Overview of National
organizations are involved in the formulation and implementation
of U.S. national military strategy. To set the stage for an explanation
of the role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in national security, we
begin with information on those organizations and agencies responsible
for the planning and execution of military operations, including
their history, organizational structure, and command relationships.
National Command Authorities (NCA)
Constitutionally, the ultimate authority and responsibility
for the national defense rests with the President. Since
the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, the President has
sed the Secretary of
Defense as his principal assistant in all matters relating to the National
Military Establishment (NME) -- later the Department of
Defense. The Secretary has statutory authority, direction, and control over
the Military Departments and is responsible for the effective, efficient, and
economical operation of the department.
The National Command Authorities (NCA) are the President and Secretary of
Defense together with their duly deputized alternates or successors. The term
NCA is used to signify constitutional authority to direct the Armed Forces
in their ex.ecution of military action. Both inter-theater movement of troops
and execution of military action must be directed by the NCA. By law, no one
else in the chain of command has the authority to take such action.
National Security Council (NSC)
The National Security Act of 1947 established the National Security Council to
consider national security issues that require Presidential decision. It has
four statutory members: the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State,
and the Secretary of Defense. The Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff(CJCS)and the Director of Central Intelligence
serve as statutory advisers to the NSC.
Department of Defense (DOD)
World War II and its aftermath furnished the impetus for unification of the
Military Departments under a single cabinet-level secretary. Anticipating the
needs of a peacetime military organization, an in-depth review by congressional,
executive, and mili tary groups began even before the end of the war. The studies
were influenced by Service interests that reflected the opinions of experienced
wartime military and civilian leaders with vastly different views of the postwar
future. Issues that dominated the search for a consensus included retention
of air power in the Navy, maintenance of a separate Marine Corps, and the form
and responsibilities of the new Department of the Air Force.
The National Security Act of 1947 was monumental legislation. After almost
50 years that included overseas wartime experience beginning with the Spanish-American
War, a modern military organization came into existence. Unification of
the Services und er a single department was law and the powers of the Secretary
of National Defense were identified but subject to broad interpretation.
The roles and missions of the military Services were defined by Executive
Order but would not be statutorily defined u ntil 1958. The act created
NME under the leadership of a civilian secretary and created secretaries
for the new Departments of the Army, Navy,
and Air Force.
In 1949, the National Security Act was amended to change the name of the
NME to the Department of Defense and to recognize it as an executive department.
Further, it changed the role of the Services to Military Departments within
DOD. The DOD Reorgani zation Act of 1958 strengthened the Secretary of Defense's
direction, authority, and control over the department and clarified the operational
chain of command from the President and Secretary of Defense to the combatant
The role of the Secretary of Defense has changed since the position was
established in 1947. Originally, the Secretary had only general authority
over the NME, an authority shared with the civilian secretaries of the Military
Departments. In 1949, h is position was strengthened with his appointment
as head of an executive department, reduction of the role of Military Department
heads, and his assumption of budgeting responsibilities. Today, he is the
principal assistant to the President for all matt ers relating to the Department
of Defense. He has nearly plenary authority, direction, and control of the
entire department. Moreover, the Goldwater-Nichols
DOD Reorganization Act of 1986 makes clear his position in the operational
chain of command.
Departments (Department of the Army, Department of the Navy, Department
of the Air Force) are organized separately under civilian secretaries
who are responsible for and have authority to conduct the affairs
committed to their departments. T he service secretaries are not
in the operational chain of command.
The Military Departments
have been significantly altered by legislation and Executive
Order since the National Security Act of 1947.
The Key West Agreement of March 1948 clarified the roles of the Military
Departments and amplified their responsibili ties. In 1953, the President
and the Secretary of Defense agreed to designate a Military Department
to function as "executive agent" for the unified commands. The Reorganization
Act of 1958 removed the Military Departments from the operational chain
of command and clarified their support and administrative responsibilities
for the unified commands.
