The Pentagon Is Gearing Up for the ‘80s

May 1, 1981

“Direct intervention by the Soviets or their proxies in strategically vital areas of Southwest Asia has the potential for bringing the industrial world to its knees without a single Soviet soldier having to cross a Western border.”

This is how Gen. David C. Jones, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assesses the geostrategic volatility of the Arabian Gulf region. By extension, this dire prospect spells out the need for effective US counteractions of various kinds. The most concrete response to the Soviet threat in that region—and possibly similar ones that might crop up elsewhere—is the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force. The makeup, organization, size, and location of that force are under close review by Congress. In the course of hearings, the impression was created of parochial infighting over this issue among the services and their constituencies. General Jones, in a wide-ranging AIR FORCE Magazine interview, challenged the notion of RDJTF causing, and being caught up in, a serious interservice rivalry.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, he said, favor some adjustments in the current arrangement but recognize the importance of retaining the composite character of RDJTF. As General Jones told Congress, “We have solicited advice from major commanders, including the CINCs [commanders in chief] who would be involved in RDJTF operations and the commander of the RDJTF; all believe that each of our four services—Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines—provides unique capabilities that are essential to the proper function of the RDJTF. We do not want to handcuff our field commanders by seeking a simple solution to a complex problem and in the process denying them the kinds of forces they may well need in a crisis.”

The notion that the only force needed in Southwest Asia should be maritime and that, therefore, the RDJTF’s dominant role ought to be maritime runs counter to the Chairman’s thinking: “We can’t keep thousands of Marines afloat out there all the time. We can preposition a lot of equipment aboard ships, and we can put limited amphibious capabilities out there but in any circumstance we need land-based facilities to marry up the people with the equipment.” Further, General Jones stressed the importance of countering Soviet threats rapidly with the unique capabilities of the Air Force involving in particular interdiction and air defense by employing in a matter of hours AWACS and F-15s. General Jones cited in this context the experience in Saudi Arabia following the outbreak of the lran/lraq war where he helped negotiate the entry of USAF E-3A AWACS aircraft into that country to provide essential reconnaissance and command and control capabilities for Saudi air defense and other missions.

Equally vital, General Jones pointed out, is the Army’s role within RDJTF, involving such unique contributions as airborne, air assault, and mechanized J forces to provide sustaining power. The same goes for the Marines, regardless of whether amphibious landings are involved or not, and the Navy, which is vital to clearing the seas and keeping the sea lanes open and providing other support.

In short, the JCS Chairman said, “Each service has unique capabilities and can make unique contributions. The idea that one service should dominate [the force projection mission]—or that we should confine ourselves to a predominantly maritime strategy—is in my view absolutely the wrong approach and a step backward.”

General Jones acknowledged that differences among members of different services about who can do what job best “are not unusual. Commanders in the field normally feel that their units are the best, and that they can do almost anything. This kind of confidence builds esprit de corps and is not in itself unhealthy. But to categorize this as serious interservice rivalry is not only wrong, it is a disservice. “

So far as the idea of moving the joint task force’s headquarters from MacDill AFB, Fla., to Europe or elsewhere is concerned, General Jones said, “We don’t intend to locate the force in Europe; that’s a misunderstanding. We are thinking about locating some RDJTF supervision and surveillance functions in Stuttgart [at the US European Command] but not stationing the organization itself over there.”

With the exception of small, forward-deployed Marine Corps elements, essentially all the RDJTF’s combat forces, whether Army, Air Force, or Marines, are located in the US. Moving these troops overseas on a permanent basis is neither prudent nor feasible at this time, General Jones suggested. Separating the task force commanders from their troops by moving the RDJTF headquarters overseas would have adverse effects in terms of training, command and control, and in other ways, in General Jones’s view. The likely outcome of the current debate, he predicted, “will be some changes to the present arrangement, with retention of the headquarters at MacDill.”

The Need for Better Linkage

For the RDJTF to perform effectively in the Arabian Gulf region, linkage with the countries in the region must be improved both to increase their confidence in this country’s commitment to their defense and to facilitate US access, according to General Jones. Progress in that regard has been remarkable in the past year, especially so far as Oman, Kenya, Somalia, and Egypt are concerned. The current budget, he said, allocates sizable funds for improving facilities in those countries, even though the US does not plan to build major facilities in the sense of bases of our own populated by large and permanent US forces.

