Joint Operational Access and the Global Response Force: Redefining Readiness

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ON THE NIGHT of 9 October 2012 the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conducted a forcible-entry airborne assault into the fictional country of Atropia to seize an airfield and facilitate a noncombatant evacuation operation. The brigade received its orders 96 hours earlier at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and spent the limited time available alerting the force, conducting mission planning and rehearsals, and marshalling the force at Fort Bragg's Pope Army Airfield with all required support and sustainment organized for a combat airborne assault. The joint force deployed directly from homestation to the contested drop zone hundreds of miles and a time zone away. The emerging security environment requires flexible, versatile and rapidly deployable forcible-entry packages; the Global Response Force (GRF), a brigade combat team prepared to deploy anywhere in the world within 96 hours of notification, is designed as such, and should be continually developed as a unique asset for U.S. 21st century defense.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has identified the ability to gain and maintain operational access a principle defense challenge in the 21st century. (1) In Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, the secretary of defense cited the chairman's Joint Operational Access Concept as a U.S. strategic imperative. (2) Concepts such as Air-Sea Battle address future programs, postures, and methods aimed at defeating long-range adversarial anti-access systems. Efforts to provide access are a shaping operation and cannot be expected to preclude the need to insert ground forces. Forcible-entry operations are designed to exploit the maneuver space enabled by operational access, and the GRF exists to conduct these operations.

Operation Atropian Reach (5-13 October 2012) was developed by the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in concert with joint planning teams from the 18th Airborne Corps and the 82d Airborne Division, as a joint operational access exercise. It included key components of U.S. strategic response: the GRF, a joint special operations task force, U.S. Air Force mobility and strike assets, and a scenario that included the U.S. Department of State, and other agencies as well as various intergovernmental and multinational partners on the ground, portrayed by former members of these communities. (3) Atropian Reach provides a great contextual backdrop to the larger discussion of joint operational access and the role of the GRF.

Joint Forcible-Entry and Joint Operational Access

The ability to ensure operational access in the future is being challenged--and may well be the most difficult operational challenge U.S. forces will face over the coming decades." (4)--General Martin Dempsey, Joint Operational Access Concept

The United States has identified the ability to gain access to areas of its choosing, whether opposed or unopposed, as a strategic imperative; tactically, joint response forces train and stand ready to seize, hold, and build lodgments to meet that end. Joint operational access comprises the numerous shaping operations that together carve a space for forcible entry, essentially bridging the strategic imperative and tactical mission accomplishment.

Forcible-entry operations are undertaken to provide access by a military force to a desirable position in the face of adversarial opposition. Often this position is an advantageous piece of terrain, known as a lodgment, from which a force can enable a larger operational or strategic objective. Lodgments may be airheads or beachheads or a combination thereof; in any case, there are conditions that must be set to successfully seize this key terrain, and operational access is required to do so. (5) Consider, for example, the amphibious assaults at Normandy on D-Day an operation undertaken against great opposition to secure a strategic foothold on mainland Europe. …