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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. Authority

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 through:

  • strategic direction 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 DOD Directive.

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 logistics:

  • prescribe the 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)

Following an October 24, 2002, memo by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the title of "Commander in Chief" (CINC) used for each of the four-star officer heading one of the Unified Combatant Commands was replaced by the more generic title of "Commander". As for example, "Commander, US Atlantic Fleet", or "Commander, US Central Command". Following this directive, the use of the term "Commander in Chief" and of the acronym "CINC" was to be used exclusively in reference to the President.
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 employ commands and forces as the Combatant Commander considers necessary to accomplish assigned missions.

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 commands.

In peacetime, the scope of the logistic and administrative authority exercised by the Combatant Commander 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 Combatant Commander's 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 logistics policy.

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 (OPCON)

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, and spokesman.

  • 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 Combatant Commander's geographic area of responsibility fall under the command of the combatant commander except as otherwise directed by the Secretary of Defense.



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