Joint military operations

Separate ground, sea and air warfare is gone forever. If ever again we should be involved in war,
we will fight it in all elements, with all services, as one single concentrated effort.
US President Dwight D Eisenhower

The statement made by the visionary US President Eisenhower was true then and it remains so today.

Joint effectiveness of Air Force and Army forces is critical to achieving national objectives in today’s strategic environment. Constrained procurement budgets and unprecedented and diverse missions call for effective dialogue and synergy between land and air forces.

In order to meet future threats and challenges and achieve interoperability with friendly armed forces for joint operations in global area of strategic interest, the modern needs to modernize and create force structures that are capable of undertaking network-centric warfare on land, at sea, and in the air.  Joint operations integrated by common information networks are critical in enabling the countries to overcome a wide and fluid assortment of threats and meet its global security needs.

The 21st century operating environment brings new challenges and requires new thinking. Globally-integrated operations is especially relevant for ensuring operational access-that is, the ability to project military force into an area with sufficient freedom of action to accomplish the broader military mission - in the face of the anti-access and area denial capabilities of our adversaries.

With over a decade of continuous operation in Iraq and Afghanistan; the armed forces have realized the significance of true jointness in operations. In Afghanistan, air and ground operations, intelligence collection and fusion, as well as logistics and communications all brought together the talents of more than one service. The special operations were completely coordinated.

Joint force

Country like United States has always given focus on establishing a strong joint force for securing its national interest. For US joint force must be able to accomplish to protect the nation and its interests-missions that require the joint force to operate across geographical boundaries, service affiliations, and the domains of air, land, sea, undersea, space and cyberspace.  As a global power with global interests, the United States must maintain the credible capability to project military force into any region of the world in support of those interests. This includes the ability to project force both into the global commons to ensure their use and into foreign territory as required.

Therefore military activities across the full range of military operations need to be synchronized with other instruments of national power and focused on common national goals.

Concept of joint operations basically implies enunciation of ways and means to conduct a joint and integrated battle. This concept envisages the conduct of air land, air maritime and tri-service operations to achieve military and national security objectives. Even in US Armed Forces, historically, there had been strong impediments to effective joint military action.

The concept of the Army, Navy and Air Force coming together and synergizing their operations to maximize their individual capabilities-is not new. This idea reached its high point during the Second World War.

Even in Vietnam War, tremendous numbers of air resources and a maturing tactical air control system provided effective response to requests. Soldiers and Marines in general lauded close air support, depending on the timely arrival of aerial firepower for victories in many battles throughout the conflict.

The Gulf Wars and the confrontation with Taliban in Afghanistan by US and allied forces have further cemented this concept as the ultimate key to ensure success in conflicts. In the present day context this concept has got an enormous push with the paradigm shift from the long duration attrition wars to short, intense high technology wars. The distinctions of the land forces, air force and maritime forces, operating as independent, single forces have consequently blurred leading to the concept of integrated operations to produce a greater punch and maximizing operational effectiveness.

Air and land forces fight in two distinctly dissimilar environments. The former enjoy the flexibility to focus their effects at different loci depending on the strategic, operational, and tactical dictates of the moment, but their presence is relatively transitory. The latter offer the offsetting advantage of much more permanent effects, but their flexibility is limited by gravity. These diverging operating characteristics produce cultural approaches to war that maximize the inherent strengths of each force, i.e., flexibility and permanence.

Cultural differences

Cultural differences between the Army and Air Force may seem natural given the characteristics and environments of their missions. Joint success, however, depends upon their cultural integration and combined capabilities.

The Air Force mission demands a culture heavy on aircrew and flight leadership experience, training small numbers of people to apply both intuitive thinking and ingrained procedures or tactics in often time-critical, life or death scenarios. Even outside the flying environment, individual initiative often results in young Airmen taking action to accomplish a task or mission by utilizing published technical/operational guidance and training to accomplish a task or mission with minimal oversight. The Army does not lack this same initiative, but Army culture is one in which these intuitive demands are overshadowed by a more directive environment in which specific orders are given to perform critical tasks. There are certainly areas of overlap in which both Soldiers and Airman share equal amounts of technical expertise and leadership savvy, but the nature and tools of air and land warfare cultures breed few differences which need to be taken care of during a joint operation. There is a broad understanding in the Services that no single service by itself can win a war. Army and Air Force have their own single service doctrines and Navy also has a doctrine in some form or the other. However, due to different perspectives and differing service legacies, they reflect the respective services’ prejudices on strategy and tactics. These, at times, hinder the application of total force in a synergized manner.

