ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as part of a sweeping series of budget cuts, announced Monday his intent to eliminate the 6,000-person Joint Forces Command, but his decision set off fierce debate throughout the defense community, all centered on one resounding question: In an era of complex military operations worldwide, is JFCOM expendable?
Gates argued on that the military has “largely embraced jointness” to the point where a separate command to train joint forces and conceive joint doctrine is no longer necessary.
JFCOM is among the first casualties of Gates’ increased budget scrutiny, said Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“As you see a future in which defense comes under much tighter pressure, things which may be desirable but aren’t essential become expendable,” he said Tuesday.
But Daniel Goure, vice president of the conservative Lexington Institute, said that JFCOM may be even more necessary than in the past.
“In an era of declining budgets, one of the first thing that is, maybe, jettisoned is jointness as the services have to fight for every dollar, as they have to justify their missions,” Goure said.
With fiscal tensions potentially creating adversaries of the various services, he said, a central structure facilitating cooperation would seem wise.
“Voltaire said, ‘If there was no God, man would have to invent it.’” Goure said. “If there was no JFCOM, we’d have to invent it.”
And so Goure also questioned the cost savings of closing JFCOM since, by his estimation, most of its functions will likely be relocated elsewhere in the department rather than eliminated.
Though President Barack Obama was quick to offer broad support for Gates’ cuts, he didn’t mention JFCOM specifically. And on Capitol Hill, eyebrows were raised quickly, especially among the Virginia delegation, considering the Norfolk-based command employs 6,324 military, civilian and contractor workers.
“It goes without saying that we should achieve efficiency in our nation’s defense budget, however doing so at the expense of the command that is leading the charge for the future of our military doctrine and training would be a step backward and could be harmful to the capabilities of the finest military in the world,” U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said in a news release.
Virginia’s other senator and fellow Democrat Mark Warner questioned the logic of closing JFCOM when the command’s function is to find cost savings by forcing the services to work together.
“In the business world, you sometimes have to spend money in order to save money,” Warner said in a news release.
On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., has asked Gates for more information on closing JFCOM.
“For example, who within the Department of Defense will be responsible for ensuring our commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq have the correct number and mix of military forces to complete their missions if the Department eliminates the Joint Forces Command?” McKeon said in a news release.
For now, however, it seems those decisions have not been made. The Joint Staff, which will be assuming JFCOM’s responsibility of finding troops for missions, deferred questions to the Defense Department. Officials there said they had no answers as of yet.
“There are several mission areas associated with JFCOM that we’re trying to understand,” Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Monday. “Some of them we keep, some of them we will actually eliminate and not conduct.”