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Unity of command in joint operations

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I.                   Introduction

In military context, unity of command is a very familiar term. It is the core effort of most of educational and training programs of high ranking officers in the US Army and national defense organizations all over the globe. The term is more than a military slogan, it is a basic military philosophy which contains the understanding that coordination is the key to harnessing power and strength from available military resources. The term is often used internally in various corps and military organizations.

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The application is therefore, limited to the coordination of resources within that particular organization.

However, in this paper, we are discussing the role of the philosophy in joint operations, a condition which require implementation of the unity of command philosophy over the boundaries of a single organization.

II.                Unity of Command and Joint Operations

II.1.     Unity of Command

As mentioned, Unity of Command is the basic philosophy that guides military organizations in its operations. It is referring to a condition where a subordinate should have one and only one superior.

In a wholesome perspective, this means the military hierarchy tree should be shaped in such a way that leaves only one in absolute command. Within the concept, all available sources are supposed to be fighting for a common goal.

To provide an illustration that will depicts the importance of unity of command in military operations, we will use an example of a dozen men trying to move a giant concrete block. If all these men are to do the efforts separately, for instance, some are using rope and wedges, some are using grease to try to slide the concrete block and some other merely trying to push the block away, the result is an immovable concrete block and a dozen of exhausted men. In other words, without a unity of command, military resources can be depleted without generating much of a result (Mckeaney, 1994).

On the other hand, if one man are chosen to lead the removal process, and the strengths and energy of a dozen men are coordinated using a single strategy, for instance, using rope and wedges, then the work will actually accomplish something and the energy of the men will be used more effectively (Lawrence, 1995).

In theory, the leadership of a single person simplifies the situation because then there will be much more limited and focused objectives and there will be only a single perspective on how to manage available resource to achieve those objectives. History has proven that unity of command is the philosophy that usually gets the job done in military realms (Lawrence, 1995).

II.2.     Joint Operations

            Joint operation is also a familiar term in the military context. In simple terms, it means two or more military organizations working in specific operations in order to reach common objectives. In the 20th century, joint and multinational operations have displayed their important role in military undertakings. It displays how the full spectrum of special operations (so), air, land, sea and space capabilities are used to generate mission accomplishment in various fields (Mckeaney, 1994).

            Furthermore, it has been recognized that the concept of joint operations is now well supported by greater capabilities of communication and coordination, and therefore, advances in military achievements are more dependent upon commanding abilities of the military leader and how he integrate various components of the military resources under his command (Mckeaney, 1994).

            In its practice, joint operation has been seen as a military art. It encompasses translating strategy into operational design which accommodates the employment of all military components. The main goal of joint operation is to integrate all military capabilities into a single and unified whole. Joint operations philosophy guides the development, organization and execution of strategies in military campaigns, battles and major operations. It includes the principles of war like objective, offensive, economy of forces, unity of command, etc. In this paper, we are discussing the role of unity of command in joint operations (Mckeaney, 1994).

III.             Unity of Command in Previous Battles

Unity of command is an old concept which has been utilized for decades. In the battle of Leyte Gulf, the role of the philosophy was Paramount in ensuring victory of the Allied Forces against the Imperial Army of Japan. The Battle was considered a good example of the implementation of a unified military effort to achieve clear and focused objectives.

The battle of Leyte Gulf was considered the largest naval battle in history. The battle occurred in the Pacific ocean in the World War II. The battle was an effort to further weakened the Japanese imperial forces. The invasion by the allied forces was particularly aimed to cut off Japan from her colonies in Southeast Asia. This attack was considered crucial because it will cut away the crucial oil supplies for the Imperial Japanese Navy. In the end, the battle was won by the allied forces despite Japanese attempt using all their remaining forces to repel the attack (Cutler, 2001).

The battle was actually consist of four interrelated battles, they are the battle of the Shibuyan Sea, the Battle of Suriago Strait, The Battle of Cape engano and the Battle of Samar. The allied forces, dominated by American carriers and destroyers placed themselves surround the Philippine waters. The battle started when Japanese center forces were spotted entering the Palawan Passage. Well coordinated and structured, the attack to these forces sunk two cruisers and crippling a third and leaving the Center Forces in chaos for quite some time. However, the Japanese are determined to went forward to the Leyte Gulf. In the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the allied forces dispatched aircraft attacks and sink some of Japanese carriers (Field, 1947).

     The Japanese forces were trying to trick the allied forces by signing a retreat and then turned again to make their way through the San Bernadino Strait. The sudden movement was well confronted by the allied forces in the Battle of Samar. In the battle of Suriago strait, more Japanese cruisers and carriers were sunk and Japanese commanders killed. Again, the Japanese signed a retreat. However, Japanese empire’s determination to enter the Leyte Gulf was still strong. Ozawa, a Japanese commander, led a number of Japanese ships and approaching from the north. This attack was also well anticipated by the allied forces. The air attack by the allied forces sunk four Japanese carriers and Ozawa fled to Japan (Field, 1947).

