News | Jan. 22, 2019

"This Breaking News Just In, Emperor Napoleon I Is Still Dead!"

By John M. Fawcett, Jr. Joint Force Quarterly 92

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Lieutenant Colonel John M. Fawcett, Jr., USAF (Ret.), is Deputy Branch Chief at North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command J533.

We need to look at whether the military is fundamentally structured to meet both old and new challenges.

—Senator John McCain

The challenges of the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy provide an opportunity to examine the U.S. military in order to provide a more agile and flexible force, leveraging partnerships to provide defense of the homeland and force projection capability for warfighting as well as responses to natural and man-made disasters. These challenges are not unique to our most recent strategic guidance. In November of 2014, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel outlined the challenges facing the U.S. military.1 Secretary Ashton Carter continued this theme in a fireside chat at West Point in March 2016,2 as did his successor James Mattis in statements published in 2017.3 This article focuses on one aspect of the challenges and discussions: the combatant command (CCMD) organization for command and control (C2) of U.S. military forces.

CCMDs provide both theater security cooperation (TSC) and warfighting response as well as key functional capabilities. Any proposed changes must operate within the framework of TSC and warfighting, including the ability to create and command appropriate subordinate organizations in response to natural or man-made crises. There are three options for moving forward with theater command and control. The first is to do nothing. In a period of resizing and recapitalizing the force in conjunction with constrained budgets, this is the most likely option, but the least effective in terms of incorporating lessons learned over the last two decades of conflict and the projections of where conflict will occur in coming decades. Option two is to modify the existing structure, but keep it basically intact. Previous attempts at this option have resulted in shifting without substantive change. Staffs have been reduced by target numbers arrived at by political agreement in the Pentagon and not a rational approach to missions and tasks. Ultimately, staff directorates at the theater commands are reduced by a “fair sharing” of the targeted cuts. There is a third option found in an opportunity to rationalize the command and component structure. The theater C2 structure could be approached from a new angle, examining events in Southwest Asia as well as projected engagements in an enduring global conflict. This article addresses the third option.

Airman guards B-52 Stratofortress during U.S. Strategic Command exercise Global Thunder 2019 at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, November 2, 2018 (U.S. Air Force/Mozer Da Cunha)
Airman guards B-52 Stratofortress during U.S. Strategic Command exercise Global Thunder 2019 at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, November 2, 2018 (U.S. Air Force/Mozer Da Cunha)
Airman guards B-52 Stratofortress during U.S. Strategic Command exercise Global Thunder 2019 at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, November 2, 2018 (U.S. Air Force/Mozer Da Cunha)
Airman guards B-52 Stratofortress during U.S. Strategic Command exercise Global Thunder 2019 at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, November 2, 2018 (U.S. Air Force/Mozer Da Cunha)
Airman guards B-52 Stratofortress during U.S. Strategic Command exercise Global Thunder 2019 at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, November 2, 2018 (U.S. Air Force/Mozer Da Cunha)
Photo By: Staff Sgt. Mozer O. Da Cunha
VIRIN: 181104-F-VO743-1015


Unified command over U.S. operational forces was adopted in the European theater during World War II. While the United States was able to achieve a degree of unified command in the European theater under General Dwight D. Eisenhower, attempts to establish a single unified command for the Army and Navy in the Pacific theater proved impossible.4 Today, there are six geographic CCMDs (GCCs) and four functional CCMDs (FCCs). The GCCs operate in clearly delineated areas of responsibility (AORs) and provide a distinctive regional military focus. The GCCs are U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM), U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), U.S. European Command (USEUCOM), U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM). The FCCs operate worldwide across geographic boundaries and provide unique capabilities to GCCs and include U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), and U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM). U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) has recently been elevated from a subunified command to full combatant command status.5

Each GCC focuses on planning and execution of tasked peacetime and wartime missions within its specific AOR. The combatant commanders (CCDRs) engage in TSC, training, and exercising with the military representatives of host nations in the AORs. Since U.S. tactical-level forces are large in absolute numbers, but small relative to the population base and the global range of missions, the regional knowledge and partnerships of the CCDRs and their staffs provide a key understanding of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) networks, joint intelligence preparation of the operational environment (JIPOE), and theater logistics and communications infrastructures.6 Within their AORs, CCDRs have unique battlespace awareness that includes partners, allies, neutrals, potential adversaries, and the relationships among them that can inform operations.

