Joint force C4I integration—significant challenges ahead

Joint force C4I integration—significant challenges ahead – integration of command, control, communications, computers and intelligence capabilities within United States joint military force

John Saputo

Horizontal and vertical integration of command, control, communications, computers and intelligence capabilities within a United States joint military force is the key enabler necessary for commanders to be decisive in operations. Lack of timely understanding of national, local, state and military information across the total horizontal and vertical spectrum decreases the joint force commander’s effectiveness. Joint integration leverages operational and tactical information for a maximum unified effect against the enemy. This is important not just for combat action, but all military operations.

A plethora of legislation, directives, visionary documents and initiatives such as the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the ambitious Joint Vision 2020 and global information grid, along with catchy terms such as “information superiority” and “common operational picture” are evidence of attempts to move towards improved joint integration. Despite these efforts, recent operations continue to reveal interoperability problems, Joint integration remains a constant and high, but elusive, Department of Defense priority.

And now in the wake of 9-11, Homeland Security goals make information interoperability between a joint military force and local, state and federal organizations an additional and even more challenging requirement. To achieve significant joint integration, improved management practices within the Defense Department are required.

This article traces the legislative history of the department and highlights key joint initiatives to provide a framework for current successes and failures of joint integration. It also outlines the realistic steps necessary to achieve an adequate integration end state.

The ability to have full C4I integration is unarguably the singular element needed to significantly improve tactical, operational and strategic effectiveness. As the tempo, lethality of warfare and automation of military operations increase, the need for C4I integration within a joint force increases proportionately. Because today’s operations rely heavily on timely and accurate information from joint service (ground, maritime, air and space) and now local and state automated systems, a case can be made that joint C4I horizontal and vertical integration is the center of gravity of force operations.

Winning quickly depends on the ability of a joint force commander to rapidly process and disseminate ground, sea, air and space information from different sources. Modern warfare is automated information warfare, which facilitates and complicates the integration problem. During the Cold War, large standing forces were available to counter the Soviet threat.

Today, a smaller and highly mobile joint force is assembled with minimal time for planning, coordination and training across service functional boundaries in ad hoc configurations for a wide assortment of diverse operational objectives. Yet, joint force C4I information is deconflicted rather than interoperable and integrated. Joint force success at the tactical and operational levels is predicated on being integrated to exchange information vertically and horizontally across multiple organizational levels.

But joint C4I integration remains difficult to define, implement and test. Integration is a complex principle rather than a definable and measurable attribute. Joint integration should be considered largely as the interactions between people, systems and information and firmly based on joint and not service doctrine.

Joint integration needs to be vigorously managed, acquired jointly using specific joint standards and trained periodically as a joint entity. Viewing integration from a purely technical aspect fails to properly flame the principle. Attempting to provide joint integration using only service and agency systems and technical approaches will result in continued deficiencies injoint force capabilities. Integrating disparate systems as an after thought is a technique prone for failure.

it is important to note that the terms “integration” and “interoperability” are related but not synonymous. Joint force C4I interoperability is the ability of combatant commander’s and service’s C4I systems to provide and accept capabilities and information (e.g., readiness, positional, targeting, intelligence, maneuver, support, transportation and medical) from other systems, and processing the information effectively.

Joint interoperability is essentially about exchanging and processing multiple sources of information to generate timely effective decisions and actions. Joint integration is the next necessary step beyond interoperability and allows the joint force C4I “system of systems” to function independently. An integrated joint C4I capability must be interoperable but interoperable systems need not be integrated.

Today, combatant commanders frequently raise C4I integration as critical shortfall. Cursory analysis of past joint operations in Grenada, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait reveals that this is not a new problem. The joint force to Grenada lacked an integrated and interoperable communications system. The uncoordinated and incompatibility of radio frequencies caused a lack of tactical communications between the services that prevents force awareness and facilitates a dangerous situation between the Marines and Army Rangers. In one of the many interoperability problems during Desert Storm, the airborne warning and control system could not relay information to each service because of frequency dissemination procedures, in his after-action report of Desert Storm to Congress, the Secretary of Defense stated that greater attention must be paid for improved interoperability in future conflicts. Lessons learned from Operation Restore Hope in Somalia revealed that, “the continuing problem of aligning systems, procedures and standards in the joint environment.”

Kicking the can down the road

Granted, joint interoperability and integration receive much more notoriety than in the past but a quick review of current operations, recent exercises and service funding plans reveals the real story–slow progress is being made but joint integration will remain limited at best. Why? Service attempts to prioritize joint interoperability requirements are unconvincing using affordability, sunk-costs and Title 10 as the key reasons to continue development of service-centric programs. Services operate in a bureaucratic, competitive and funding constrained environment.

