Maj. Gen. John Nichols

WASHINGTON: The most transnational command in the US military, Strategic Command, is standing up a new Global Integrated Operations Coordination Center to help the Joint Force prosecute future all-domain warfare across traditional theater boundaries.

“From STRATCOM’s perspective, our role is to facilitate conversation, to be an interlocutor of sorts,” Maj. Gen. John Nichols, STRATCOM’s deputy director for Global Operations (J3), told me in a phone interview today.

The idea, he explains, it to provide a forum and a process for decision-making “should there be disagreements, or points of contention, or issues that need to be raised between the various Combatant Commands.”

“This is absolutely not any type of a hostile takeover,” he stressed. “We don’t decide; we don’t get to trump anyone.”

Indeed, while initially staffed by STRATCOM personnel at Offutt AFB in Nebraska, he said, the new center eventually will be expanded by attracting new personnel with combatant command experience.”

As Breaking D readers know, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford began the effort to define “global integrated operations (GIO)” as a new approach to manage conflict with peer competitors Russia and China — conflicts expected to involve different regions simultaneously, as well as to bridge the air, land, sea, space and cyberspace domains.

In plain terms, Nichols explained that future wars are going to cross the “artificial lines” on the map that differentiate the areas of responsibility (AORs) assigned to the Combatant Commands under the Unified Command Plan (UCP).

The UCP defines seven “geographic” Combatant Commands responsible for military activities for different regions of the world: European Command, Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command, Northern Command, Southern Command, Africa Command and now Space Command, with an AOR that begins at 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface and extends to, well, infinity.

There also are four “functional” commands with global responsibilities for specific types of activities: STRATCOM, Cyber Command, Special Operations Command and Transportation Command.

Dunford named Indo-Pacific and European Commands as ‘global coordinators’ for taking the fight to China and Russia respectively, but STRATCOM’s global strike role — both conventional and nuclear — means it is deeply involved in sorting out questions such as how to synchronize kinetic and non-kinetic attacks — fires in military lingo — in a future, all-domain conflict.

The need to coordinate and deconflict the chain of command for fires will be even more pressing once the US military puts the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2)network into place to link all sensors to all shooters in near-realtime. Crucially, JADC2 will link nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) with conventional C3, Nichols said.

“We cannot afford to have two separate and distinct processes,” he said. “First of all, I think it’s fiscally irresponsible to think that we can afford two separate systems. And then second, I think it’s operationally not feasible to have two separate systems,” he said.

STRATCOM also is heavily involved in the development of the new Globally Integrated Base Plans (GIBPs) to complement current Combatant Command Contingency Plans (CONPLANs) and Operational Plans (OPLANs) used by warfighters. As STRATCOM chief Adm. Chas Richard explained to the Senate Armed Services Committee in his written responses to questions for his confirmation hearing last year, “GIBPs use the capstone OPLAN to prioritize military objectives across the globe, identify global campaigning activities, and achieve the NDS national security objectives.”

Nichols said the GIBPs, which are being developed by the Combatant Command J5 staffs responsible for strategic planning but with input of the J3s, are still “a work in progress.”

Dunford’s initial work on the GIO concept was picked up and built upon by current JCS Chair Mark Milley. As Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten told Colin back in February, GIO now includes five major thrusts:

  • Global force management, a new perspective that looks across traditional jurisdictional divisions between theater commands.
  • Global fires, weapons both physical (missiles) and non-physical (cyber attacks) that could be launched from outside a theater of war to have effects within it.
  • Global plans, not just traditional, deliberate planning for set scenarios but also rapid crisis response;
  • Global operations short of fires, that is, everything the military can do in the so-called “grey zone” between peace and open war; and
  • Global integration of messaging, the deliberate use of both words and actions to reassure allies and deter adversaries; and global integration of deterrence, the use of all means, not just nuclear, to make potential enemies think twice about attacking.

“I think global integrated operations is really the next big ‘advantage space’ for the Department of Defense,” Nichols said. “Global integration is a way for us to to efficiently and effectively do business across lots of boundaries.”

The work on fleshing out GIO is running in parallel, he said, with the ongoing effort by the Joint Staff and the services to craft a new Joint Warfighting Concept for delivery to Defense Secretary Mark Esper by end of the year.

“Those two are mutually supportive propositions,” he said. “And there’s a high degree of overlap, if you will, and integration.”