The preference, General Jones said, is “for multiple facilities arrangements [rather] than to have a few large fixed bases” because of the uncertainty of where conflict might occur within the region. The area involved is about half the size of the United States, he explained. (The distance from the periphery of the Gulf of Oman to the northwestern border between Iran and the Soviet Union—where some twenty-five Soviet divisions are deployed—is about the same as from Maine to Florida, with terrain that might provide the backdrop for conflict ranging from coastal plains to extremely rugged mountains.

The greatest single problem facing the RDJTF in Southwest Asia, General Jones pointed out, stems from the need to “quickly augment our present forces and to sustain whatever force we deploy.” He added that, “whatever the contingency, the strategic imperative will be speed. This need places a substantial premium on enhanced airlift, sealift, and prepositioning—which is reflected in President Reagan’s budget adjustments” for FY ’81 and ’82.

Although he appeared sanguine in terms of the Administration’s support of RDJTF and global mobility, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs expressed concern about some lack of support on Capitol Hill for fundamental mobility requirements: “There is widespread misunderstanding about airlift and sealift being competitive and representing an either/or relationship when in fact they are interdependent, with one enhancing the other.” Explaining that prepositioned sealift is dependent on substantial airlift capabilities to achieve combat utility by bringing in resources that range from people to helicopters, he warned of lack of understanding of that symbiotic relationship by some people.

Upping the Soviet Ante

One of the most attention-getting signals the US is sending to Moscow with the urging of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is that any Soviet move against areas of vital interest to this country—such as the Arabian Gulf—will not only be countered locally, but is likely to trigger US countermoves elsewhere. The Soviets, General Jones said, must be put on notice that any military move against US or allied interests risks a conflict that could be wider in geography, scope, or violence than they wish to deal with. While for obvious reasons the JCS Chairman was disinclined to tip the US hand, he hinted that in case of Soviet aggression in Southwest Asia the US response, in addition to local action, might include naval forays to “clean out the Soviet fleet in the Indian Ocean. In broad terms, we want to keep them off balance” through the prospect of unpredictable and unacceptable retaliation.

So far as US allies are concerned, General Jones did not anticipate major contributions of military forces in Southwest Asia, but said “we would like to see greater political cohesiveness and recognition of the threat to the West.” He expressed the hope that Western Europe and Japan will increase their share of the burden of providing for their own defense while the US takes on a greater burden in Southwest Asia. Similarly, the allies should assist countries whose economic difficulties hinder modernization of their military forces, he suggested.

General Jones underscored the long-term importance of the Rapid Deployment Force and similar military capabilities by stressing that the decade of the 1980s, in his view, will turn out to be a period of “turmoil and instability.” The cause for this turbulence, he suggested, is a combination of factors and trends that extends from organized terrorism and a resurgence of nationalism to global economic pressures and mounting internal problems within the Soviet bloc. The Soviet Union faces a host of difficulties that, General Jones warned, may increase its bellicosity and feed its propensity for interfering directly or indirectly in the affairs of other countries.

In order to improve this country’s ability to cope with international terrorism, the military services have taken forceful action during the past year “to develop capabilities far beyond what we had before,” the JCS Chairman told AIR FORCE Magazine. The Defense Department, he said, has been successful in preventing detailed information concerning these new capabilities from leaking out. At the same time, he was not averse to publicizing the fact that the US has at its disposal highly effective antiterrorist strike forces because dissemination of that information might help deter would-be terrorists. He said that an interagency working group was coordinating antiterrorist activities on a government-wide basis.

Adjusting the Intelligence Function

The relationship between national intelligence and national security is of critical importance in shaping a global strategy. The current diverse system involving the Central Intelligence Agency, the separate Defense Intelligence Agency, and the coordinating function provided by the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), is “‘fundamentally the right arrangement,” in General Jones’s view. There is a categoric need for independent voices within the intelligence community even though all national intelligence efforts are coordinated by the DCl, he said. The intelligence community must guard against coalescing into a monolithic organization that presents only a single set of views, General Jones added. While he saw no need for a major reorganization of the national intelligence structure, he stressed that “a lot needs to be done in the intelligence business” to increase its utility to the Defense Department and other government agencies. For one, he said “we have let our Humint [human intelligence, meaning mainly intelligence agents operating abroad] capabilities atrophy because some felt that technology in the form of a host of fancy gadgets could solve all our problems. Our technical intelligence indeed has done very well, but that did not justify the neglect of other areas. “

One of the key challenges confronting the intelligence community and the military services, General Jones said, is how to sort out from the plethora of data that are being gathered centrally that information relevant to field commanders and furnish it in real time. “There is a problem in establishing priorities of national vs. tactical intelligence. Over the years, the emphasis has shifted toward national intelligence that is being fed into Washington and away from military commanders in the field. Yet, in a conflict the most important user of intelligence is the field commander,” according to the JCS Chairman.

