Course Background

On 26 May 1982, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) directed the National Defense University (NDU) to establish a professional military education program for general and flag officer selectees. Two pilot programs were offered in 1983, and in February 1984, JCS approved a permanent annual CAPSTONE course of eight weeks in duration. In July 1986, the JCS reduced the course length to six weeks and increased the frequency to two courses per year. Beginning in 1987, four CAPSTONE courses a year were conducted to satisfy the statutory requirement of the DOD Reorganization Act of 1986–that all newly selected general/flag officers attend the CAPSTONE course.  In 2012, CAPSTONE settled into a 5 week program.

CAPSTONE participants are referred to as “Fellows” because of the unique nature of the course and the special expertise and qualifications of those officers attending. The course differs from senior service schools in three major ways, other than the obvious rank of its participants, class size and course duration. First, the course focuses on the employment of U.S. forces in joint and combined operations to support national policy objectives. Second, it provides personal interaction with Combatant Commanders and other senior U.S. commanders. Third, retired four-star general and flag officers are attached to each class as Senior Fellows to provide advice and guidance.

Course Focus

Education at the general/flag officer level is inherently joint and unified in nature. Its focus is on the highest levels of strategy, integrating the elements of national power to achieve national security objectives. In particular, the CAPSTONE course reinforces new general/flag officer comprehension of joint matters and national security strategy needed for the remainder of an officer’s career.

Course Mission

Ensure newly selected Generals and Flag officers understand the fundamentals of joint doctrine and the Joint Operational Art; how to integrate the elements of national power in order to accomplish national security and national military strategies and how joint, interagency, and multinational operations support national strategic goals and objectives.

Learning Objectives

The overall objectives of general/flag officer education are listed below.

  • Analyze the national security policy process, to include the integration of the instruments of national power in support of the national security and national military strategies. 
  • Enhance the understanding of and coordination for Joint Doctrine and the Joint Operational Art.
  • Comprehend Service, joint, interagency, and multinational capabilities and how these capabilities are best integrated to attain national security objectives. 
  • Comprehend how joint, service, and multinational battle space systems are integrated in support of theater strategies.
  • Comprehend the impact of defense acquisition programs and policies and their implications for enhancing our joint military capabilities.
  • Analyze the relationship between the military and cabinet-level departments, Congress, NSC, DOD agencies, and the public.

Course Methodology

The CAPSTONE course is presented in five general ways:

  • Classroom seminars address the understanding of the U.S. defense community, key issues affecting national security and current problems facing today’s senior leaders. These are provided through classroom presentations by current and former senior leaders, former Combatant Commanders, civilian leaders, military critics, and student-led discussions.
  • Local area studies are conducted to achieve an understanding of principal national security agencies in the Washington area. Fellows could visit the National Security Council, Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency, all Service headquarters (including the U.S. Coast Guard) and the Joint Staff.
  • CONUS field studies are conducted to ensure Fellows understand the Unified Commands headquartered in the United States. This is done via discussions with the Combatant Commanders.
  • Overseas field studies offer the opportunity to explore theater/regional security concerns, U.S. and allied/friendly nation capabilities and theater training and preparation for war. The class is divided into three groups for travel: Europe, Southwest Asia, Pacific and the Western Hemisphere. Discussions with Combatant Commanders, ambassadors and other senior foreign military leaders on joint planning and operations, war fighting capabilities, and key issues facing the commands and regions highlight this phase of the course. In addition, several cultural events are scheduled to give the class a flavor of cultural importance of the countries being visited. These cultural events are scheduled by the US Embassy and are considered an official part of the Capstone curriculum. Attendance at each event is required.
  • Joint Operations Module (JOM) is a four-day course of instruction conducted at Joint Staff J7 Joint Training complex in Suffolk, VA. Its purpose is to enhance the Fellows comprehension of and appreciation for joint doctrine and the Joint Operational Art through a program of instruction that uses the life cycle of a Joint Task Force (forming, planning, deployment, employment, transition, and redeployment) as the training vehicle. The learning strategy is built around seminars and small group interactive practical exercises that emphasizes critical Joint Force Commander issues and lessons learned. Senior Mentors, observer/trainers, and various subject matter experts will support the Fellows in their efforts.
  • Course Context

    The course requires intensive personal involvement on the part of each CAPSTONE Fellow through participation in or leadership of seminars, field trips, and discussions. There are many opportunities for each Fellow to share expertise and experiences with other participants. The CAPSTONE course does not include formal writing or research assignments. Readings are modest in scope and are offered to illuminate the issues under discussion.

    Senior Fellows

    Senior Fellows are retired three (JOM Only) and four-star general and flag officers who participate in the CAPSTONE program and provide a unique dimension to the course. Their breadth of experience, gained in both peace and war and in a variety of military and politically sensitive positions, qualifies them to serve as role models, to interpret events and issues, and to provide insights not readily available from other sources. Senior Fellows are a valuable teaching resource and occasionally lecture. Their principal contribution to the course, however, lies in their day-to-day contact with CAPSTONE participants.