The CCMD staff structure ostensibly creates the framework for engagement as well as long-term planning and crisis response. Other executive branch agencies, including the Department of State, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security, are often collectively referred to as the interagency community and are involved to a greater or lesser degree depending on the command and mission. Since military tasks often intersect the responsibilities of these agencies, both FCCs and GCCs have integrated interagency representatives in their process structures to enhance operations. Examples of this integration include a State Department Deputy Commander for Civil-Military Activities at USAFRICOM; the Interagency Action Group established in the J3 directorate at USCENTCOM; the establishment of a J9 Directorate for Interagency Partnering at USPACOM, USSOUTHCOM, and USEUCOM; and a J9 that integrates and synchronizes the activities of civilian, state, Federal, and private-sector organizations at USNORTHCOM.7

What Is the Problem?

Distilled from documents ranging from the National Security Strategy, Unified Command Plan (UCP), Guidance for the Employment of the Force, and Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan, the GCCs have two significant missions: theater security cooperation and warfighting. Due to the policy commitment to a force with global requirements, the warfighting mission leverages the key partnerships of TSC, which may be construed as the most significant portion of military planning.8 For example, humanitarian missions are not a funded responsibility for the Department of Defense (DOD), but are useful in creating strong relationships and an understanding of the AORs. Warfighting is another part of the range of military operations with unique skill sets devoted to direct action—killing people and breaking things. In addition, the current staff structure follows the European staff model with numbered sections or directorates, creating stovepiped staff organizations at the theater level and above. Successful commanders work hard to ensure cross staff communication and coordination.

Recent theater-level engagements of the U.S. military have reemphasized the importance of flexible teams at the theater-command level, able to both articulate long-term theater strategy and support tactical operations. In Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War, edited by Richard Hooker and Joseph Collins, Dr. Collins provides an overview of the lack of clear military chain of command during initial operations in Afghanistan and Iraq during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. In Afghanistan, the transition from the Central Intelligence Agency and special operations forces (SOF) to more conventional operations was long and painful, resulting in confusion over goals, objectives, and endstates. Command and control in Iraq during the 2003 invasion was adequate, but the transition to post-invasion, steady-state operations created confusion. Multiple U.S. and coalition organizations and military commands were created. So while there is doctrine in place outlining the creation and use of joint task forces (JTFs), it appears this doctrine is followed in the exception rather than the rule, especially after cessation of hostilities.

Finally, exercises such as the Iron Crucible series have identified a problem with supporting multiple near-simultaneous crises in multiple GCC AORs. As the crisis response develops and creates demand for limited resources, there is no adjudication decisionmaker short of the Defense Secretary. Resource allocation has a gap between the CCMD capped planning process and the global perspective of the Joint Staff. For example, each of the theater four-stars may present a strong case for priority support for ISR, strategic lift, and specific force capabilities such as SOF. Currently, these demands tend to be solved informally between the GCC and FCC staffs. However, if there is an inability to reach consensus, the Secretary must decide. The existing process is also focused primarily on activity outside of the homeland and has little to no consideration for a strategic reserve. The homeland is no longer a sanctuary from conflict; therefore, a strategic reserve must be considered in case a natural or man-made disaster occurs in the homeland competing for limited DOD resources.9

Are There Existing Proposals?

RAND took on an evaluation of the Unified Command Plans in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union and prepared for the Army the Evaluation Framework for Unified Command Plans: A Documented Briefing. The evaluation does not fundamentally change the approach to combatant commands but provides a structure for evaluating alternative UCPs. The Center for Strategic and International Studies published Beyond Goldwater-Nichols: Defense Reform for a New Strategic Era as a three-phase report starting in 2004. The Phase I report focused on organizational changes at the DOD level, including the Service secretariats.10 Phase II is more of the same, while the Phase III report looks at the Reserve component. There is little reference to the combatant commands. The current “Beyond Goldwater-Nichols” debate has tended to focus on the reduction of combatant commands, specifically combining some of the geographic commands, reducing the number of four-star positions, and mandating a reduction in theater-level and Service-component staffs.11 For example, there is discussion about combining USNORTHCOM and USSOUTHCOM,12 usually by people who fail to explain exactly how this combination, without a change in responsibilities, would be an improvement. Commands and components could also be standardized fairly easily around a structure of three-star component commanders of numbered Air forces, Army corps, Navy fleets, and Marine divisions. The current definitions of these component formations would have to be changed, but this modification is possible without significant legislative requirements. Both of these discussions tend to assume a similar geographic orientation and staff structure with a continuation of the two missions under the same commander.

