Warning that the nation's top military officers need to spend more time developing joint strategy and fighting capabilities and "less on an intramural scramble for resources," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday issued an unprecedented call for a major reform of his own organization.
Air Force Gen. David C. Jones, who retires in June after four years as JCS chairman, says the key to that reform must be "a stronger role and better support" for the chairman so that parochial interests of the individual military services do not overwhelm, as they sometimes do, a broader view of what is best for overall defense.
Jones argues that the problem is not with the generals or admirals at the top but with the JCS organization itself and the lack of career rewards within individual services for pursuing a joint rather than service view.
Without such a strengthened role, Jones says, "The work of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is likely to remain too dispersed, diluted and diffused to provide the best possible military advice" to U.S. civilian leadership "or to insure the full capability of our combat forces."
The JCS is made up of the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines plus the chairman. The problems of their committee-style consensus system and its inability to resolve some interservice rivalries are not new and there have been attempts, largely unsuccessful, to cope with this in the past.
Jones, however, is the first chairman to propose major reforms while still in the job and his proposals are the most far-reaching since the last fundamental shift in JCS organization 24 years ago.
"The difference this time," he says, "is that the proposals are coming from someone inside the system who for many years has been in the best position to understand the causes and consequences of its shortcomings."
Before becoming chairman, Jones served four years as the Air Force chief of staff so he has served almost eight years as a member and then chairman of the joint chiefs under four presidents and secretaries of defense.
The 60-year-old, four-star general laid out his views in a breakfast meeting with reporters yesterday and in a lengthy article entitled "Why the JCS Must Change" to be published this month in a management magazine called Directors and Boards.
Jones rejected the idea, advanced by questioners, that his views might be linked to concerns about the record new defense budget that includes big and controversial outlays for a greatly expanded Navy. He also declined to get involved in questions of so-called "log-rolling" among the chiefs, which critics contend sometimes produces agreement to support each other's favorite weapon system.
Rather, Jones said the influence of the services had become greater than that of the joint process and this had to be corrected by "moving the pendulum back to the middle." He said he has been working out his thoughts on this for almost a year and waited until near retirement so it would be clear he was not trying to expand his own power.
Jones said he was not proposing an "all-powerful" chairman or a German-style general staff concept. But, he said, there are many issues that cannot be settled effectively by a committee of chiefs, all of whom represent individual services and are under pressure from those services to protect their interests and budget. In effect, he said, it is hard for those service chiefs to take one position as head of their services and another when joint views are demanded.
Jones calls for the chairman to have greater power to bypass the chiefs and directly consult commanders of unified, or multiservice, American forces around the world to decide certain issues when these "interservice perspectives" are needed.
Another problem, he says, is that the chairman is the only JCS member who doesn't have a deputy, who is necessary to add support and consistency in running JCS meetings when the chairman is traveling.
Jones says that service chiefs get their advice on joint issues most frequently from their own service staffs and this process gives each service "a de facto veto" on every issue at every stage. He said such advice should come much more than it now does from a joint staff. The chairman also should have some influence on promotions and assignments so that joint staff service is encouraged rather than being seen as risky by officers worried about their careers when they get back to the individual services.
Jones forecast severe consequences if the military fails to come to grips with the need for more imaginative, innovative advice to civilian leaders and solutions to the growing demands on U.S. forces.