The commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command spoke about the future of joint warfare to close out the 2010 Joint Warfighting Conference at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
By Jacob Boyer
(VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - May 13, 2010) -– The commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command spoke about the future of joint warfare to close out the 2010 Joint Warfighting Conference at the Virginia Beach Convention Center here today.
Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis told the assembled audience that an ability to create harmony among services, alliances, partnerships and civilian agencies is absolutely essential for commanders today and in the future.
“In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony – even vicious harmony – on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you really need to go home, because your leadership in today’s age is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines.”
The theme of this year’s conference was “Combatant and Coalition Commanders: What Will They Need Five Years from Now?” Mattis said that young people entering the armed forces today are crucial to that time horizon, and enlistment and reenlistment numbers show that Americans are up to the security challenges the nation faces. He pointed out that someone wanting to enlist in the Marine Corps today would have to wait six months and someone wanting to enlist in the Marine Corps infantry would wait eight.
“At a time when some of us wonder if the democracies have the guts to take on the discomfort and danger of combat, the young people are answering that in bluntest terms possible,” Mattis said. “It is a real testimonial to our young people that they continue to flock to the colors the way they are.”
Mattis spoke at length about the need for future commanders to engage in the battle of the narrative, saying that ideologies such as violent extremism are defeated with ideas and that a failure to engage could lead to “the most progressive values in the world being submerged by a message of hatred.”
The general pointed to the successes in Iraq in 2007, when an “entire Arab population turned against those espousing hatred,” as an example of winning the narrative battle. He said commanders at all levels must be prepared to engage with the media in furthering that goal.
“The enemy is dancing around us because they’re eager to engage with the media. How many of our offices are eager to engage with the media?” he said. “I think there are understandable reasons why we are reluctant at times to engage, but the bottom line is we are going to have to do it or we are going to continue to see – for all of our technology, for all the nobility of what we are doing – the enemy dancing around us and winning the battle of narratives.”
Mattis touched briefly on what he called “lawfare.” He said that the nation’s enemies have learned to use both its laws and the laws of war against it.
“We are going to have to have commanders who persuasively use legitimacy to unleash the initiative of folks and not find themselves hindered by a narrow, legalistic view of war. I’m much more interested in an ethical view, in a legitimacy view, than I am on narrow legal grounds,” he said. “At times legality is creating a paper world unconnected from the reality of the world we all deal with.”
Moving into the area of technology, Mattis focused on three areas: command and control (C2), countering improvised explosive devices (IED), and simulations, particularly for small ground units. He said that in regard to C2, enabling the human interface was following the “right track.”
The general drew a parallel between the British Royal Navy’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar – in which the fleet started to heavily depend on flag signals – and modern leaders’ near-constant communications connection to higher headquarters.
He raised the concern that today’s leaders could face the same problem as the Royal Navy did when it grew over-reliant on those flag signals.
“I don’t think we have turned off a radio in the last eight years of active operations,” he said. “What kind of officers are we creating? What kind of NCOs are we creating today if in fact we have this robust command and control that you’re never out of touch with higher headquarters? We congratulate ourselves on initiative, but how much initiative are we leaving to our subordinates in a world like this?”
Mattis also highlighted the discrepancy between the money spent on cockpit simulators for pilots versus that spent on simulators for ground forces, saying that while the U.S. and its allies had lost two aircraft to hostile fire, warfighters were dying on the ground as he spoke.
“I think we’ve lost two [fixed-wing] aircraft to enemy action in the last eight years of warfare. When was the last time we lost an Army paratrooper soldier or infantry soldier. When was the last time we lost a Special Forces troop? When was the last time we lost a Marine infantryman? Hours ago, and yet our use of simulation right now for small units in close quarters battle are lacking. They are woefully lacking,” he said. “If over 85 percent of our casualties have come in infantry units, we can do better for our people.”
The JWC is an annual event that brings DoD officials together with representatives of industry, academia and multinational partners. The conference is co-sponsored by the Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association and the U.S. Naval Institute in coordination with U.S. Joint Forces Command.