One aspect of the current debate over changes to Goldwater-Nichols is the need to redefine theater-level command and control. In his 2013 paper on GCC command structures, Rhude Cherry III provides an overview of current command structures and modifications as well as a recommendation for a hybrid staff structure that creates military and civilian deputies while leveraging the existing staff structure.13 There is also an Insights and Best Practices Focus Paper on Geographic Combatant Commander Command and Control Organizational Options, written by the Deployable Training Division of the Joint Staff J7 and published by the Joint Staff J7 Joint Training Directorate. This paper looks at the structure from the standpoint of existing doctrine while attempting to provide some improvements for JTFs and subunified commands.

The Congressional Research Service produced a report on January 3, 2013, titled The Unified Command Plan and Combatant Commands: Background and Issues for Congress. As advertised in the title, the report provides a historical perspective of the evolution of the UCP and combatant commands and identifies questions that Congress may wish to ask during debate over future UCPs. These questions include the militarization of foreign policy due to the regional focus of the geographic combatant commands, the need for a whole-of-government approach to integrating the military in a larger policy framework, and whether or not there is a need for new functional or geographic commands. The report also looks at alternatives to combatant commands such as creating JTFs to replace the combatant commands or a joint interagency organization. While the report is an excellent overview and raises interesting questions, there are no substantive recommendations.

Alternative Structure Proposal

An alternative to the existing legacy is to divide the warfighting and TSC missions into two separate commands.

Geographic Commands. In this concept, the geographic-oriented approach is maintained, but the geographic commands (GCs) have a three-star commander responsible for all noncombat U.S. DOD interests in the AOR as well as a theater campaign plan or his portion of a global plan. This includes missions such as creating and assessing intelligence, logistics, and communications networks, and facilitating the TSC operations of training and exercising.

Effective cultural analysis and engagement will be at the heart of the GC. Cultural analysis is the creation of assessments on the different nation-states and nonstate actors in the AOR. Both the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy clearly state the importance of strategic partnerships as a way to increase military power.14 The GC staffs and liaison officers (LNO) will be responsible for establishing personal relationships with military personnel in the AOR, and, when possible, personal contacts will be expanded to whole-of-government or whole-of-nation organizations. These relationships encompass both nation-state and nonstate actors in the AOR. Transnational organizations include the private sector and may be designated as criminal, noncriminal, or terrorists while stateless nations may be described as criminal or noncriminal or may be designated as terrorists.

As an example, Turkey (USEUCOM AOR) has a distinct culture that is oriented toward Europe and the Western philosophies of the Enlightenment and democracy, while retaining a distinct bias based on Islam that may run counter to generally accepted European cultural standards. The commander of USEUCOM must direct his staff to create cultural profiles for all the nation-states and stateless nations in his AOR, including Turkey. Since human interaction continues to define power relationships, the commander is the DOD face to the Turkish military, establishing the personal relationships that may be leveraged during crisis response to include combat operations. The commander must build these relationships through the TSC mission, as well as humanitarian relief. These same responsibilities will hold true for the other GCs. Service components for the GCs will be eliminated and the consolidation in a new structure will provide the necessary theater support.

Externally Focused Combatant Commands. With the GCs focused on the TSC mission, the execution of combat operations becomes the mission of one of three combat commands (CCs)—East, West, and Homeland—each with a four-star commander. East and West commands provide deployable command and control that will respond as required to crisis in the GCs’ AORs and will have steady-state relationships with specific GCs. For example, East Command could support USOUTHCOM, USEUCOM, and USAFRICOM, while West Command could be tied to USPACOM and USCENTCOM.

Having two similar commands, East and West, provides for depth of trained personnel that could be shifted as required by actual operations in order to create the necessary JTF C2 structure. The CCs will be responsible for joint training, education, JTF-level exercises, and joint doctrine in support of the Chairman. With only two potential four-star “owners” of deployed task forces, adjudication of competition for limited resources is simplified.

