Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Organizing British Joint Rapid Reaction Forces

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Organizing British Joint Rapid Reaction Forces

Article excerpt

Britain sent the spearhead battalion of its joint rapid reaction force (JRRF) to Sierra Leone in May 2000. The unit took control of the airport at Lungi and began restoring order to the capital of Freetown, a preliminary to evacuating Britons and foreign nationals. Some 36 hours earlier, the unit had been in barracks at Aldershot. Operation Palliser was a classic example of a rapid reaction mission, something often sought yet rarely achieved. It validated the concept of integrating operational planning, preparation, and execution under a permanent joint headquarters (PJHQ).

Thinking Joint

Both the previous Conservative and current Labor governments have viewed the capability to mount rapid reaction operations as in the national interest, in keeping with global responsibilities as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, to play a part in resolving selected crises. Britain had an inefficient response system in 1994 and a constant though apparently contradictory political intention to improve military efficiency while achieving cost savings.

Before the establishment of PJHO, command of joint forces deployed overseas was usually achieved by appointing one of three service commanders in chief as joint commander who, in turn, would designate his headquarters as joint headquarters. A chief was not normally appointed until the cabinet chose to deploy forces. This ad hoc, reactive arrangement was never efficient nor truly joint. In July 1994, to improve crisis management and responsiveness by the chain of command, the secretary of state for defence announced the creation of a single, permanent joint headquarters under a chief of joint operations (CJO). The formation of a joint rapid deployment force was also announced, to become operational by April 1996 at the same time as the new headquarters.

Development of PJHQ was the outcome of the Defence Costs Study (1994). From this so-called front-line first study came the operational, efficiency-based requirement to separate policy from operations, a consequence of which would be creation of PJHQ. An earlier study, Options for Change (1991), planned to reduce manpower levels in the Ministry of Defence from 12,700 to 3,750 by 1998. Reductions in Whitehall on that scale were possible partly because of the belief by the government that the core ministry responsibility was policy and that the function of operations could be separated and moved to a more efficient site in the suburbs.

Responsibility for the defense and security of the United Kingdom rests with the ministry. Four-star chiefs of staff advise the chief of the defence staff (CDS) on military aspects of defense policy which affect the services, how the services are engaged, and service capabilities. CDS then represents their views to the government. Chiefs have no responsibility for command or control of operations. The commanders in chief retain full command and are responsible for delivering fully manned, trained, and equipped component elements at agreed states of readiness. The relationship between the single service supporting commands and PJHQ is reportedly very good.

The Defence Cost Study recommended establishment of PJHQ to permit "a proper, clear, and unambiguous connection between [government] policy and strategic functions and the conduct of operations at the operational level to be achieved." This proposed simplification of command and control resonates with the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. In the post-Cold War era, when armed forces can increasingly be utilized in pursuit of diverse foreign policy objectives, the number of political actors interested in influencing operations has grown. Conceptually, CDS must shoulder the aspirations, interests, and often divergent opinions of the broad range of political leaders on the strategic level, leaving PJHQ to focus on operations.

An unambiguous connection between CDS and PJHQ has not been established. …

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