Interservice Rivalries Harmful Traditions

According to John M. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, The nature of modern warfare demands that we fight as a joint team. This was important yesterday, it is essential today, and it will be even more imperative tomorrow(JV2020). Therefore it is easy to see why interservice understanding is crucial for every serviceman, from the admirals and generals down to the lowest seaman, airman, and private.

The idea of joint warfare and interservice rivalries has been around since man first built separate forces for the land and the sea. For the United States Military, joint warfare, and the rivalries that accompany it, has evolved dramatically throughout the years.Even the seed of our current day forces, Washingtons regimental army, coordinated joint operations with French naval forces during the Revolutionary War. However the US did not fully understand the full potential and necessity of joint operations until World War II, when the combined operations of Army, Navy, and Marine forces were seen for the first time (History). After WW II, the National Security Act of 1947 defined the Department of Defense and the 3 sister services (National). However, the formal recognition of a Joint (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines) doctrine that integrated communications, procurement programs, tactics, and training was not realized during the next three decades(History).
It was not until 1983, when the services failed to successfully integrate during operation Urgent Fury, that the Senate Armed Services Committee recognized the need for a joint warfighting center for development of doctrine and training methods. In 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols National Security Act placed the responsibility of joint doctrine in the hands of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), as opposed to the services themselves. The act was also the first to recommend joint service assignments for officers so they would better understand joint operation requirements (History).

In September 1999, US Atlantic Command was renamed U. S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), with the role of becoming the primary catalyst for joint force integration, training, experimentation, doctrine development and testing(History).

Recently the CJCS, along with USJFCOM, published Joint Service Vision 2020. The idea is to provide a guide for the development of joint service doctrine well in advance for each of the services. Unfortunately this vision is too broad, and like the other preceding advancements in doctrine, it ignores the lower service echelons. Nowhere does it emphasize the importance of destroying interservice rivalries at their root. It calls for a professional, well trained, and ready force but doesnt outline how this is to be achieved.

It appears as though Joint Service Vision 2020 was left broad so that the services could use it as a guide for their own joint doctrine development. Although it does take a step forward in putting stricter guidelines on the services, it still falls short just as other doctrine changes have.

To understand the problems between the services, one must take a closer look at their relationships. According to the former Commander in Chief of US Central Command, USMC General Anthony C. Zinni:
The National Security Act of 1947, for example, set up the most dysfunctional, worst organizational approach to military affairs I could possibly imagine. In a near-perfect example of the Law of Unintended Consequences, it created a situation in which the biggest rival of any U.S. armed service is not a foreign adversary but another one of its sister U.S. services We teach our ensigns and second lieutenants to recognize that sister service as the enemy. It wants our money; it wants our force structure; it wants our recruits. So we rope ourselves into a system where we fight each other for money, programs, and weapon systems. We try to out-doctrine each other, by putting pedantic little anal apertures to work in doctrine centers, trying to find ways to ace out the other services and become the dominant service in some way. These people come to me and the other C-in-Cs and ask, “What’s more important to you – air power or ground power?” Incredible! Think about it. My Uncle Guido is a plumber. If I went to him and asked, “What’s more important to you – a wrench or a screwdriver?” he’d think I’d lost my marbles (Zinni).

The fact that the services are forced to compete with one another seems to be the overall driving force behind their rivalries. Since the end of the Cold War the US military budget has been decreased tremendously, and its not surprising that each service would seem almost selfish trying to snatch money from Congress. For example, cutting an active Army division or a Navy battle group and its associated air wings saves as much as $4 billion annuallyand some people believe that killing the F-22, for example, could save $3 billion annually(Szafranski). When ninety percent of defense spending is service led (Gehman), and with such large budgets to defend, it is no wonder why the services look to each other as enemies.

On the other hand, some argue that this budget competition is actually beneficial to the services because it forces them to constantly improve. The services must continually find ways to upgrade equipment and training so that the others do not get a larger piece of the budget pie. In retrospect, this argument seems to be true. For example, the success of the US missile program during the Cold War came as much from competition between the Air Force and the Navy as it did from competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.

However, the root of the inter-service rivalry on a smaller scale cannot be explained by military politics. The privates, airmen, ensigns, and second lieutenants have nothing to do with congressional budget lobbying, so why do they look to each other as rivals? A closer look shows that these rivalries have been passed down as tradition by senior leadership for nearly 50 years.
Take the Service Academies for example. At the Naval Academy, every plebe must scream, beat army! after every single facing movement. At the Air Force Academy smacks yell My altitude is 7, 258 ft above sea level, far far above that of West Point or Annapolis!For the most part, both ROTC and the Service Academies isolate officer candidates from the other services for up to four years, and actually encourage the rivalries.Absurdly, cadets and midshipmen who are fortunate enough to participate in joint training, such as the service academy exchange program, must also look forward to being taped to flag poles and covered in fresh squid in the name of interservice rivalry.
The case is not much different as far enlisted basic training is concerned. Privates, airmen, and seamen are taught that their respective service is best, and often their initial training focuses on joking about the weaknesses of the other services. This type of training doesnt make sense. Why not instead teach them how no single weapon or force reaches its full potential unless employed with complementary capabilities of the other services(Snider). Air, land, and sea power are much more effective when used in conjunction than when applied alone.

Joint Vision 2020 focuses on the importance of officer understanding of service interdependence. It claims that this interdependence will come from mutual trust and respect among the different warfighters, and that it will ultimately result in a whole greater than the sum of its parts(JV2020). Mutual trust and respect are rather hard to attain, especially when the traditions of officer candidate and enlisted personnel indoctrination focus on destroying them.
The root therefore, of the interservice rivalry problem, and hence the current problems with joint operations, is not on the large-scale level nor in the higher echelon leadership. It stems from illogical traditions passed on to every upcoming generation of servicemen. Consequently, the problem should not be extremely difficult to fix.

In enlisted and officer training, teach the strengths and capabilities of each service instead of degrading them. Eventually, a joint basic training period, possibly for the first few weeks before specialization is required, would be ideal. This would afford trainees the opportunity to work first hand with other service members from the start, and would lead to much better understanding.
Many of the current joint training exercises occur late in an officers career, usually after interservice rivalry traditions have formed strong prejudices. Instead, officer candidates whether from an academy, ROTC, or officer candidate school should be required to participate in at least one joint training exercise before commissioning. This would teach them that although the services often do things extremely differently, it does not necessarily make them wrong.
Each service has its own unique capabilities to bring to the warfighting arena. Undoubtedly the US military will be able to dominate the battles of the future if it is capable of integrating the assets of each service through the understanding and respect of each serviceman.
Gehman, H.W. Jr., ADM USN. What Kind of Transformation Do You Want? Copyright (2000) US Naval Institute.
20 November 2000
Joint Vision 2020.
5 October 2000.

National Security Act of 1947.
20 November 2000.

United States Joint Forces Command Joint Warfighting Center History of the JFWC.
20 November 2000.

Snider, Dr. Don N. The US Military Transition to Jointness: Surmounting Old Notions of Interservice Rivalry.
05 October 2000.

Szafranski, Richard, Col USAF. Interservice Rivalry in Action: The Endless Roles and Mission Refrain? 20 November 2000.

Zinni, Anthony C., Gen USMC. A Commander Reflects. 20 November 2000