The United States entered the second World War with an organizational structure that was incapable of coordinating land, sea and air activities across the two military departments. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the outcry over Pearl Harbor prompted the creation of European and Pacific unified theater commanders to wrestle with delivering a U.S. military response. The National Security Act created a “national military establishment” construct to be placed over the War Department. The act prescribed a secretary of defense with limited power and retains the service boards to govern the organization. The act gave legal acknowledgement to the JCS but the services continued the domination of the department with veto power and on issues of mutual interest, the services aligned in opposition to defeat any joint recommendations. The military’s perceived poor performance in Vietnam and subsequent bungled operations in Iran, Lebanon and Grenada further revealed the critical need for improvements in joint operations and structure.

The almost five-year campaign to strengthen and improve capabilities of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the unified commanders began in February 1982, when GEN David Jones, then chairman, appealed to the House Armed Services Committee for immediate reform. A senior study group recommended reforms within the department and reported that a certain amount of service independence was desirable but the current department balance always favored the parochial interests of the services. They claimed that the unification of commands and the state-of-the-art of the U.S. military fighting joint are more cosmetic than substantive. Indeed, in control of their own fiefdoms, the service chiefs had no intention of ceding even the slightest bit of control to the CJCS. Hard line legislation was needed.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 caused major defense reorganization. Now, planning and operational authority are centralized through the CJCS as opposed to the service chiefs. The CJCS was designated as the principal military advisor to the President, National Security Council and Secretary of Defense. The act streamlined the operational chain of command from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the CJCS to the unified commanders. And the Goldwater-Nichols Act further mandated the CJCS to closely monitor the service interoperability attempts by reviewing requirements documentation and approving program milestones. On the surface, it appeared that joint integration was moving towards being a reality.

The joint strategic planning system is the formal means by which the chairman gives strategic plans and direction to the services. A major part of the JSPS is the joint warfighting capability assessment process. The JWCA process is the CJCS vehicle for obtaining a systematic view of future joint warfighting capabilities. Assessments examine key relationships and interactions between joint capabilities, and identify opportunities for improving warfighting effectiveness. The continuous assessment process provides insight into issues involving interoperability, requirements, readiness and recommends plans for joint military capabilities. Findings are presented to the joint requirements oversight council. The final assessment products are intended to by used to influence service programming and budget guidance.

The JROC is the main the tool to assist the CJCS in the effort to force joint integration. The JROC’s origins date back to the early efforts of the Ronald Reagan administration to develop more coherent defense programs and minimize service system duplications. The initial recommendation that a senior group be established to review and manage joint programs was proposed in a 1984 study by the defense science board.

In response, the CJCS established a joint requirements and management board consisting of the four service vice chiefs and interestingly not the unified commanders. The JRMB was renamed the JROC and agreement is based on consensus. The JROC has only recently requested an operational concept, and operational and tactical architectures for a joint force C4I.

Today responsibilities of joint forces command as the joint force provider continue to increase in an attempt to define joint strategy, doctrine and force structure. Not only does the JFCOM retain its responsibilities as the joint force trainer, integrator and force provider, it assumed new highly ambitious responsibilities of combining service and defense agency capabilities to enhance joint interoperability. JFCOM is to create new joint war-fighting concepts as well as design and prepare programs for joint war fighting and identity/integrated systems that will optimize interoperability key performance parameters for the joint force. The services are keenly observing JFCOM’s progress.

New or enhanced technological initiatives such as the net-centric enterprise services and the joint command and control systems promise better C4I integration for the combatant commanders and joint force. The NCES has been proposed to provide a common set of information capabilities across the DoD. The department’s command and control system is scheduled to evolve from its current state of joint and service variants to a single joint C2 architecture and capabilities-based implementation comprised of joint mission capability packages and service applications.

JC2 is based on NCES infrastructure enabling shared access to service/agency/joint-provided data sources. As the DoD transforms the way it interacts with other elements of national power and with the international community, JC2 will extend its C2 interoperability to support information exchange with multinational and non-DoD partners.

For example, JC2 will enable the DoD to exchange information and work closely with key federal agencies and multinational partners to accomplish the strategic objectives of preventing terrorist attacks within the U.S. and reducing America’s vulnerability to terrorism.

Integral to the DoD’s efforts to strengthen joint operations and improve integration, JFCOM is developing the standing joint force headquarters. The deployable joint command and control will provide the materiel solution for the SJFHQ.

For all these technological, bureaucratic and resource intense efforts, providing significant C4I integration to the joint force remains slow.

However, some successes must be noted. Air tasking order dissemination across the service systems is a significant improvement from 1991. During the Gulf War, for example, commanders had to wait two or three days to get assessments of the damage caused by allied bombing run. Today, commanders can get preliminary data almost immediately–either from the planes that dropped the bombs, other aircraft or unmanned drones in the area. Commanders and analysts now can watch live video of a battle as it unfolds from a Predator drone. Pilots from the Navy and Air Force can talk and share computerized target data with each other and U.S. forces on the ground. Today commanders have new capabilities that allow full advantage of precision-guided munitions, flexible surveillance and reconnaissance assets, and real-time situational awareness that reaches across the full spectrum of service participants.