A secondary problem with intelligence data involves the choice between inundating military users with torrents of raw information and collating and filtering the intelligence to the point where it becomes so homogeneous that differing views are suppressed and field commanders can no longer draw their own conclusions, he pointed out. The answer, not always easy to find, lies somewhere between two extremes, in General Jones’s view.

One key concern within the Defense Department over intelligence functions involves an analytical process known as net assessment. Its purpose is to relate discrete aspects of the threat to US capabilities and requirements down to the determination of how and how many US weapon systems ought to be built. General Jones wants to “keep the intelligence function just as pure as can be. Intelligence ought to look at other countries, especially the Soviet Union, and not get into net assessment of US weapon systems.”

One reason he gets alarmed when intelligence people get into “the extremely important net assessment business,” he told this writer, is the resultant tendency to shape over time intelligence findings to the relative conclusions of these assessments: “Human nature tends to validate what you have assessed, it has happened, and I mean without malice aforethought, simply because people who have made assessments of relative capabilities subconsciously look for intelligence that confirms their conclusions.” That is why the Chairman suggested that, the intelligence community stay out of the net assessment business. (As reported in previous issues of AIR FORCE Magazine, net assessments by the Carter Administration’s DCI were used to lobby against the MXI MPS ICBM in the National Security Council and elsewhere.)

Changing the Joint Chiefs of Staff Organization

Last summer, while testifying before Congress during confirmation hearings involving his second term as JCS Chairman, General Jones advocated that the role of the nation’s senior military leader be strengthened. Pointing out that this was no exercise in “self-aggrandizement—because I will be retired before such a change could take effect,” General Jones said that “in the two and a half years on this job, I had more influence individually than institutionally.” The reason, not widely understood, he said, is that the US, in setting up the organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff more than three decades ago, decided on a “compromise system. The choice then was between separate services and a highly integrated organization, not necessarily patterned after the German General Staff, but a straight-line system. The compromise evolved whereby we run the joint operation by committee action. And clearly we are a committee of five with an essentially equal voice on the issues. In so doing we have gained some strengths, but also encouraged the intrinsic weaknesses of a committee system.”

General Jones, who by virtue of his four-year term as USAF’s Chief of Staff and two two-year terms as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs will have served longer on the JCS upon expiration of his tenure than any of his predecessors, told this writer that “in the last few months of my time as Chairman I plan to think through and initiate specific actions to resolve some of the difficulties plaguing the JCS organization at present. I do believe we need to strengthen the joint operation. A Chairman, in order to be effective, has to work with lots and lots of different people—including his colleagues, the Chiefs—and it is difficult to be a crusader for change while at the same time trying to coalesce a consensus on specific issues. Under present circumstances this makes for a difficult if not impossible situation.” He declined to discuss what specific recommendations he might offer before his second term as Chairman expires.

Strategic Nuclear Requirements

In terms of most static measures, the USSR’s strategic nuclear capabilities have advantages over those of the US. “We are not dealing with a problem of vulnerability of the whole strategic force, but under any set of circumstances we have a vulnerability problem so far as the Minuteman force is concerned,” General Jones said. He didn’t suggest that this condition “makes nuclear war likely or a Soviet first strike more probable.” Yet he warned that it will take a great deal of courage and resolve during this period of ICBM vulnerability “to keep the Soviets from intimidating us, our allies, and the Third World” since they seemingly feel that they have an overall advantage that can be exploited.

The dilemma of the present situation is caused by the need to close the so-called window of vulnerability as quickly as possible and the fact that the means are not available for doing so as quickly as some would like. Although various “quick fixes” have been suggested by various experts, General Jones remains skeptical about the efficacy of most of them and is worried that they would impede those programs that can correct the current deficiency over the longer term.

