Airpower Gains in the Doctrine Wars

March 1, 2000

Ask some officials in the Air Force to name the service’s most important political achievement of the past decade and they will say that it was the approval of Joint Publication 3-01 on counterair operations.

How could an obscure Joint Staff guide to performing a single type of military operation take on so much significance? In the view of some in the Air Force leadership, the publication provides the first and best opportunity to establish a primary role for airpower in joint doctrine. Should a future Joint Force Commander in some future conflict opt to make airpower a central feature of his strategy-as was the case in last year’s war over Kosovo-Joint Pub 3-01 would allow him latitude to do so.

The new publication was issued in October by Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The document pertains solely to countering air and missile threats, hardly a green light for undertaking air operations across the board. But military leaders from each of the services believe the language contained in the document could serve as a precedent for all future joint doctrine.

“Joint Doctrine for Countering Air and Missile Threats” was seven years in the making. Interservice arguments during the endgame (roughly the last two or three years) focused on selected phrases, even single words, that were so identified with one service or another that they became unacceptable and were stricken from the record.

The threat addressed by counterair doctrine encompasses manned or unmanned enemy aircraft, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles launched by air, land, or sea. At issue was how the US military services would team up, before and after the launch of such weapons, to defeat them with a variety of integrated weapon systems and sensors.

One Against Three

For much of the debate, the Air Force found itself pitted against all the other services by virtue of differences in the medium in which they operate. The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps operate primarily on Earth’s surface, be it on land or water, while the Air Force’s principal concern is establishing freedom to operate throughout air and space. The other services fought hard to ensure airpower would not encroach on their own latitude to conduct operations on the surface.

In the end, Gen. Michael E. Ryan, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, agreed to accept a few passages drafted by the surface services in order to achieve the greater goal of a publication that was viewed, in sum, as “airpower-friendly.”

A year ago, Air Force officials erroneously believed they were close to agreement with the other services on Joint Pub 3-01 language that would have been even friendlier to a Joint Force Air Component Commander. In wartime, the JFACC would likely be an Air Force officer, as was the case with then­Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner, the air chief of Operation Desert Storm in early 1991, and Lt. Gen. Michael C. Short, the air commander of Operation Allied Force in mid-1999.

However, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps leaders objected to some of the proposed wording, which had been drafted by then­Vice Adm. Dennis C. Blair, who was director of the Joint Staff. In fact, they found some sections so unacceptable that they effectively stalled the process until Blair departed his post, after which they renewed their efforts to get changes in the document.

After squabbling over a number of issues-including the Marines’ insistence that the term “counterair” be abandoned in favor of “theater air defense”-contention boiled down to one key passage. Blair had attempted to delineate battlespace roles by stipulating that a JFACC could perform counterair missions across an entire Joint Operations Area-with attacks against enemy Scud launchers, for example-without threatening the authority of a surface commander operating in the same area. In the vernacular of such military operations, a commander with authority in an Area of Operations is termed the “supported commander.”

Blair’s Pivotal Statement

Blair’s version of Joint Pub 3-01 contained this statement: “Designating land and naval force commanders as supported commanders within their AOs does not abrogate the authority of commanders [such as a JFACC] tasked by the [Joint Force Commander] to execute theater and/or JOA­wide functions.”

That formulation was welcomed by the Air Force but proved unacceptable to the other services. In the view of the land and naval services, the Blair wording seemed to give a JFACC “carte blanche” over their own areas of responsibility. In the Air Force’s view, however, a JFACC’s range of operations must not be restricted to particular sectors. Rather, the air commander should be able to conduct operations across the theater’s airspace.

Enter then­Vice Adm. Vernon E. Clark, who succeeded Blair as the director of the Joint Staff. Clark proved to be more sympathetic to the surface services’ complaints and developed alternative language that ultimately broke the stalemate. The compromise formula eventually was issued by Clark’s own successor, Lt. Gen. Carlton W. Fulford Jr., a Marine officer who serves as the current director of the Joint Staff.

Under Fulford, the Joint Pub 3-01 formula for “supported” and “supporting” roles in counterair operations took on a whole new tenor. The document drops Blair’s passage altogether. In its place, one finds wording that emphasizes “synchronization” of efforts between land, naval, and air commanders. Fulford put his new proposal forward in an Aug. 18, 1999, memo to the service operations deputies. Air Force officials ultimately said they could accept the change.

The document in its entirety was approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a Sept. 29 meeting in their secure “tank” in the Pentagon and was officially issued on Oct. 19.

Reflects USAF Approach

Joint Publication 3-01 offers a doctrine for counterair operations that to a great extent reflects an Air Force approach. The document defines counterair operations broadly to include offensive strikes against an adversary’s air threats, as well as defensive operations. The JFACC is considered the “supported commander” for all counterair operations. Under a Joint Force Commander’s guidance, the air commander has latitude to control the priority, timing, and effects of counterair fires across the theater. And counterair operations, while under the command of a single individual, can be executed in decentralized fashion.

Fulford says the new doctrine is “authoritative” and must be followed, barring “exceptional circumstances.” However, like all warfighting doctrine, Joint Pub 3-01 is subject to interpretation during a conflict. As it stands, one can easily imagine the JFACC’s interests colliding with those of surface commanders, who retain full authority in their geographic sectors. So even with Joint Pub 3-01 in hand, a Joint Force Commander may have to mediate between his subordinates.

All in all, though–for the Air Force–Joint Pub 3-01 may have been worth the wait.

From Aug. 18, 1999, Fulford Memo

on Counterair Doctrine

“Per the Chairman’s direction, previously approved JP 3-09 language on command relationships is now added to JP 3-01 language to produce consistent guidance. …

“The JFACC is normally the supported commander for counterair. As such, the JFACC plans, organizes, and executes counterair operations theater/JOA­wide. In accordance with JFC guidance and priorities, the JFACC should determine the priority, timing, and effects of counterair fires throughout the theater/JOA. Once the JFC designates a land or naval AO, the land and naval force commanders are the supported commanders within these AOs. Within their designated AOs, land and naval force commanders synchronize maneuver, fires, and interdiction. To facilitate this synchronization, such commanders have the authority to designate the target priority, effects, and timing of fires within their AOs. Within the joint force theater and/or JOA, all missions must contribute to the accomplishment of the overall objective. Synchronization of efforts within land or naval AOs with theater– and/or JOA-wide operations is of particular importance. To facilitate synchronization, the JFC establishes priorities that will be executed throughout the theater and/or JOA, including within the land and naval force commanders’ AOs. In coordination with land or naval force commanders, the JFACC has the latitude to plan and execute JFC­prioritized counterair operations and attack targets within land and naval AOs. The JFACC must coordinate counterair operations to avoid adverse effects and fratricide. If counterair operations would have adverse effects within a land or naval AO, then the JFACC must either readjust the plan, resolve the issue with the appropriate component commander, or consult with the JFC for resolution.”>

-Lt. Gen. Carlton W. Fulford Jr., USMC,

Director, Joint Staff

Elaine M. Grossman is senior correspondent for Inside the Pentagon in Washington. Her most recent article for Air Force Magazine, “Duel of Doctrines,” appeared in the December 1998 issue.