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Vice Chiefs: Operating Jointly Provides Advantage Over Adversaries

The U.S. military is at its best when its separate branches are working together.  

That was the resonant message communicated by the vice chairmen of the U.S. armed forces' six branches during a panel discussion today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

An aerial view of the Pentagon.
Pentagon Aerial
An aerial view of the Pentagon, May 15, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. John Wright, DOD
VIRIN: 230515-D-KY598-1309

With a theme of "Preparing U.S. Military Forces for Competition and Contestation," the 90-minute discussion covered a wide range of topics, including many related to how joint operations give U.S. forces a leg up against America's adversaries.  

Regarding the military's comparative advantage to operate jointly, one panelist said it's something that is happening more frequently, and that it's something America's near-peer adversaries hadn't counted on.  

"They didn't think we'd be able to fight [jointly]. They also didn't think we'd be able to fight [alongside] our allies. They also didn't think we were going to be able to fight [alongside] our commercial partners," said Gen. Michael A. Guetlein, the Space Force's vice chief of space operations. "So, what we're learning from not only what's going on in the Middle East, but especially in Ukraine, is that we're bringing all of this to bear, simultaneously, on the adversary." 

Guetlein added the caveat that America's adversaries are also acting in a similar fashion, thus necessitating that the joint force constantly works to ramp up more integration and networking among the branches. 

To that end, a significant portion of the discussion was focused on the Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or CJADC2, that the Defense Department is developing.

A graphic showing five aircraft and two satellites are bound together by laser-like lines of energy in the sky.
Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control initiative.
A graphic visualizing the structure of the Combined, Joint All-Domain Command and Control initiative.
Photo By: Travis Burcham, DOD
VIRIN: 210226-D-HR740-001

CJADC2, which had its initial iteration in February of this year, is the DOD's approach to developing both material and non-material solutions to deliver information and decision advantage to commanders.  

"Command and Control [has] been the integrating and synthesizing function of all the seven joint functions that we have, and it's one of the most critical components of how we fight as a combined joint force," said Gen. James J. Mingus, the Army's vice chief of staff. 

"CJADC2 is making sure that we as a joint force move together forward." 

Admiral James W. Kilby, vice chief of naval operations, said that it's important for all the vice chiefs to acknowledge their and their individual branch of service's reliance on each other, in order to successfully work together as a joint force. 

"This [CJADC2] effort, which has been going on for quite some time, is an imperative," he said.  

"How we get there is what we really need to focus on, so we can collectively benefit from each other." 

Members of the panel also spoke of real-world examples of how the separate branches working jointly bring a comparative advantage to the battlespace. 

"From a Red Sea perspective, it takes a joint force for this big fight we're preparing for; everybody brings something to that game" Gen. Christopher Mahoney, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, said of the ongoing conflict with Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists. 

As an example of this, Mahoney pointed out how the Department of the Navy was able to provide some mobility in the Red Sea region when the military lacked basing rights.

A person stands watch aboard a ship at sea.
USS Mason
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ahmed Elharoun looks through high powered binoculars at a passing oil tanker aboard the USS Mason while operating in support of Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea, Dec. 24, 2023.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Krucke
VIRIN: 231224-N-CK669-1005Y

Another example of joint force comparative advantages involves two other branches of the armed services. 

"I can tell you that on the topic of airbase air defense … there is not a closer relationship than that, specifically, between the Army and Air Force," said Gen. James C. Slife, the Air Force's vice chief of staff. 

"And I'm really encouraged by … us leveraging one of our comparative advantages, which is our ability to work jointly." 

The morning panel was one portion of CSIS's day-long Global Security Forum 2024.

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