The option to commit the nation to a declaratory policy of launch on warning or launch under attack, in General Jones’s view does not constitute a “quick fix.” Terming such a launch posture a capability rather than a policy, he pointed out that “we developed the means for doing so when quick-reaction ICBMs came into the inventory. Even though it can be done—with some difficulty—saying that you can always launch Minuteman on warning and that the ICBMs therefore are not vulnerable doesn’t cure the problem. Nevertheless, this capability has to be taken into consideration by the Soviets and indeed they can’t be sure that our ICBMs would still be in their holes by the time the Soviet warheads arrive.”

The JCS Chairman also saw only limited merit in such measures as increasing the number of forward-based nuclear weapons-such as redeploying the FB-111s—or stepping up the alert level of the B-52 force. In the case of the former approach, he questioned whether forward basing—beyond the present level—”really makes much difference.” He expressed reservations about upping B-52 alert rates on a day-to-day basis and thus to lose in time of crisis the option to do so. Under the latter condition, stepping up alert rates not only increases capability when it is needed most but also sends an unambiguous signal to the adversary, he said. Additionally, the cost of maintaining the B-52 force at a higher alert status on a continuous basis is quite high.

The Chairman’s prescription for solving deficiencies in this country’s strategic offensive capabilities is to go ahead “without further delay with MX, to continue expeditiously the Trident and ALCM programs, and to proceed with a new bomber.” Convinced that the flexibility and survivability inherent in the strategic triad concept have stood the test of time, he views the land-based ICBM force as the “key contributor to our time-urgent hard-target capability,” which when coupled with the survivability of MX provides a degree of precisely controllable deterrence and crisis stability not attainable by other means.

In the Chairman’s own view, basing MX at sea in whatever arrangement would result in a loss of diversity f that is the triad’s great strength. Command and control, he said, is substantially more difficult in the case of sea-based strategic systems, and “there is good reason for keeping MX on land in a survivable basing mode. I am optimistic that we will be successful in getting these points across. “

MX, General Jones suggested, should be protected through special legislation by Congress against “frivolous court suits” that cause disruption for disruption’s sake. At the same time, he urged that such a measure should “protect the rights of people who are legitimately concerned about the environment. It is vital that the public understand that we don’t plan to ride roughshod over environmental issues but instead plan to deal with such matters in a responsible, nonfrivolous way. “

Although MX won’t require backup by its own Antiballistic Missile (ABM) defense system unless there is a fundamental change in the Soviet threat, the JCS favor a vigorous research and development program involving such weapons. If the Soviets were to break out from the currently observed stricture against deploying more than ten reentry vehicles on a single SS-18 ICBM—it is technically feasible to increase that number to twenty or more—an ABM would be useful, General Jones said. An ABM capability would provide “great insurance in case of a Soviet breakout from the current MIRV limits,” he stressed, adding that the new defense budget funds ABM R&D.

Modernizing the Air-Breathing Systems

The strategic bomber force constitutes the “most obsolescent” element of the triad, even though the ALCM program is “proceeding well and shows great promise as a near-term extension of the striking power of our current bombers,” General Jones warned. Pointing out that ALCM is at best a partial solution to correcting the limitations and vulnerabilities of the aging B-S2 force, he said that “only a manned penetrating aircraft combines all the necessary characteristics—such as speed, stealth, range, payload, offensive and defensive countermeasures, target discrimination, post-launch control, and reusability—to assure our capability for global nuclear and nonnuclear applications across the spectrum of potential conflict.” Deployment of such a weapon system that can perform both the nuclear or SIOP (single integrated operational plan) role as well as f the conventional role rates top priority among new strategic initiatives, he stressed.

In the realm of sea-based strategic capability, the JCS Chairman urged continuation of the D-5, also known as Trident II, development program. The decision on whether or not to build this SLBM, which might include a substantial hard-target kill capability, is yet to be made. General Jones suggested that “ultimately we will have a system that exploits fully the large launch tubes of the Trident submarine, but the determination whether that should be D-5 or some other design has not been made as yet.”

Just as vital and urgent as modernization of strategic nuclear weapon systems are improvements in the survivability, reliability, redundancy, and flexibility of the strategic warning and control systems supporting the National Command Authorities, General Jones said. Generally referred to by the catchall term of “connectivity,” this combination of facilities, systems, communications, and procedures, he said, must be made essentially invulnerable to surprise knockout blows in order to preclude a break between the command authorities and the nation’s surviving retaliatory capabilities.

