Cover: Promoting Joint Warfighting Proficiency

Promoting Joint Warfighting Proficiency

The Role of Doctrine in Preparing Airmen for Joint Operations

Published Aug 16, 2018

by Miranda Priebe, Laurinda L. Rohn, Alyssa Demus, Bruce McClintock, Derek Eaton, Sarah Harting, Maria McCollester


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Research Questions

  1. Does Air Force doctrine use joint terms, promote joint processes and principles, and encourage an integrated joint mindset?
  2. To what extent could greater alignment of Air Force and joint doctrine help airmen gain greater joint proficiency?
  3. Would changes to the way Air Force officers learn or use doctrine help to promote joint proficiency?

Concepts for future joint operations call for higher levels of integration among the services than in the past. Therefore, the Air Force is considering how to increase airmen's levels of joint warfighting proficiency. Two fundamental building blocks of joint warfighting proficiency are being able to speak the joint language and adopting a joint mindset, both of which are outlined in joint doctrine. This report uses Air Force doctrine as an indicator of how much joint language and mindset are present in the Air Force today. Detailed document comparisons revealed that some Air Force doctrine documents are aligned with joint doctrine in both substance and tone. However, others have significant gaps, present alternative constructs, use different terms, offer little joint context, or reflect a service-centric mindset. Together, these findings suggest that Air Force acceptance of joint doctrine is uneven. This report also assesses the role of joint constructs in the Air Force today, including how they are taught and reinforced with practice. The report recommends ways to align Air Force doctrine with joint doctrine and ways to manage divergences that could be necessary because of the unique characteristics of airpower. The report recommends giving airmen more opportunities to use joint doctrine in practice, which will likely have a bigger effect on joint proficiency than simply revising doctrine. The report also recommends that, before adopting these proposals, the Air Force consider the overall priority it places on joint proficiency in relation to other Air Force priorities and decide how to manage potential trade-offs.

Key Findings

Assessment of alignment and tone

  • Air Force doctrine presents many principles, processes, and terms that are consistent with those found in joint doctrine.
  • Air Force doctrine introduces some alternate constructs from those used in joint doctrine, sometimes without noting the differences.
  • Air Force doctrine offers less information on some key topics (e.g., planning processes and considerations) compared with joint doctrine.
  • Some sections of Air Force doctrine displayed a highly joint tone, effectively incorporating joint context and describing the service as a unique, but not superior, contributor to joint teams.
  • Some sections of Air Force doctrine were more insular, focusing primarily on service-specific issues with little discussion of the role the Air Force would play as part of a joint team.

Doctrine and joint constructs in the Air Force

  • Doctrine is not central to Air Force culture, so revisions to service doctrine, on their own, would only have a limited effect on airmen's joint proficiency.
  • Of the limited number of airmen interviewed for this study, many reported that they do not use joint doctrine and constructs regularly throughout their careers, joint experiences often come late, and joint professional military education is often disconnected from joint experiences.


  • The Air Force could revise its doctrine to more consistently introduce and summarize key joint constructs, use graphics to show relationships between joint and Air Force constructs, and provide more information on planning processes and considerations.
  • Before the Air Force adopts these recommendations, it should consider whether some divergences should be preserved because of the unique characteristics of airpower or whether changes to joint doctrine would be more appropriate.
  • Air Force leaders also need to consider potential trade-offs with other Air Force priorities, such as adopting consistent terminology across the air, space, and cyber domains.
  • The Air Force could provide opportunities for airmen to use joint doctrine and constructs in practice by introducing more joint terminology into tactical publications and activities and looking for opportunities to replace Air Force–specific planning terms and processes with their joint equivalents.
  • Linking formal exposure to joint doctrine with joint experience may also help airmen internalize the joint language and mindset.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by Maj Gen Brian M. Killough, director of Strategic Plans, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements, Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, and conducted by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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