Recent interdependence and lessons learned from Afghanistan and Iraq present significant opportunities for reducing additional cultural barriers. Compatible command, control and communications development, and a combined effort to predict future demand for Air Force airlift are topics ripe for inter-service discussion and procurement. In addition, the Army’s shift from organic direct and indirect fire to a more air power dependent maneuver force should expand Army support for Air Force efforts to provide that support.

A comprehensive introspection and review of the organizational structures of the armed forces, military strategies and doctrines, planning and management processes, force structures, training, equipping and logistical aspects needs to be done. If one examines the principles of war, inter-service cooperation stands out as a time-tested principle. Unity of effort contributes towards an efficient end product.

The United States acts to meet various challenges, protect national interests, and achieve strategic goals in a variety of ways depending on the nature of the strategic environment. The US military power now competes on a substantially more complicated playing field in a number of important regions around the world. As a consequence, US policymakers and military commanders anticipates obstacles to global access emerging from some combination of improved adversary military capabilities and new, less favorable political realities. In short, the comprehensive anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) challenge is rapidly compounding, necessitating innovative US military responses to overcome it.

The US Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC)-vision for how joint forces will operate in response to emerging anti-access and area-denial security challenges- is the ability to project military force into an operational area with sufficient freedom of action to accomplish the mission. The JOAC concept identifies 30 operational capabilities the future joint force will need to gain operational access in an opposed environment. The implications of creating and maintaining these capabilities in the necessary capacity are potentially profound. Adoption of this concept will establish a common intellectual framework for the challenge of opposed access, will inform subsequent joint and Service concepts, and will result in doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel solutions. However, the JOAC is just what it implies, a concept. It is not strategy, and it is not military doctrine. It is a joint force assessment of an emerging military challenge and a tentative joint force prescription to solve it.

The future war will seek to exploit information technology and C4ISTAR system would be a key battle-winning factor. The air-land battle environment would increase the tempo of operations.

There is a need for survivable, secure and alternate means of communications, smooth flow of data and information, effective networking and inter-service integration, automation and interoperability. Different Services have multifarious systems with lack of commonality. There is a need to interface communication systems. An integrated systems approach to the total electronic spectrum utilization as well as optimal utilization of a common electronic communication infrastructure would promote synergy in operations.


The prevailing strategic environment in South Asia has forced India’s armed forces to prepare for the possibility of a “two front” war and therefore, it has become imperative for the Indian military to train, plan and work jointly integrating their operations during conflict situations to achieve the desired outcome.

In most operations since independence, the Indian Army and Indian Air Force have worked together and the Indian Navy too has joined in with its limited resources.

The first conflict with Pakistan in 1947-48 did not offer a scope for large scale joint operations. It was a limited war and the role of Air Force was restricted to transportation of troops and materials into Kashmir valley. The maintenance and transport support provided by Air Force was crucial, timely and efficient. IAF was instrumental in providing effective air defence over Srinagar, Leh and Poonch.

During Sino-Indian war of 1962, the Air Force was not used (except in supply and transport duties) when it would have been very profitable to use ground attack missions against the Chinese troops which lacked air cover. However, this could be assumed as an indication of lack of jointness in planning and conduct of war among the services. Indo-Pak war of 1965 was the first operation where all the three services took part. The victory in 1971 stands as a testimony to the constant and intimate integration of individual Service plans to achieve the national aim.

Indian defence forces have also operated together in peace support and peace keeping operations like in Somalia and Sri Lanka, however, the opportunities for practicing jointness have not been exploited and their tasks have been confined to their respective services’ classical roles.

