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Prior to World War II, the War Department and the Navy Department existed as essentially independent entities and rarely did Army and Navy units operate together. When they did so, command arrangements were ad hoc. Concerns about the lack of interservice relations first arose during the Spanish-American War when the Army and Navy failed to cooperate fully during the Cuban campaign. In fact, the interservice disputes were so great that the Army Commander refused to allow the Navy representative to sign the formal surrender document. As a result of these problems, in 1903 the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy signed a common order which created the Joint Army and Navy Board, whose charge was to address “all matters calling for the cooperation of the two services.” The Joint Army and Navy Board continued to handle interservice matters until the Joint Chiefs of Staff was created in 1942.
In due time, one product of the work of the Joint Army and Navy Board became the agreements documented in “Joint Action of the Army and Navy" (JAAN). The version of JAAN in effect at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 described “mutual cooperation,” not unified command, as the favored method in joint operations.
2. World War II
World War II, with its numerous theaters, multiple-Service operations, and increasingly sophisticated weapons systems, proved that "mutual cooperation” between the Services was no longer adequate. General George C. Marshall, USA realized early in World War II that the complexity of modern warfare demanded unified command:
I am convinced that there must be one man in command of the entire theater –air, ground, and ships. We cannot manage by cooperation. Human frailties are such that there would be an emphatic unwillingness to place portions of troops under another service. If we made a plan for unified command now, it would solve nine-tenths of our troubles. There are difficulties in arriving at a single command, but they are much less than the hazards that must be faced if we do not do this. (Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History, 1948,
The disastrous failure of interservice coordination at Pearl Harbor in 1941 dictated that in each theater the operational forces of two or more Services be placed under the command of a single individual. Thus, during World War II, the first continuing multiservice commands were created. The newly created Joint Chiefs of Staff designated from among their members an "executive agent” for each of these operational commands.
3. The National Security Act of 1947
While the JCS had decided during World War II that unified command would continue to be employed in peacetime, public and congressional opinion, influenced by the findings of the Pearl Harbor investigation that laid blame for that disaster in large part on divided command, would accept no other arrangement. The Report of the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, released in 1946, stated:
It was only in the wake of the Pearl Harbor disaster that the inherent and intolerable weaknesses of command by mutual
cooperation were exposed. (page 245) By World War II's end, the concept of unified command was accepted as sound in theory and practice. As a result, the National Security Act of 1947 provided for unified command and assigned the Joint Chiefs of Staff responsibility, subject to the authority and direction of the President and the Secretary of Defense, for establishing “unified commands in strategic areas when such unified commands are in the interest of national security.”
There was, however, no change in the executive agent arrangement in 1947. Thus, in the years after World War II, the pre-World War II idea that the Military Department that raised and supported the forces also employed the forces was perpetuated. This is an important aspect of the organizational history of the operational commands, because this approach still finds expression in the attitudes and actions of many Service personnel.
4. The 1953 Reorganization Plan
In 1953, President Eisenhower by Executive Order revised the executive agent concept to provide that the Military Department rather than a Service Chief would serve as executive agent for each unified command. In his April 30, 1953 message to the Congress transmitting Reorganization Plan No. 6 of 1953, President Eisenhower explained and justified this change as follows:
Under this new arrangement the channel of responsibility and authority to a commander of a unified command will unmistakably be from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the designated civilian Secretary of a military department. This arrangement will fix responsibility along a definite channel of accountable civilian officials as intended by the National Security Act. (The Department of Defense 1944-1978,
5. The 1958 Amendment to the National Security Act
In 1958, as part of the Reorganization Act, a fundamental change in the operational commands took place. President Eisenhower, in proposing the legislative revisions to the National Security Act of 1947, stated:
separate ground, sea, and air warfare is gone forever. If ever again we should be involved in war, we will fight it in all elements, with all services, as one single concentrated effort. Peacetime preparatory and organizational activity must conform to this fact. Strategic and tactical planning must be completely unified, combat forces organized into unified commands, each equipped with the most efficient weapons systems that science can develop, singly led and prepared to fight as one, regardless of service. The accomplishment of this result is the basic function of the Secretary of Defense, advised and assisted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and operating under the supervision of the Commander in Chief. (Message to the Congress, April 3, 1958, The Department of Defense 1944-1978,
To implement this thesis, President Eisenhower proposed that the operational commanders report directly to the Secretary of Defense. The Military Departments and the Service Chiefs were eliminated from the chain of command, and the executive agent arrangement was ended. This was accomplished in the 1958 Reorganization Act and remains in force today.