The fleet that was pretending to sound a retreat was spotted in Samar hours after the Battle of Cape Engano. Despite having most of the fleet pursuing Ozawa in his escape, the Allied forces were not unaware of the need to anticipate such an attack from the Japanese fleet. In the Battle of Samar, nine American destroyer and several groups of air attacks made a fierce assault to the appearing Japanese forces in effort to make them believe that the entire allied forces are ready and waiting for their arrival. Discouraged, the last of the Japanese fleet retreat under the belief that they are intercepted by a complete set of prepared American feet (Cutler, 2001).

In the aftermath, the battle of Leyte Gulf secured the US Army from attacks from sea and successfully cutting the supply lines of Japanese colonies in South East Asia. The Battle of Leyte was fought by the air and sea campaign with one of the best coordination in the history world war II. Communication between fleets in different sides of the ocean was made continuously, despite problems exist in the last art of Battle in Samar. Strategy analysts stated that the Japanese was strucked backward by a wall of military forces, which causes them to retreat without realizing that their anticipation of the umber of US fleet was overestimated. The battle displayed how strategic leadership generates the optimization of available resources in fighting enemies, and even helps responding to unexpected turns faster (Cutler, 2001).

IV.             Unity of Command in Various Military Organizations

IV.1.   Marine

            In the marine perspective, the unity of command is the core and critical philosophy of all their operations. Marines no more than others that orchestrating land, sea and air operations in joint warfare is a demanding and difficult job. In the marine perspective, it is always believed that things will be easier managed if all the men know who is in charge. It is stated that in the Marine forces achieving the unity of command is a hard and evolutionary process. In the first years of the marine, dual commanders managed military arms. Nevertheless, the Guadacanal operations along with other operations revealed that an overarching command structure is required (Linn, 1996).

            In the Marines, the arrangement is: the marine amphibious corps is presided over the ground, air and logistic units. Nevertheless, this arrangement was not perfect for the marines and the marine forces were still adjusting their structures. One of the main issues in integrating arms operations is overcome conceptual differences. Combining different components means combining strategies in tactical levels. Integrating these functions means creating a set of procedure of cooperation between ground, naval and air arms. Again, conceptual differences are hampering the growth of the cooperation. Today, the Marine uses advances technology and an improved command structure that ensure unity of command. This is achieved by acknowledging several principles, the first and foremost, one person must be in charge. Second, in terms of joint operations, procedures are the building blocks of the cooperation and they must not be violated. Third, accounting the diverse nature of each joint operation, flexibility is a critical virtue (Linn, 1996).

IV.2.   Special Operations

            In special operations, the unity of command concept has its own unique role. Special operations are operations performed in hostile, denied and politically sensitive environments. These operations generally have strong necessities of low visibility and covert capabilities. Special operations are operations conducted in support of the theater campaigns. It is in complementary and not in competition with conventional operations. Overall, the success of special operations depends on individual and small unit capabilities rather than a large group of units. Nevertheless, their success is crucial for the conventional operations conducted in their successions. Most of the special operations are conducted as a joint operation rather than a stand alone project (Doctrine, 2003).

            Despite their covert and individual accomplishments, deconfliction and coordination with conventional operations are critical for special operations. Special operations must become one and integrated with conventional operations. In efforts of achieving that integration, special operations generally maintain effective liaison with all component of the joint military force. The joint characteristic of special operations is in need of specific support arrangements in order to sustain the independent and remote operations. In spite of its independency, special operations must be able to exploit all available resources from the national support systems, including emerging new technologies and space assets (Doctrine, 2003).

            Other characteristic of the special operation is its sensitivity toward timely and detailed intelligence. This also requires cooperation with other national support systems. Most special operations require much higher level of detailed intelligence support than needed in conventional operations. Threats of enemy counterintelligence must also be anticipated using global, secure and jointly interoperable command and control efforts. The officer in charge must maintain connection with all available sources of information, therefore, flexibility is also paramount in times of operations (Doctrine, 2003).

IV.3.   Joint Land Operations in the U.S

            Joint land operations often have major roles in conflict resolutions throughout the military industry. In the United States, the management of these operations are generally held by the joint force commander (JFC) who acts as the highest commander in the hierarchy. Meanwhile, the JFC is controlling other operations that be performed in coordination with the land-based operations. The organization of the joint land operation is based on the vision and mission stated by the JFC with considerations of the enemy, terrain, weather, troops and available support systems. Therefore, unity of efforts is a key consideration. Joint land operations require a centralized planning system, but also a decentralized execution because of its diverse units. In the process, JFC conduct its operations through joint task forces, functional components, service components, etc (‘Command and Control’, 2004).