DoD is not organized for joint warfare

Fundamentally the joint interoperability challenge is deeply rooted in the broader issue of the distributed and horizontal structure of the DoD that promotes competitive relationships within the department between the military services and especially between the joint community and the services.

The National Security Act codifies into law the national military command structure that exists today. The legislation clearly intends the services to retain much of their autonomy and promotes service core expertise (ground, sea, air) but indirectly creates a competitive environment between the services discouraging joint efforts. Because of decreasing funding appropriations, joint interoperability usually takes a back seat to service-centric initiatives.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act is the driver behind the shift in the focus of conventional warfare from a service centric operation to a joint operation. But the legislation directs a complete overhaul of the defense organization by increasing some authority of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the unified combatant commanders.

Specifically, the legislation focuses on improving the joint requirements or capabilities side of the department but does nothing to the business side of the department. While the Goldwater-Nichols Act realigns organizationally, the funding resource prioritization remains with the already funding constrained services.

The CJCS and the combatant commanders receive no funding resources for development or integration of joint C4I systems. That responsibility remains with the services. Under U.S. Title 10, services organize, supply, equip, train and mobilize forces for the operational requirements of the unified combatant commands. Today, the service departments remain centralized, hierarchical and highly autonomous, and none view the primacy of joint C4I interoperability as the principal mandate.

Regional combatant commanders wishfully expect joint C4I interoperability to be present in service and agency systems.

Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrates the need for significant technological work-arounds and unique C4I configurations highly dependent on trained contractor support.

The way ahead

In the long run, improving joint force C4I integration is largely a matter of prioritization and management rather than of resolving technology issues.

While changes in doctrine, assessment, acquisition, standards and training are the underpinnings of achieving joint force C4I effectiveness, focused management with improved practices are the keys to reaching the required level of joint integration.

The current and anticipated defense budgets even with the business efficiencies achieved to date through downsizing, best practices and using commercial-off-the-shelf equipment and software are insufficient to fund current or future joint C4I integration requirements, therefore tradeoffs will need to be made based on the prioritizations of the combatant commanders. No redistribution of C4I program or integration funding from the services to JFCOM is forecasted therefore without specific guidance prior to the yearly POM submissions, the services will continue to dominate the resource allocation process with service-centric programs.

As an oversight measure, OSD should realign the business end of DoD with the intent to withhold service C4I procurement and research and development funding pending approval of a joint horizontal and vertical integration plan for all C4I systems. This measure mandates that a concise joint force C4I functional operational and tactical architecture exists.

Development of operational and tactical architectures covering the totality of the joint force’s C4I requirement is not feasible today albeit progress is being made. The joint staff J6 along with JFCOM is developing operational and tactical C4ISR architectures for a future joint force founded on seven primary capabilities–decision making,

flexible synchronization to achieve an intent, shared understanding, tailorable organization, dispersed command and control, operation integration, and simultaneous command and control processes. Each must have corresponding metrics.

The tactical and operational capabilities needed by the joint force commander must remain the primary driver of interoperability solutions and investments. These capabilities need to be defined at the operational level of command (e.g., the combatant commander, standing joint force headquarters and joint task force commander) and at the tactical level where the services systems exchange information to accomplish service-centric missions.

A continuing assessment process needs to be in place to measure the C4I capability of a joint force. The Secretary of Defense and the CJCS should establish processes to assess C4I interoperability and integration on a regular basis and establish reporting requirements of C4I operational and tactical integration readiness by the combatant commanders and the services.

The end state

The objective therefore is an integrated C4I joint force capability that exchanges accurate air, maritime, ground, space, pertinent national, local and state information vertically and horizontally in a required time period and functions as an independent system.

The joint force system must not be burdened with today’s deconfliction approaches that are based on work-around technical solutions using middleware and translators which hinder performance and limit accuracy. Integrating legacy and “stand alone” service and joint automated systems together into a makeshift joint system fails to provide the combatant commander and his force a reliable warfighting tool.

Joint force C4I integration must be acquired, integrated, tested, trained and managed from inception as a joint initiative.

As with all needed capabilities, joint force C4I integration must be balanced against other requirements to include system security, availability, flexibility, survivability and performance. While progress is being made, the vision of a defense-wide view of C4I articulated in Joint Vision 2020 remains highly ambitious.

While full joint force C4I is unachievable, a high degree of C4I integration is necessary. To achieve joint force C4I integration requires joint doctrine and definitive guidance and vigorous oversight. Joint C4I integration will provide a joint force the needed capabilities for a 21st century force.


C2–command and control


DJC2–deployable joint command and control

JC2–joint command and control

JFCOM–Joint Forces Command

JROC–Joint Requirements Oversight council

JRMB–Joint Requirements and Management Board

JSPS–Joint Strategic Planning System

JWCA–Joint Warfighting Capability Assessment

NCES–Net-Centric Enterprise Services

SJFHQ–Standing Joint Force Headquarters


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Mr. Saputo works for the Army CIO/ G6. Supato has more than 25 years of experience primarily in command and control systems and has a degree in computer engineering from the George Mason University.

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