When major combat operations ended in Iraq, top US generals and admirals all but gushed about how well the military services worked together in the field. Army Special Forces, for example, operated off a Navy aircraft carrier. And Air Force spotters on the ground in Iraq guided Navy planes to their targets.
Unfortunately, says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, that spirit of cooperation doesn't necessarily extend back to the Pentagon, where services still bicker over what weapons to develop, how to divide up budgets, and the best way to train troops.
"Wars in the 21st century will be fought jointly," Mr. Rumsfeld told a Senate committee in May. "Yet, too often our forces still train and prepare for war as individual services. That needs to change."
The question is, Can he do it?
Almost 20 years after Congress enacted a law prodding the services to operate in greater harmony, Rumsfeld is mounting the most concerted push yet to make that happen on the battlefield and back home..
No one expects the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines to meld into one. Especially in procurement, interservice rivalry is a time-honored tradition. But by pressing for greater civilian control over what the services buy and how they train, Rumsfeld could nudge them toward greater back-office cooperation.
"It's been a hard to find a way that increases the efficiency of forces," says John White, who served as deputy secretary of defense under President Clinton.
While the task isn't glamorous, the emphasis on joint training and procurement may be crucial to transforming the way the military fights, some observers say.
Interservice rivalries have plagued secretaries of defense ever since the separate Army and Navy were united under a single civilian leader after World War II. When President Truman signed an agreement delineating service roles and missions, the result was a military with two armies and four air forces that squabbled over turf.
Even so, the military has become better at integrating forces on the battlefield in recent decades. When Congress passed the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986, the individual services ceded power to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and unified regional combat commanders who command the fighting forces.
Yet observers say the Goldwater-Nichols Act proved far less effective in unifying the military's administrative functions. Its vehicle for coordination - a committee of the services' vice chiefs - is plagued by logrolling, say former high-ranking defense officials. Members end up approving other services' priorities to ensure their requests sail through, too.
Rumsfeld has picked the way the military trains for war as the first fight in the war against service parochialism. The Pentagon requested $1.8 billion over the next six years in its FY 2004 budget to create a new joint-training capability.
As part of Rumsfeld's strategy, a mix of current and retired officers are developing joint strategies at Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. JFCOM also serves as a voice for regional combat commanders in how the Pentagon develops forces and new weapons.
Rumsfeld has also targeted the way the Pentagon develops and buys weapons as a function that needs to be done more jointly too. He tapped Edward Aldridge, the recently departed under secretary of defense for acquisition, to help form a central body with greater power to determine the military's equipment needs - a function the services now do individually.
"What we need to do is ... say 'What [are] the needs of the Department of Defense in a joint sense?' So that when programs are developed by the services they are by definition born joint," Mr. Aldridge says.
Joint development of weapon systems is supposed to save money by ensuring the weapons can operate with all the services' existing technology from the outset instead of requiring costly retrofitting later.
Thus far, analysts say the services have a decidedly mixed record on developing weapons together. The JSTAR, a flying radar that tracks vehicles on the ground, highlighted the difficulty of merging divergent needs of Air Force and Army.
Observers expect Rumsfeld to use a spate of base closures as another way to force the services to work together. Air Force and Marine planes might be based at the same airfields, for example.
Still, critics - particularly those inside the military - argue that such moves could hinder creativity. "The military has a very effective engine for innovation and that comes through rivalry," says Harvey Sapolsky, an MIT military studies professor.
Mr. Sapolsky says the experience of the Navy and Air Force aircraft since Vietnam shows the value of competition. After it was outperformed by the Navy in skies over Vietnam, the Air Force invested in smart bombs and new training that paid off during Operation Desert Storm. The Navy spent the past decade playing catch up. "If we had one air force we would have done less well," Sapolsky says.
But in the current atmosphere, where promotions depend on joint assignments, officers worry about dissenting over resource allocation. Says one midlevel Marine officer, "At the end of the day, jointness or not, you still have legitimate arguments over how to fight wars and [how] to get the equipment necessary to fight them."