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Chapter 1




A theater is a large geographical area outside the continental United States that has one overall commander. The theater concept requires an organization that can be tailored for any size operation. The organization must be flexible enough for a diversified mission. The Unified Command Plan (UCP) establishes criteria for a unified theater based on national security strategy, national military strategy, geography, and history. Unity of effort requires that one responsible commander focus resources toward obtaining defined goals.

Chain of Command

The chain of command is prescribed by the Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act of 1986. The National Command Authorities (NCA) exercises authority and control of the armed forces through a chain of command with two branches. The first branch flows from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the combatant commanders for missions and forces assigned to their commands. The second flows from the NCA to the secretaries of military departments to the chiefs of the service forces for execution of service functions. NCA commanders are responsible to the NCA for the preparedness of their commands and the execution of assigned missions. Army service component commanders (ASCCs), assigned to the combatant commands (COCOMs), are responsible for preparing, maintaining, training, equipping, administering, and supporting Army forces assigned to the unified and specified commands. The Chairman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are in the chain of command in order to communicate the NCA's direction. Figure 1-1, displays the chain of command.

Figure 1-1. The chain of command

Command Authorities

Commanders in the chain of command exercise authority as prescribed by law or by a superior commander. Commanders of US military forces use various levels of authority, which are described as command relationships and various other authorities. The four command relationships are COCOM, operational control (OPCON), tactical control (TACON), and support. The other levels of authority are coordinating authority, administrative control (ADCON), and direct liaison authorized (DIRLAUTH).


A theater is a geographical area outside the continental United States (OCONUS) for which a commander of a unified command has been assigned military responsibility. From the strategic context, the theater encompasses the level of international military cooperation required or the degree of necessary dedicated US military resources. These perspectives may influence how the Army conducts operations in each theater. Though theaters may involve unilateral US operations, US forces may also act in conjunction with other nations in multinational operations, as in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Joint Endeavor.


Theaters are often described as maritime, continental, or littoral, based on their dominant geographic and strategic characteristics. This description influences the predominant type of military forces used, the strategic missions assigned, and the strategic and operational objectives pursued in the theater. Continental theaters primarily involve control of land and associated airspace. Maritime theaters focus on ensuring control of the sea and associated airspace. A littoral theater is established on a shore or coastal region where major actions between land, air, and sea operations are combined and must be synchronized.

Internal Organization

Theater combatant commanders develop strategy and organize the theater. The Army, besides operating as part of a joint force, must be prepared to conduct multinational operations with land, air, and naval forces of other nations, as well as to conduct interagency operations. While unity of command may not be possible in multinational operations, unity of effort is essential. Each CINC may assign associated areas within his theater to subordinate commanders. CINCs may designate joint areas or zones during war and during stability and support operations (SASO), while theaters of war and operations are designated only in time of war. Combat zones (CZs) and communications zones (COMMZs) may be established as needed (see Figure 1-2). The CINC organizes his theater to synchronize unified operations or to integrate single-service, joint, special, and supporting operations with allied and intra-agency activities, nongovernmental organizations, and private volunteer organizations.

Figure 1-2. Theater Area Organization

  • Combat Service Support in the COMMZ. The COMMZ extends from the rear of the combat zone in the theater of operations to the CONUS base. Its size may vary depending on the size of the theater of operations. The communications zone contains lines of communications and those theater organizations and other agencies required to support forces in the field. Within the COMMZ the CINC will normally establish a theater base, which encompasses a theater logistics base. The theater logistics base will normally be at the junction of the various intratheater and intertheater lines of communication. The logistics bases provide supply, maintenance, field services, transportation, health services, personnel support, and evacuation. They also contain logistics facilities to support the theater such as air and sea ports of debarkation, marshaling areas, logistics stockage areas, movement control points, logistics headquarters and units, and the rear area of the intratheater combat zone.
  • Combat Service Support in the CZ. The combat zone is an area required by forces to conduct combat operations. The CZ begins at the forward line of own troops (FLOT), including the deep battle area, and extends to the corps rear area. Combat service support in the combat zone is provided by the corps support command located in the corps rear area and by the division support command located in the division rear.

.. Corps Support Command. The corps support command is a flexible organization structured to support corps forces. The corps support command provides combat service support mainly through corpswide service organizations and support groups.

.. Division Support Command. This command provides direct combat service support (except communications-security equipment and construction) to all assigned or attached elements of the division. It consists of a headquarters and assigned or attached combat service support units.



The ASCC must provide centralized distribution of bulk petroleum products for all US forces in theater. The ASCC establishes an operational-level army petroleum organization to receive petroleum products in theater and to distribute them throughout the COMMZ and rear of the CZ. If the theater uses pipeline systems for bulk distribution, other transportation assets distribute the products from the pipeline terminal to the user. The operational-level petroleum organization interfaces with MMC for product distribution and coordinates with host nations for additional product and distribution support. FM 10-67 details operational-level petroleum function. The petroleum supply battalion is part of the combat service support function of the theater of operations. The unit is assigned or attached within the theater as the operational situation permits.


The supply of Class III (bulk) is critical to battlefield success. The senior supporting MMC centrally manages, controls, and allocates Class III in accordance with the ASCC's priorities. The operational-level commander, in accordance with the senior CSS commander, is responsible for providing bulk petroleum to US land forces. Support to multinational forces is based on established agreements.


The availability of fuel depends on the location of the theater of operations. If operations are in an industrialized area, initial supplies may be obtained from host nation or contractor support. Tanker ships will bring in subsequent supplies through marine petroleum terminals. In an undeveloped area, Air Force aircraft may effect the initial resupply. In these emergency-type situations, the Aerial Bulk Fuel Delivery System (ABFDS) may be discharged into the operating unit's support vehicles. As soon as practical, the Navy's Offshore Petroleum Discharge System (OPDS) will provide bulk fuels in over-the-beach operations. The Navy is responsible for providing fuel to the high-water mark on the beach. The Army then assumes responsibility for the fuel through its tactical petroleum terminals.


The senior petroleum unit commander--the primary petroleum distribution operator--is responsible for all aspects of theater-level petroleum operations. Distribution planning is the basis for the design, construction, and operation of the theater petroleum distribution system. The petroleum unit is also responsible for quality surveillance and liaison with the senior supporting MMC as well as with supported multinational forces. It will distribute fuels based on ASCC established priorities and senior supporting MMC directives. Stockage policy is covered in AR 710-2. Additional information on petroleum operations and organizations is in FMs 10-1 and 10-67.


Operational-level petroleum units (petroleum pipeline and terminal operating) will establish the petroleum support base for receiving, temporarily storing, and moving fuels to the GS petroleum supply units. These units, located at the operational and tactical levels, deliver fuels to the divisional and nondivisional SSAs. Movement may involve various modes of transportation. Pipelines--the most efficient mode--will be used to deliver the product as far forward as practical, usually to the division rear area. Air bases and tactical airfields are serviced by pipelines when feasible. Pipeline distribution is supplemented primarily by tank vehicles, with railcars and barges being used when available. Figure 1-3 depicts Class III (bulk) requirements and supply flow in the theater of operations.

Figure 1-3. Bulk petroleum distribution in a theater of operations

Joint Petroleum Office (JPO)

A unified commander may establish a joint petroleum office to provide staff management of petroleum at the theater level. Subarea petroleum offices (SAPOs) may be established at the subunified command level to provide in-country staff responsibilities for all services. For more information on the JPO, refer to DOD 4140.25-M.

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