Agencies of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
The diversity of offices and organizations within the Joint
Staff illustrates a wide range of functions and responsibilities. Among other
organizations reporting to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are
the CJCS representatives to international negotiations, including treaties
and agreements, and activities involved with politico-military affairs and
defense in the Western Hemis phere and NATO.
Other activities include the National Defense
University, the Joint Materiel Priorities and Allocations Board, the Joint
Tra nsportation Board, and the Joint Requirements Oversight Council.
Organizations Reporting to the Secretary of Defense Through CJCS
By Presidential directive, the combatant commanders communicate to the Secretary
of Defense and President through the CJCS. Several Defense agencies that report
to the Secretary of Defense also support CJCS. CJCS has certain operational
responsibilities with regard to the Defense Information Systems Agency, the
Defense Nuclear Agency, the Defe nse Logistics Agency, the Defense Intelligence
Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Mapping Agency, and the Central
Imagery Office. CJCS gives policy guidance and direction to other supporting
organizations, including the Joint Tactical Comm and, Control, and Communications
Agency, the Electromagnetic Compatibility Analysis Center, the Military Communications
Electronics Board, and the Joint Doctrine C enter.
The term combatant command means a unified or specified command. The commander
of a combatant command is designated commander in chief (CINC). Unified and
specified combatant commands were first described by statute in the National
Security Act of 1947.
Unified Combatant Command. A command which has a broad, continuing mission
under a single commander composed of forces from two or more Services, and
which is established and so designated by the President through the Secretary
of Defense with the advice and assistance of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
Specified Combatant Command. A command which has a broad, continuing (usually
functional) mission normally composed of forces from a single military department,
and is established and so designated by the President through the Secretary
of Def ense with the advice and assistance of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff. Currently, there are no specified commands.
Chain of Command
By the Goldwater-Nichols
DOD Reorganization Act of 1986, Congress clarified the command line to the
combatant commanders and preserve civilian control of the military. The Act
states that the operational chain of command runs from the President to the
Se cretary of Defense to the combatant commanders. The Act permits the President
to direct that communications pass through CJCS. This authority places CJCS
in the communications chain. Further, the Act gives the Secretary of Defense
wide latitude to assi gn the Chairman oversight responsibilities over the activities
of the combatant commanders.
The effective use of the nation's Armed Forces requires a unity
of effort in the operation of diverse military resources. This goal is achieved
of the Armed Forces,
operations under unified command,
integration into an efficient team of land, naval, and air forces,
prevention of unnecessary duplication of efforts or resources, coordination
of operations, and
effective combined operations.
Commensurate with the
responsibility placed on combatant commanders to achieve unity of effort,
they have been given increased authority by law (Title 10, U.S. Code) and
The DOD Reorganization
Act of 1986 makes the combatant commanders accountable to the NCA for performing
their assigned missions. With this accountability comes the assignment
of all authority, direction, and control that Congress considers necessary
to execute the responsibilities of the combatant commanders. The Act defines
the command authority of the combatant commanders to give authoritative
direction to subordinate commands, including all aspects of military operations,
joint training, and logi stics:
chain of command within the command;
organize commands and forces to carry out assigned missions;
employ forces necessary to carry out assigned missions;
coordinate and approve administration, support, and discipline; and
exercise authority to select subordinate commanders and combatant command staff.
NOTE: List not complete;
see UNAAF (Joint Pub 0-2) page III-3.
This authority is termed "combatant
command" and resides only in the combatant commander.
Combatant Command (COCOM)
Combatant command (COCOM)
is the command authority over assigned forces vested in the CINCs by Title
10, U.S. Code, Section 164, and is not transferable.
COCOM is exercised only by the commanders of unified and
specified combatant commands. It is the authority of a combatant commander
to perform those functions of command over assigned forces involving organizing
and employing commands and forces, ass igning tasks, designating objectives,
and giving authoritative direction over all aspects of military operations,
joint training, and logistics necessary to accomplish the missions assigned
to the command. COCOM furnishes full authority to organize and em ploy
commands and forces as the CINC considers necessary to accomplish assigned
COCOM is not shared with other echelons of command. It should
be exercised through the commanders of subordinate organizations, normally
the Service component commanders, subordinate unified commanders, commanders
of joint task forces, and other subo rdinate commanders.