Specifically, Section 2 of the Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1958 declared that it was national policy "...to provide for the establishment of unified and specified combatant commands, and a clear and direct line of command to such commands..." Later in the same Act (Section 202(j)), the authority for the President to establish operational commands is set forth with some specificity:
(j) With the advice and assistance of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the President, through the Secretary of Defense, shall establish unified or specified combatant commands for the performance of military missions, and shall determine the force structure of such combatant commands to be composed of forces of the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Air Force, which shall then be assigned to such combatant commands by the departments concerned for the performance of such military missions. Such combat commands are responsible to the President and the Secretary of Defense for such military missions as may be assigned to them by the Secretary of Defense, with the approval of the President. Forces assigned to such unified combatant commands or specified combatant commands shall be under the full operational command of the commander of the unified combatant command or the commander of the specified combatant command. All forces not so assigned remain for all purposes in their respective departments. Under the direction, authority, and control of the Secretary of Defense each military department shall be responsible for the administration of the forces assigned from its department to such combatant commands. The responsibility for the support of forces assigned to combatant commands shall be vested in one or more of the military departments as may be directed by the Secretary of Defense. Forces assigned to such unified or specified combatant commands shall be transferred therefrom only by authority of and under procedures established by the Secretary of Defense, with
the approval of the President. Essentially, this same provision has been codified as section 124 of title 10, United States Code, and remains the basis for the current operational command structure. C. KEY TRENDS
1. Changes in the Operational Command Structure a. Original Operational Commands The original operational commands were essentially those in place at the end of World War II. The first peacetime "unified command" to be established, U.S. Forces, European Theater was created when General Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force was dissolved on July 14, 1945. The basic charter of the original seven unified commands and two specified commands was the Unified Command Plan prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and approved by President Truman on December 14, 1946.
Under this plan, the following commands were to be established; the date that each command was actually established is shown. Unified Commands o Far East Command (U.S. forces in Japan, Korea, the Ryukyus,
the Philippines, the Marianas Islands, and the Bonins) —Janu
ary 1, 1947 o Pacific Command - January 1, 1947 o Alaskan Command -January 1, 1947 o European Command (In effect, the European Command
(EUCOM) was only a new title for U.S. Forces, European Theater which had existed since July 1945. While nominally a unified command, EUCOM was almost wholly of Army composi
tion.) - March 15, 1947 o Atlantic Fleet (The Atlantic Fleet was made a command on
November 1, 1947, but one month later the Atlantic Command
was established.) o Caribbean Command - November 1, 1947 o Northeast Command (forces assigned to Newfoundland, Labra
dor, and Greenland) - October 1, 1950 Specified Commands o Strategic Air Command – December 14, 1946 o U.S. Naval Forces, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean (CINC
NELM) -November 1, 1947 The Strategic Air Command became the first example of what was later designated a specified command, though the term did not come into use until 1951.
b. Changes in the 1950's and 1960's
There was relatively little change in the operational command structure in the two decades following the creation of the original peacetime commands. There were only two major changes: establishment of the Continental Air Defense Command and U.S. Strike Command as unified commands. The changes during this 20-year period were: o in 1951, U.S. Air Forces, Europe was established as a specified
command; o in 1952, the U.S. European Command became a full-fledged
unified command; o in 1954, the Continental Air Defense Command was estab
lished as a joint command and made a unified command in
1958; o in 1956, U.S. Air Forces, Europe was disestablished as a speci
fied command; o in 1956, the Northeast Command was disestablished;
o in 1957, the Far East Command was disestablished and its
forces were placed under the Pacific Command; o in 1961, the U.S. Strike Command was established as a unified
command; o in 1963, the Caribbean Command was redesignated the U.S.
Southern Command; and o in 1963, U.S. Naval Forces, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterrane
an was disestablished as a specified command and served only
as U.S. Naval Forces, Europe under the European Command. c. Changes in the 1970's and 1980's
There have been only six changes to the operational commands since 1970: o in 1971, the U.S. Strike Command was renamed the U.S. Read
iness Command; o in 1975, the Alaskan Command was disestablished; o in 1975, the U.S. Continental Air Defense Command was desig
nated a specified command and renamed the Aerospace De
fense Command; o in 1977, the Military Airlift Command was given the status of
a specified command; o in 1983, the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force was designat
ed a unified command and renamed the U.S. Central Com
mand; and o in 1984, President Reagan approved the establishment of the
U.S. Space Command. d. Summary
Since 1945, there have been 11 different unified commands (including the U.S. Space Command) and five different specified commands. Between 1947 and 1950, the original seven unified commands were created. Four of these - European Command, Atlantic Command, Pacific Command, and the Caribbean Command now entitled the Southern Command -remain in existence today. The other three initial commands (Far East Command, Northeast Command, and Alaskan Command) were incorporated respectively into the Pacific, Atlantic, and Readiness Commands. (The Alaskan Air Command also reports to the Aerospace Defense Command in connection with its air defense mission.) The Continental Air Defense Command was a unified command for 17 years beginning in 1958. Two new unified commands have been created and remain in existence today: the Readiness Command/Strike Command in 1961 and the Central Command in 1983. Presidential approval of the U.S. Space Command was given in 1984 and that command was formally established in September 1985.
Of the two initial specified commands, only the Strategic Air Command remains. The other, U.S. Naval Forces, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, was incorporated into the European Command as was U.S. Air Forces, Europe which was a specified command for 5 years. Two new specified commands have been created and remain in existence today: the Aerospace Defense Command in 1975 (after its predecessor organization, Continental Air Defense Command, served as a unified command for 17 years) and the Military Airlift Command in 1977.