The requirement is for “full connectivity initially and adequate command and control” during the trans- and postattack phases of nuclear war so that even if Washington is destroyed “we can continue to operate for hours and days and beyond. Although we have made some progress, a great deal more remains to be done in terms of EMP [electromagnetic pulse or nuclear] hardening, redundancy, dispersal, E-4A deployments, and improvements of various command links,” General Jones said.

A critical element of strategic command and control is attack assessment. The increasing number of MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) available to the Soviets has made accurate attack assessment much more difficult, the JCS Chairman said. The difficulty stems from the fact that once the US detects an approaching ballistic missile and its “bus,” which carries several individual reentry vehicle warheads and establishes their approximate heading, it is difficult to determine the exact target under attack. General Jones pointed out the reason is that the SS-18 and other advanced Soviet ICBMs can disperse individual warheads over large areas—known as the ballistic missile’s footprint—thus making attack assessment extremely difficult.

Shortly after the Reagan Administration took office, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger announced that deployment of the so-called neutron bomb—more properly called the enhanced-radiation, reduced-blast type of nuclear weapons and shelved by the Carter Administration—would be reconsidered. General Jones told AIR FORCE Magazine that the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain convinced “that there is military utility to enhanced-radiation weapons. We have also stated that the highest priority is completion of the long-range theater nuclear forces plan. We would not want to take any action that jeopardizes deployment of long-range theater nuclear forces.” Progress regarding deployment of long-range theater nuclear forces has been satisfactory, he said: “I think we will be able to deploy these systems in the not-too-distant future.”

The Military Manpower Challenge

There is a categorical need to take a fundamental look at the entire military personnel system “from the bottom up. For nearly eight years, the US has been enjoying the political benefits of an All-Volunteer Force without being willing to pay the price to make it succeed. The question is, ‘Are we willing to pay as needed or should we go to some form of involuntary service, universal service, or conscription for the IRR [individual ready reserve] only?’“ General Jones asked.

An even more fundamental aspect of the military manpower problem—and one that affects all others—involves incentives to retain “good people and to encourage them to really lead and manage well.” The current system, he said, is hamstrung by “disincentives. The after-tax financial value of a promotion today, for any service member, is much less than it was ten to fifteen years ago. What’s worse, over the next five to ten years, the prospects for any real adjustments are minimal. “

The result is constant turnover and turbulence which makes it difficult to develop morale, efficiency, and esprit de corps, he suggested. These inequities, he warned, “are permeating the system. I see very good people getting out, even though they leave reluctantly. But they are aware of the mismatch; their prospects are going down while their living costs are going up.”

So far as the GI Bill issue is concerned, General Jones stressed that the original GI Bill was useful in recruiting people, but it also served as an incentive to get out. “With retention of experienced personnel our principal personnel issue today, we are looking for benefits that make it attractive to enlist and to remain in the military. A modified version of the GI Bill may be the answer, but we need to examine the idea further to fully understand all of its implications. One provision that may hold promise is to allow the earned rights to be transferred to one’s children. Another provision with promise is that any person using any part of the GI Bill must be in the Reserve Forces, the IRR, or selective Reserve.” The Chairman advocated further that any person benefiting from the GI Bill should “have really earned those benefits.” He explained that because it is “so difficult to give nonhonorable discharges, some persons with honorable discharges may not have performed too well.”

The notion of tailoring the GI Bill to differing needs of the four services, General Jones said, “is probably less effective than coping with retention problems through bonus arrangements and in similar ways. I feel the same way about proposals to change the entire pay system to attract hard-to-get skills. Marketplace incentives are not workable directly in the military. We ought to make this a special profession, in some ways different from society as a whole.”

Consequently, benefits are of vital importance, including possibly special “income tax allowances. I don’t mean that military people should pay no taxes at all, but some special provisions are in order,” General Jones pointed out.

Part of the “from-the-bottom-up” look at the military personnel system should include a review of the military judicial system. Some rulings by the Court of Military Appeals in the past “simply tied our commanders’ hands,” he said.

Overall, the Chairman expressed concern “that, without a broad commitment to a national cross section in uniform, economic and demographic pressures could produce a ‘volunteer’ armed forces peopled by economic conscripts—and one without the discipline, aptitudes, and cohesiveness needed for a modern global strategy.”