Directive authority for logistics supports the combatant
commander's responsibility to execute effectively operational plans, maintain
effectiveness and economy of operation, and prevent duplication of facilities
and resources. Military Departments a re still responsible for logistics
and administrative support of forces assigned or attached to the combatant
In peacetime, the scope of the logistic and administrative
authority exercised by the CINC is consistent with legislation, Department
of Defense policy or regulations, budgetary considerations, local conditions
and other specific conditions prescribed by the Secretary of Defense or
the CJCS. The combatant commander refers disputes to the military department,
if he fails to receive timely resolution there, the CINC may forward the
matter through CJCS to the Secretary of Defense for resolution.
During crisis or war, the CINCs' authority and responsibility
are expanded to include use of facilities and supplies of all forces under
their command. Joint logistics doctrine developed by CJCS establishes wartime
The CINCs have approval authority over Service logistics
programs that affect operational capability or sustainability within their
theaters (e.g., base adjustments, force beddowns). Disputes in this area
may be settled by the Secretary of Defense th rough CJCS.
Operational control is
another level of authority used frequently in the execution of joint military
operations. OPCON authority may be delegated to echelons below the combatant
commander. Normally, this is authority exercised through component commande
rs and the commanders of established subordinate commands. Limitations on OPCON,
as well as additional authority not normally included in OPCON, can be specified
by a delegating commander.
OPCON is the authority delegated to a commander to perform
those functions of command over subordinate forces involving the composition
of subordinate forces, the assignment of tasks, the designation of objectives,
and the authoritative direction nece ssary to accomplish the mission. It
includes directive authority for joint training. Commanders of subordinate
commands and joint task forces will normally be given OPCON of assigned
or attached forces by a superior commander. OPCON normally provides fu
ll authority to organize forces as the operational commander deems necessary
to accomplish assigned missions and to retain or delegate OPCON or tactical
control as necessary. OPCON may be limited by function, time, or location.
It does not, of itself, in clude such matters as administration, discipline,
internal organization, and unit training.
Tactical Control (TACON)
The term tactical control
is used in execution of operations and is defined as: "the detailed and usually,
local direction and control of movements or maneuvers necessary to accomplish
missions or tasks assigned."
Role of CJCS
The role of CJCS in the
chain of command of the combatant commands is threefold: communications, oversight,
- Communications between the NCA and the combatant commanders
may pass through CJCS. The Goldwater-Nichols DOD Reorganization Act of
1986 permits the President to place the Chairman in the communications
chain and the President has in fact directed th at such communications
pass through the Chairman.
- Oversight of the activities of combatant commands may
be delegated by the Secretary of Defense to CJCS.
- CJCS is the spokesman for the combatant commanders on
the operational requirements of their commands.
The Goldwater-Nichols Act
requires that forces under the jurisdiction of the Military Departments be
assigned to the combatant commands, with the exception of forces assigned to
perform the mission of the military department, (e.g., recruit, supply, equip
, maintain). In addition, forces within a CINC's geographic area of responsibility
fall under the command of the combatant commander except as otherwise directed
by the Secretary of Defense.
The unified command structure
is flexible, and changes as required to accomodate evolving U.S. national security
needs. A classified document called the Unified Command Plan (UCP) establishes
the combatant commands, identifies geographic areas of respon sibility, assigns
primary tasks, defines authority of the commanders, establishes command relationships,
and gives guidance on the exercise of combatant command. It is approved by
the President, published by the CJCS, and addressed to the commanders of co
Five combatant commanders have geographic
area responsibilities. These CINCs are assigned an area of operations
by the Unified Command Plan and are responsible for all operations within
their designated areas: U.S. Joint
Forces Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S.
European Command, U.S.
Pacific Command, and U.S. Southern Command.
The CINCs of the remaining
combatant commands have worldwide functional responsibilities not bounded
by any single area of operations and they are U.S.
Space Command, U.S.
Special Operations Command, U.S.
Strategic Command and U.S. Transportation Command.