber “fire support” to troops in combat, link missile defenses.
“Massed formation,” the report forecasts, “will not be the option of choice.” Instead, the new world order could require smaller and agile forces, prepositioned supplies, and flexible commands. The Pentagon will need to partner with not only foreign militaries, but also indigenous forces and foreign and domestic security agencies.
But Dempsey also calls for joint forces no longer to be organized solely by geographic region or function. Instead, he wants flexibility for individual “security challenges,” citing the flexibility often associated with Special Operations Command.
“It requires you to take a look at the COCOM system,” Flynn said, but cautioned, “we’re not there in flushing it out, yet.”
“Geography remains the logical basis for conducting theater cooperative security,” the report states, “while some missions, such as strategic deterrence, remain functionally distinct.” But the intent of the new direction is to explore “hybrid” commands.
The threats Dempsey predicts give good reason why. As he puts it, the world will enter “a security environment characterized by several persistent trends: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the rise of modern competitor states, violent extremism, regional instability, transnational criminal activity, and competition for resources. Armed conflicts will be inevitable in such an environment…”
And since nobody is trying to match the Pentagon plane-for-plane, ship-for-ship, or missile-for-missile, agility is the new buzzword.
Some of the future is here already. The document follows protests and planned attacks across the Middle East that forced the United States to deploy extra Marines to the region. Within the chairman’s guidance is a warning that the digital age only makes things worse for security by turning mundane or local events into potentially global crises. “Military actions will receive intense media scrutiny, a dynamic that potentially invests otherwise inconsequential actions with strategic importance.”
“In such a world, the dimensions of any particular security challenge may not align with existing boundaries or command structures. Likewise, the conventions by which wars are fought are no longer as settled as they once were. Notions of who is a combatant and what constitutes a battlefield in the digital age are rapidly shifting beyond previous norms.”
Flynn said the Pentagon began work on the plan in Dempsey’s early transition meetings with his future staff before Adm. Mike Mullen departed the chairman’s seat. Several working groups and war games later — including a “major conference” this spring with representatives from the services, combatant commanders, and coalition partners — and they were close to the final draft.
In the last two weeks, Dempsey took over the final version and it was approved in a session in the Tank with the chiefs on September 10. Dempsey is expected to roll out his plan formally within the next couple of weeks.
A review of education and training to match the military’s reconfiguration is also underway. That is due, Flynn said, sometime around February or March.