Reports are circulating that the Defense Business Board (DBB), a Pentagon advisory board of retired economic and business leaders, will recommend ways that the Department of Defense can reduce its costs. In keeping with Defense Secretary Gates’ focus on reducing overhead and redundant functions, the DBB will recommend cuts to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and combatant commands. One of the most surprising and potentially controversial recommendations the DBB is reported to make is to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM).
JFCOM is unique among the ten combatant commands. Unlike the others it does not focus primarily on operations, either functionally or geographically. Its primary responsibility is to oversee the transformation of U.S. military capabilities. JFCOM has been characterized as the “transformation laboratory” of the United States military. Its responsibilities include development of joint doctrine and operational concepts, testing these concepts through experimentation, educating joint leaders, training joint task force commanders and staffs, and recommending joint solutions to better integrate warfighting capabilities across the services. JFCOM is also the primary conventional force provider to the other nine combatant commands. This means it manages the global distribution of U.S. conventional military capabilities.
In principle, the DBB’s focus on reducing defense overhead, shrinking the number of headquarters and the size of their staffs is a good thing. It is important to look for savings through reductions in overhead costs before taking the painful and potential dangerous step of cutting force structure or eliminating modernization programs.
Nevertheless, the recommendation to eliminate JFCOM looks like a mistake. JFCOM serves a very useful and certainly unique role across the U.S. military. Its charter under the Unified Command Plan allows it to cut across all the other major defense stakeholders to press for innovative and joint solutions. Alone, among the combatant commands, it is chartered to develop, test and disseminate joint operating concepts. By their very nature, the other combatant commands and even the services must focus narrowly on the problems of today and the needs of their particular institutions. Only JFCOM can take the broader, higher and longer range view. Also, JFCOM alone is capable of providing the intellectual, training and educational support for the integration of DoD activities with the other elements of national power.
In fact, JFCOM should be enlisted in the effort to reduce redundancies across the military. Who better to help Secretary Gates focus the military on the twin challenges of winning today’s wars and preparing for future contingencies? In fact, the Secretary should consider giving JFCOM greater responsibility for enforcing jointness across the military. The Joint Warfare Analysis Center could be turned lose to look for redundant capabilities that could be eliminated.
Although final judgment must await review of the DBB’s formal report, my initial response is to oppose the idea of eliminating JFCOM. As Voltaire is reported to have said about the existence of God, if JFCOM did not exist we would be forced to create it.
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