Both Air Force and Army doctrines recognize that synergies are to be gained by joint application of air and land power. However, airmen and soldiers have distinctively different perspectives on how to conduct war. Although, each service accepts the need for joint and complementary operations, each tends to see his medium as being of primary importance.

Air element has the reach, lethality and swift maneuver capability to cause devastation of the enemy’s core assets. However it needs to be orchestrated to be complementary to the land force actions. The need therefore is to arrive at the methodology of employment of the land, air and maritime assets.

A typical theatre campaign plan would divide Air Land operations into three major areas: the forward area; the joint battle area; and the joint staging and dispersal area. Both Air Force and Army, and Navy too in some cases, will have some degree of responsibility for activities within each area.

In the forward area, the Air Force would gather intelligence, strike strategic targets, conduct offensive counter air interdiction and engage in special operations when required. The Army’s role in the forward area would be breaking the crust and creating the opening for its forces to thrust deep which it may have to carry out with integral resources. Within the joint battle area, air and ground forces would concentrate major combat power, engage in fire and maneuver, fire support, special operations and counter surface forces operations.

It is in furtherance of these Service specific roles and allocation of resources that each Service theatre commanders will have to come together to jointly plan and integrate their operations. The Kargil war was one bright example of joint operation which finally resulted in victory. The Joint War Doctrine formulated in 2006 as a consequence to the Kargil operations for achieving greater integration and operational cohesiveness among the three arms of the Indian Armed Forces is a big step towards understanding, integrating and propagating the operational concepts at the highest level. Each of the Services have also prepared and adopted their own doctrines and vision documents retaining the Service individuality.

The setting up of a strategic tri-service command in Andaman and Nicobar islands is a sincere effort in promoting jointness in the services. Certainly, ANC has risen from being an experiment to an inspiration; a true representation of seamless jointness between the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. India further needs to bring together all the forces under a unified command and control structure to execute strategic operations in tune with national security objectives. The country needs to have joint commands and operational commanders in the theatres that matter, with specific resources allotted to it.

Operational doctrine

Indian armed forces even released two doctrines few years ago aimed at creating synergy among the Army, Navy and Air Force to enhance their joint fighting capabilities in both conventional and low intensity conflict situations and in the psychological arena.

The documents, “Doctrine on Perception Management and Psychological Operations” and “Doctrine on Air and Land Operations”, are aimed at creating the requisite synergy between the three services in important military matters.

The joint air-land operations doctrine and the perception management and psychological warfare doctrine were formulated by the Doctrine Directorate of Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) Headquarters, a tri-service organisation created after the 1999 Kargil war to achieve jointness in operations of the three defence forces.

The documents collectively declare that victory in a battle depends on joint teamwork by maritime, ground and air forces operating effectively, individually and together in support of shared military objectives.

The joint doctrine for air-land operations would serve as the cornerstone document for use of military power in a joint warfare scenario when the Army‘s infantry, armored and artillery strengths are used alongside Air Force‘s fire power.

It establishes the framework of concepts and principles to understand the approach to planning and conduct of air-land operation in a conventional war scenario.

The revolution in military affairs and changing nature of war demands the need to fight as an integrated force. The ultimate objective of the three Services is same; that is, defence of the nation and joint warfare is indispensable to that defence. The three Services, reinforce and complement each other and it is upto the services to capitalize on this synergistic value and evolve a war winning machine to achieve the desired objectives. The evolution of joint doctrine, military strategy and plans would contribute towards unity of purpose.

All future operations are likely to be joint operations rather than a single service operation. Logistics support for a future war would not only require a joint services effort but it would also require the effort of entire nation in terms of industrial back up, research and development, material support, infrastructure and manpower.

All new acquisitions of weapon systems and equipment need to be processed jointly by the services by evolving joint qualitative requirements, keeping aside the inter-service rivalry. Such a process will lead to optimization in terms of budgetary support as well as R&D effort. It would also ensure inter-operability and commonality of systems and lead to easy integration.

As India takes up the role of a major power with the ability to work effectively and efficiently, the fundamental elements of national defence strategy demands continued strong adherence to concepts of military structure of jointness and interoperability among the Services.