Review: Command, Control, and the Common Defense
I finished reading Allard’s Command, Control, and the Common Defense. Published in 1996, Allard’s monograph examines the history of American command and control (C2). As I may have stated earlier, I tend to prefer fairly large and messy books with lots of small and interesting points to more organized books with a central point of contention.
Allard’s book is many things—a review of the history of American C2 arrangements since the Revolution, a history of American C2 technology and organization, and a insightful look at tactical C2 theories in the Navy, Air Force, and Army (Lawson and Boyd get their due). However, Allard’s main focus is on why American military C2 arrangements remain unique among other states.
Allard argues that American political culture will not tolerate a General Staff system. Service autonomy is a fact, rooted in a century and a half of development of unique service identities and command styles (late 18th cen to mid-20th). Technology, has to some extent, added fuel to traditional conflicts and challenged boundaries. The invention of the airplane and the suite of AirLand Battle concepts and technologies have done the most, in Allard’s view, to complicate traditional C2 arrangements.
All of this is foreshadowing to Allard’s main case study: the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS). JTIDS was originally intended by civilian defense executives to work as a large integrated system that would bypass service information stovepipes. JTIDS’ decentralized and deliberately “flat” architecture reminded me of many 90s network-centric, netwar, and Transformation-era concepts—its advocates certainly talked about it in the same quintessentially information age terms. JTIDS was a success, although not in the way its creators may have originally intended.
The services each developed their own version of JTIDS rooted in their own conception of their own C2 needs. The Navy version aimed for a federated system of C2, the Air Force disdained any complex C2 system that would make them place an extra seat in a fighter, and the Army merely simplified the system to its own needs. The fight between the Air Force and Navy lengthened production time and costs as JTIDS became less a common system and more a set of subsystems that were interoperable rather than common in scope.
Allard uses this case study to make a larger point: American political culture underpins a command and control arrangement in which services, despite joint culture, still retain primary responsibility for producing doctrine, equipment, and systems as well as generating and training military power. They also have legitimate C2 needs rooted in their own unique operating environments and organizational cultures. Attempts to make defense efficient by playing around with the organizational chart, Six Sigma Black Belts, and bold red-table slashing measures will founder because they assume that the problem is technical or organizational. It is first and foremost a political issue because the defense system is merely a subsystem of American domestic politics.
This is not the fault of greedy contractors, selfish services, corrupt lawmakers or any other of the convenient villains of defense reform debates. It is enabled by the fact that a General Staff in the Prusso-German style has been consistently rejected by the American body politic. The Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) is the closest thing the US has to a General Staff, and even OSD cannot, as the JTIDS example proves, really completely unilaterally impose on the services.