Home / Robert Farley / Inter-Service Conflict and the System of Systems

Inter-Service Conflict and the System of Systems


My latest at the Diplomat discussed efforts to make military services play nice with one another:

I’ve belabored the organizational aspects of China’s system of anti-access systems because bureaucratic boundaries matter. AirSea Battle seeks, above all, to iron out the wrinkles that could prevent tight cooperation between the United States Navy and the United States Air Force.  Years of hard won experience have demonstrated that military organizations don’t necessarily play well together; they have different priorities, different practices, and often different system of communication that generate friction and detract from overall capability.  The history of USN and USAF collaboration in KoreaVietnam, Grenada, and the Gulf is littered with stories of hostility, rivalry, and miscommunication. The Pentagon understands this, and over the years has enacted a plethora of reforms (not least the Goldwater-Nichols Act) to ensure that the Air Force and the Navy can operate effectively together.

As of yet there is little indication that the PLAN, PLAAF, and 2nd Artillery have developed the practices necessary to ensure an efficient, effective partnership in battle.


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  • blowback

    Why would they want to give any indication? They know that they’re starting from a point of technological weakness, so why reveal something that may even things up a bit.

  • rea

    The PLA doesn’t have much recent combat experience, and how they’d perform if put to a test is uncertain. But the interservice rivalry thing is a feature of our military. Can we really project that onto their military? Particularly as, unlike us, they at least give some lip-service to unified armed forces (Peoples Liberation Army Navy)?

    • Inter-service conflict isn’t just a US thing; in WWII the British, Germans, Americans, Japanese, and Italians all suffered from bitter inter-service conflicts, with varying degrees of damage to their war efforts. Russians did a good job, in large part because the Navy was irrelevant and aviation was subjugated to land warfare purposes. So it isn’t just projecting from the US experience. It would be surprising if the Chinese didn’t have some problems, although weight of those problems could vary.

      Unified service solves some but not all issues; even countries with unified services have suffered intra-service disputes.

      • ajay

        Inter-service conflict isn’t just a US thing; in WWII the British, Germans, Americans, Japanese, and Italians all suffered from bitter inter-service conflicts, with varying degrees of damage to their war efforts.

        My impression is, though, that it was (and is) far worse for the US than for most of the other combatants (except possibly Japan). FDR was so unable to get the army and the navy to play together that he had to put them in different bits of the Pacific and run two almost completely separate wars. Even in Afghanistan, the US armed forces spent eight years without a single unified commander – some of their troops reported to ISAF, and some direct to CENTCOM.

        • John F

          One reason the Germans never had any operational carriers was that The Luftwaffe never let them have any planes or even equipment to train on, therefore actual service use of the fleet carrier they built and the several “jeep” carriers they prepped was always at least a year off, since they were always at least a year off, development was always put on hold when they were more immediate needs for the resources involved.

          WRT Japan, the relationship between the Army and Navy was so bad that Admirals and Generals began actively misleading the other branch about losses, combat readiness and the like.

          • SpiderBat

            They also intruded onto each other’s domains in weird ways — the Japanese Army built a few baby flattops from merchant ships (keeping the “Maru” in the names, if I remember correctly).

            Plus there was that whole “surround Yamamoto with MPs so we can off him if we need to” thing.

      • shah8

        There was definitely conflict between Chennault and Stilwell when they tried to help Chiang fight the Japanese.

  • Derek

    Finally, any ballistic missile launch against U.S. forces runs the risk of nuclear escalation; the Americans don’t know what kind of warhead a missile carries before the missile hits.

    I’m as much a Launch on Warning critic as anyone, but this seems like quite a stretch. For an accidental launch, you’d need:

    a) A President who’s decided to launch on warning against China despite the fact that doing so has no benefit to the survivability of his nuclear forces.

    b) Radar and Infrared sensors that fail to reveal that the missile burns out quicker than, and doesn’t reach the velocity of, an ICBM.

    c) Either a failure to notice that the missile has hit an oceanic target, or a decision to launch very early in the missile’s flight time.

    While I’m not saying this is impossible, it does seem really unlikely. Far more of a concern would be Chinese reactions to MRBM-hunting sorties (which would kill nuclear assets as well), or US pressures to preemptively destroy Chinese mobile missiles before they disperse early in the crisis.

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