Monday, March 15, 2010


Yes, Purple. That is the topic today. It is a color and in the military it stands for JOINT. Not the smoking kind, but the very cool world of Joint Operations.

Joint Operations are simply operations involving all the services (Army, Navy, AF and USMC), some of them, other Government agencies (say DOD, DOS, ATF, DEA, CIA, or FBI or any combination there of), and other countries (the Superfriends: Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, or others such as South Korea, Japan and other NATO types). While this may not sound like a major thing (hey that is how we always do things right?) it is actually a fairly new development.

Sort of.

We (the US military) have been working as a team for quite a while. Earliest examples are the Mexican War and several impressive operations in the US Civil War (see Grant's Western Campaigns along the Mississippi). But these were not doctrine, they were usually ad hoc and much depended on how well the CO's got along or what the orders from Washington said. But in the late 1980's Congress passed a neat law known as the Goldwater-Nichols Act. This act forced the services to actually work as a team by law.

For example: instead of having a fleet, an air force, and a army in an area of the world working through their branches in the rear, you had a defined theater in which their was one boss. You could have an Army General commanding Navy and AF units, or Navy commanding the same or AF (even a Marine in theory). This commander reported directly back to the SECDEF and not through the parent services. This mean you had truly one team. And to make sure everyone worked together the DOD put out Joint Doctrine to get everyone "speaking" the same language.

All of this may sound "duh", but it is a unique development in the world of warfighting. The US (and the Superfriends) are really the only countries that do this. And it shows, the US has been running Joint Operations since Panama and has had pretty much major successes in just about every one. Panama, Desert Storm, OIF all successes (yes OIF is pretty much a done deal and we have won, someone tell MSNBC). Somalia not so much, but that could be argued as a break in method (Clinton set up two task forces, not one unified command). OEF is ongoing so we will see.

Purple is the color code of all Joint Doctrine and I have been attending JOFEC (Joint Operations Fires Effects Coordinator) these last two weeks and we talk nothing but Joint. It is extremely interesting, and also a major challenge. Getting everyone synched is huge challenge and it is a complex process. We are still working the kinks out of it. But kinks or not, this makes for a incredibly successful military as well as other elements. Please note we include civilian agencies in this so we usually get a full up team effort or this with everyone more or less pulling together. It also makes the movies about the army running off and doing craziness on its own rather funny for anyone who knows about this (if you have to work together for everything how do you do things without someone else finding out and diming you out?).

As military history goes this is an exciting time to be in the military.


  1. Mike,
    You should look at WWII for several good examples of Joint Operations from a historical perspective. I would argue that this is the first time it was done on a regular basis in the US military and it set the groundwork for what you're seeing now. Of course there were times it didn't go smoothly, but it was regular practice during this war.

  2. Not exactly Alex, we did do it but it was never really Joint as we understand it now. Yes WWII did give some good example of inter-service cooperation, but still not quite what was needed. I probably should have used the phrase Inter-service Cooperation instead of Joint as that would be more accurate.

    Example of why this wasn't Joint: MacArthur and Nimtz in the Pacific. We had to divide this area because neither one would work under the other. It was re-drawn several times to make things work.

  3. One reason why we didn't have more issues on this was due to two things. One, the POTUS was strong and he had no trouble laying down the law when needed. Two, our enemies couldn't work together to save their lives. Hell, our enemies military branches couldn't work together. The Luffwaffe and the Wermacht, the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy, absolutely chaotic. Hell, the Japanese Army literally made its own Navy rather than have to ask the Navy for help. Makes our Cooperation shine, rough edges aside.

  4. Fair enough - I was thinking that some of the D-Day operations and Operation Cobra would apply, but the more I think about it, even those you could argue were really Army centric (Army Air Corps + Ground Army - Not a true joint Air Force/Army Operation).

  5. The major difference between then and now is that what we have set up is 1) law, 2) all services have bought into it so we more or less cooperate and 3) actually have adapted our services and training to really use it. WWII required huge politicing and arm twisting to get everyone one the same page, we accept it without any issue. If you go to PACOM (Pacific) you accept that the boss is going to be a Navy guy. Europe is likely an Army guy. Centcom could be anyone. Stratcom is AF or Navy. No one complains or argues as it makes sense to us. That in and of itself is a major change.

  6. So do you think that arms and equipment might start to get more standardized across the services or will they continue to have their own streams/lines of equipment?

    Obvious that you won't see the Army ordering Carriers, but it stands to reason that USMC and USA may start to make things much more uniform across the board, including some aspects of aviation as you go more and more into the purple mode.

  7. WE are already there. Common gear is already pretty standardized. The biggest thing is getting all of our communcations gear to talk to each other and we are actually looking really good in that area too.

  8. I was thinking more big items (artillery, ground vehicles, aviation) but the more I think about it, there are some obvious reasons why can't easily unify the big items; you still need some diversification for unique missions.

    Thanks for clarifying. Very interesting indeed.

  9. No problem. When you look at it the only two services that really need "common" big ticket items (artillery, tanks and so on) are the Marines and the Army. And thanks to the budget cuts in the 90's, they both realized that by pooling money, materials and research they could get more bang for the buck and look good while doing it. The M777 (new Howitzer) started as a Marine-Canada project. Then the Army bought into it and ended up funding most of the purchases after the Marines ponyed up the R and D. Everyone wins.