            In managing the joint land operations, the JFC establishes delegates appropriate command relationships, establishes subordinate commands and delivers coordinating instructions for the component commanders. In coordinating such a complex operations, simplicity and clarity are crucial. Therefore, in managing the joint land operations the presence of JFC as a single commander is critical. With the existing structure, the JFC has the ability to enhance synchronization of operations. This structure is applicable between US ground components and multinational components as well (‘Command and Control’, 2004).

IV.4.   Joint Air Operations

            The unity of command is also apparent in the command arrangements of US joint air operations. In order to display how unity of command s applied in the joint US air operations I will use the joint air operations of Desert Shield/ Desert Storm. The highest ranking officials were the people in the National Command Authorities in Washington (Winnefeld, 1993).

            Nevertheless, in order to integrate operations between different air units and forces, the JFACC was the joining forces that enable coordination among the vast military resources. The JFACC functions as a centralizing tool for planning and decision making which enables a higher degree of coordination of joint air operations compare to Vietnam. The joining forces of the JFACC was powerful enough to generate quick responses whenever a service component requires tanker support, air defense suppression, the destruction of certain target, etc (Winnefeld, 1993).

            Becoming a force that joins various components of air based military units, flexibility of structure and operational system was a great virtue of the JFACC. In many dimensions, the JFACC must be flexible enough to accommodate the special needs of the service units it serves (Winnefeld, 1993).

V.                Unity of Command and Technology

The role of technology and advanced information system is also critical in establishing unity of command. In all of the military organizations and endeavors elaborated above, technology plays a critical role in generating coordination and the unity of command. There are various programs that are designed to provide military organizations with the best coordinating capabilities (Bernstein, 1998). For example, the Defense Information Systems Agency is providing services for integrating joint coalition and a combined command and control systems for combat support system. Provider of this technology is aware of the critical importance of an integrated service and agency-developed data sources.

DISA has the capability of supporting planning, mobilization, deployment and execution of the deployed forces. It provides the infrastructure that integrates various agencies in its military efforts. DISA uses a Global Command and Control System which enables joint planning and execution, collaboration and decision support capabilities and global access to available data for joint force commanders. The quality of the supports system provided by DISA has been proven in many combat situations. For example, in Bosnia, in support of the Operations Enduring Freedom, DISA significantly improved situational awareness, application of coordination between combined force elements and integration of intelligence in planning as well as operating decision making processes. DISA has been utilized in ground as well as air operations. It is already conditioned to match existing standards, doctrines, procedures and tactics (‘Joint Command and Control’, 2007).

VI.             Conclusions

Unity of command is one of many doctrines of joint operations. Nevertheless, its existence is the most critical in ensuring the proper management of join operations. In military operations, there are no strategies or agencies that do not involve the unity of command philosophy in their operations. This displayed by the elaborations of this paper. Land, Air, Naval and Special Operations are all designed with the unity of command as their basic philosophy. Like the special operations and the air missions, some objectives might look individual and remote, but their success is critical for the conventional operations that will be done in their successions. Different agencies however, have different ways of practicing the unity of command concept within their military structure.


Bernstein, Alvin H. Libicki, Martin C. 1998. “High-Tech: The Future of War? A Debate,” Commentary, vol. 105

‘Command and Control for Joint Land Operations’. 2004. Retrieved June 11, 2007 from www.fas.org/irp/doddir/dod/jp3_31.pdf

Cutler. Thomas. 2001. ‘The Battle of Leyte Gulf. Annapolis Maryland. United States: Naval Institute Press’.

‘Doctrine for Joint Special Operations. 2003. Retrieved June 11, 2007 from www.fas.org/irp/doddir/dod/jp3-05

Field, James A. 1947. The Japanese at Leyte Gulf: The Sho Operations. Princeton University Press.

‘Joint Command and Control’. 2007. DISA. Retrieved June 11, 2007 from http://www.disa.mil/main/about/jcc.html

Lawrence. K, Scott. 1995. ‘Joint C2 Through Unity of Command’. JFQ. Retrieved June 11, 2007. from www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/jfq_pubs/c26.pdf

Linn, Thomas C. 1996. ‘Joint Operations: The Marine Perspective’. JFQ. Retrieved June 11, 2007 from www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/jfq_pubs/0610.pdf

McKearney. Terry J. 1994. “Rethinking the Joint Task Force,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 120

Winnefeld. James A. 1993. ‘Unity of Control: Joint Air Operations’. JFQ. Retrieved June 11, 2007 from www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1993/jfq1201.pdf


Cite this Unity of command in joint operations

Unity of command in joint operations. (2016, Sep 14). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/unity-of-command-in-joint-operations/

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