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Defining U.S. Atlantic Command's Role in the Power Projection Strategy

Authored by Professor Douglas C. Lovelace Jr., Dr. Thomas-Durell Young.

September 1998

74 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The authors of this monograph argue that the lynch-pin in the power projection strategy of the United States is a completely transformed U.S. Atlantic Command (USACOM). The monograph details how USACOM has been allowed to "evolve" since its inception in 1993 but is yet to achieve its full potential for implementing the CONUS-based power projection strategy. Recognizing USACOM as a principal actor in support of this new strategy, the authors recommend that USACOM should be further transformed into a "Joint Forces Command." Their analysis exposes the need for a significant review of Title 10 of the U.S. Code and a reexamination of some of the fundamental tenets underlying the structure and command of the U.S. armed forces. The reappraisals they propose will impact the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Staff, the Military Departments, and the unified combatant commands in important ways.


During the early years of this decade several events coalesced to convince the Department of Defense that fundamental change was needed in the manner in which U.S. forces are provided to the geographic combatant commands. The new international security environment precipitated by the end of the Cold War allowed for the return of large numbers of U.S. forces from their overseas bases to the continental United States (CONUS). With over 80 percent of U.S. general purpose forces residing in the CONUS, the United States adopted a CONUS-based power projection strategy to promote and protect U.S. global interests against challengers large and small. The Persian Gulf War was the first test of the new U.S. strategy for responding to a major regional crisis.

Although decades of Cold War planning were devoted to deploying large U.S. formations great distances, almost 6 months were required to establish sufficient forces in the Persian Gulf region to mount Operation DESERT STORM. Notwithstanding the resounding victory over Iraq, critics charged that the United States failed this first test of its post-Cold War power-projection strategy. In addition to taking 6 months to build up forces in theater, deployments were inefficient in terms of type of units, supplies, and munitions, and the force capabilities provided by each Service were not optimally rationalized to effect the CINC's strategic concept and eliminate the Iraqi threat. These inefficiencies resulted in large measure from the inability of the U.S. Central Command's Service components to assist in planning and preparing forces for subsequent operations, while simultaneously helping to identify and deploy force packages from the CONUS.

The experiences of DESERT STORM and numerous smaller operations taught the United States that military forces could be effectively and efficiently projected from the CONUS to meet the requirements of the geographic combatant commands only if their joint training and integration were under the supervision of a single CONUS-based command. Consequently, in October 1993, the Secretary of Defense designated U.S. Atlantic Command as the joint force provider, trainer and integrator of the vast majority of CONUS-based general purpose forces. This new mission and others were added to the command's missions associated with its Atlantic Ocean area of responsibility. The command's acronym was changed from USLANTCOM to USACOM, and, since 1993, it deliberately has pursued an evolutionary and sometimes indirect approach to adapting to its new and ambitious roles.

Beyond publication of the 1993 Implementation Plan, USACOM has received little external support and guidance from higher authorities and has encountered significant resistance from the other combatant commanders and the Services. The command has persistently pursued its new roles as its geographic area of responsibility was significantly diminished. Still, USACOM has not matured fully to become capable of implementing effectively and efficiently the CONUS-based power projection strategy. To do so, the command must continue to evolve into a sui generis organization that combines attributes of a combatant command, a Service, and the Joint Staff.

Although it was clear to the drafters of the implementation plan that USACOM would assume increased responsibility for joint force training and integration, they may not have foreseen the manifold ramifications of USACOM's complete maturation. The failure to anticipate and forestall potentially negative aspects of USACOM's transformation has seriously hindered the command's ability to accomplish the missions assigned in its implementation plan. Impediments to USACOM's development include:

1) Disagreement over CINCUSACOM's authority vis-à-vis that of the other combatant commands and the Services.

2) The creation of ambiguity regarding the roles of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and CINCUSACOM for assessing joint force readiness, identifying unnecessarily duplicative Service capabilities, promulgating joint doctrine, establishing joint training policy, and determining future joint requirements.

3) The de facto evolution of USACOM into a type of organization that is not provided for in current law or policy.

4) The creation of asymmetry between responsibilities and funding with respect to force training and integration.

Based on our analysis, USACOM's (or its proposed successor's) efficacy in implementing the power projection strategy of the United States can be improved. To that end, this study concludes that the following actions should be taken:

1) USACOM should be disestablished and its area of responsibility reassigned to a newly formed Americas Command. The USACOM missions and functions not assigned to Americas Command should be vested in a new Joint Forces Command.

2) The Joint Forces Command should contain all CONUS-based general purpose forces, i.e., including West Coast forces currently assigned to Pacific Command.

3) The Special Operations Command and the Transportation Command should be subordinated to the Joint Forces Command.

4) Americas Command should succeed the Southern Command and be headquartered in the former Southern Command's facilities. The Americas Command area of responsibility also should include North, Central, and South America and adjacent waters. Americas Command should inherit all of the former Southern Command's missions and assume the former USACOM missions of planning for the land defense of the continental United States and the combined defense of Canada. Additionally, the Americas Command should be responsible for providing military support to civilian authorities, providing military assistance for civil disturbances, protecting key domestic assets, and participating in the counter-drug program.

5) The commander of Americas Command's naval component should fulfill the U.S. responsibility for providing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Supreme Allied Commander for the Atlantic (to be renamed “Strategic Commander Atlantic”). A naval component command under the Joint Forces Command should be established for all CONUS-based U.S. Navy forces.

6) The three-tier training process developed by USACOM should be formalized in joint training policy promulgated by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Chairman's training policy should provide distinct and comprehensive definitions of the three categories of training. Additionally, the policy should draw clear lines between the training responsibilities of the Services and those of the Joint Forces Command.

7) Joint Forces Command's primary mission should be to provide jointly trained and integrated forces to meet supported command requirements for theater engagement activities, as well as for contingencies. With regard to deliberate operation planning, Joint Forces Command's provision of integrated joint forces should be accomplished by a process that features predesignated joint task forces based on supported command operation plans.

8) Joint Forces Command's mission also should include identification, rationalization, and integration of joint requirements for future military capabilities.

9) Joint Forces Command, using the command's cross-Service visibility of readiness and cross-combatant command view of force requirements, should develop the capability of providing independent risk assessments to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to enhance his military advice to the National Command Authorities.

10) The respective roles of Joint Forces Command's Service components and the Service components of the geographic combatant commands should be evaluated and unnecessary redundancies eliminated.

11) Joint Forces Command should identify and report to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff unnecessary duplicative capabilities among the forces of the various Services.

12) Since the Joint Forces Command will be a sui generis organization performing roles currently assigned by law to the combatant commands, the Services, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nature, responsibilities, and authority of the new organization should be specified in Title 10 of the United States Code.

13) Whether the new Joint Forces Command should be funded directly as a separate program for all of the joint force training and integration activities for which it is responsible requires further evaluation.

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