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US Department of Defense - Introduction

Numerous governmental organizations are involved in the formulation and implementation of U.S. national military strategy.

The history of the current combatant command arrangement begins with the lessons learned in the Cuban campaign of the Spanish-American War. Between 1903 and 1942, the Joint Army and Navy Board sought cooperation between the Army and Navy, but accomplished little in the way of improving joint command. Decisions on joint matters in dispute between the Services went to the commander in chief. The President was the single "commander" who had a view of the entire military theater and authority over both the Army and Navy on-site commanders. Interestingly, one product of the Joint Board, an agreement on "mutual cooperation" in joint operations, was in effect at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The Army and Navy com-manders at Pearl Harbor were personally committed to the system of military coordination by mutual cooperation. But cooperation failed. The congressional Report on the Pearl Harbor Attack concluded that there was a "complete inadequacy of command by mutual cooperation" and that the conduct of operations was in a "state of joint oblivion." Early in World War II, the Joint Chiefs of Staff realized that the complexity of modern warfare required a unified command structure.

Following the experiences of global warfare, the Services recognized the importance of unity of military effort achieved through the unified command of U.S. forces. In 1946 an "Outline Command Plan," the first version of the Unified Command Plan was approved by President Truman. Then, quite unlike today, the unified commanders reported to their executive agents on the Joint U.S. Chiefs of Staff. The executive agents have alternately been the military chiefs of Services (World War II and 1948) and the civilian secretaries of the military departments (1953-1958). Understanding exactly what role Service chiefs had in the operational direction of military forces was frequently confusing.

The National Security Act (NSA) of 1947 was the first definitive legislative statement "to provide for the effective strategic direction of the armed forces and for their operation under unified control and for their integration into an efficient team of land, naval, and air forces." The act went on to say that it was the responsibility of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to "establish unified commands in strategic areas when such unified commands are in the interest of national security," and the President would establish unified and specified combatant commands to perform military missions. The military departments would assign forces to the combatant commands; the responsibility for their support and administration would be assigned by the Secretary of Defense to a military department. Forces not assigned would remain under the authority of the military department.

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 u 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 the NME under the leadership of a civilian secretary and created secretaries for the new Departments of the Army, Navy, and A ir 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 commanders.

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.

Military Departments

The Military 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.

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 Center.

The term combatant command means a unified or specified command. The commander of a combatant command is designated comabatant commander following an October 24, 2002 DoD memo saying there is only one commander in chief in America -- the president. 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 of Staff. Specified Combatant Command is 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.

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Page last modified: 06-12-2014 02:29:01 ZULU