Figure 1. Proposed C2 Structure (including integration of intelligence flow)
Figure 1. Proposed C2 Structure (including integration of intelligence flow)
Figure 1. Proposed C2 Structure (including integration of intelligence flow)
Photo By: NDU Press
VIRIN: 190125-D-BD104-001

The CCs are structured around three task areas: strategy, planning, and operations. There is also an Intelligence Center (IC) to develop the JIPOE and support combat operations. The IC will maintain constant contact with the ICs in the GCs. Figure 1 illustrates the construct, including the special staff. The traditional staff codes are eliminated, and the functional expertise is incorporated in the three major divisions of strategy, planning, and operations. The Special Staff includes functions such as the judge advocate general, public affairs, protocol, command surgeon, command chaplain, political-military advisor, Reserve and National Guard advisors, budget, knowledge management, and liaisons to other agencies.

A Red Team will establish and coordinate all training exercises and provide the Red, Blue, White, Gray, and Green perspectives for the crisis as well as feedback on the strategic message.15 In short, the mandate for the Red Team is to provide a thinking enemy for assessment of plans and operations, leveraging the knowledge of the GC for the affected area.

The IC (former J2) has the daunting task of maintaining the constant flow and analysis of data as it streams in from classified and open sources, and fusing it into actionable intelligence. This is envisioned as a highly automated push and pull system, with the IC constantly combing through all sources and responding to analyst demands in support of commander requirements.

Figure 2. Combatant Command Steady State
Figure 2. Combatant Command Steady State
Figure 2. Combatant Command Steady State
Photo By: NDU Press
VIRIN: 190125-D-BD104-002

Figure 2 shows the C2 Center as the C2 node for the command, networked with the IC and the parallel C2 Centers in the GCs to maintain all-domain situational awareness. The three task areas and IC reflect observations by the author of theater and functional command activities over the last two decades. Figure 1 also arranges the process flows to reflect what happens with the C2 node for the command, supported by the rest of the staff during day-to-day operations.

The CCs will also have assigned Service components similar to the existing construct and will draw on these components to establish the JTF staffs. These components will be numbered Air forces, fleets, and corps, with three-star commanders, and Marine divisions commanded by a two-star. Each command will also have a SOF as well as a cyber component.

Further analysis may indicate the need for only one CC, increasing focus and overhead savings. Rather than East and West combatant commands, there would be a Global Command. The Global Command could then mitigate the demands for scarce resources. Canada and the United Kingdom are currently using a single, globally oriented command structure. Canada has the Canadian Joint Operations Command and the United Kingdom has the Permanent Joint Force Headquarters. While both of these C2 arrangements have demonstrated their abilities on numerous occasions, an illustrative example is the British intervention in Sierra Leone between 2000 and 2002. The initial Operation Palliser required a rapid response while subsequent events, Operation Barras (a hostage rescue) and Operation Silkman (a commitment to train the Sierra Leone army), demanded continual British presence over the next 2 years, ultimately resulting in a stable situation.16

Homeland Command. Homeland Command (HC) will be a hybrid command combining aspects of both the GCs and CCs, responsible for response to natural and man-made disasters as well as combat operations. The four-star commander of HC will establish the necessary relationships with governments in the homeland and conform to the legal implications of the U.S. Constitution. The commander will be dual-hatted as the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and Homeland Command. HC will also have Service components: numbered air force, numbered corp, numbered fleet, and marine division, as well as SOF and cyber. With the establishment of HC, there will be a third four-star in the mix for resource competition, but internally focused.

Functional Combatant Commands. The FCCs will be assigned Service components. The National Security Agency will be assigned its own dedicated commander; the USCYBERCOM commander will not be dual-hatted. Eighth Air Force under USSTRATCOM will have operational control over bombers and land-based nuclear missiles, while Eighth Fleet will have operational control over nuclear missile equipped submarines. When resources are on alert, missiles, bombers, or submarines will be under the direct command of the USSTRATCOM commander. Due to the size of the Marine Corps and missions of the FCCs, only USSOCOM has an assigned Marine component headquarters. USTRANSCOM, USSPACECOM, USSOCOM, and USCYBERCOM may elect to put liaison cells in the command centers of the other FCs. The FCs may also assign liaison cells to the CCs.

If the proposal is adopted, even with two new externally oriented commands and the reestablishment of USSPACECOM, the number of four-stars is reduced from 17 to 10. These numbers include the current practice of four-star-led components, the problem of four-stars reporting to four-stars, and transitioning to no four-star components. Since every four-star comes with a commensurate staff, the reduction should pay for the manpower costs of the new commands at a minimum.

How It Works

The CC staff will form the nucleus of a JTF when required to respond to a combat-related crisis. The JTF will start within the CC headquarters and expand by drawing on support from component, GC staff, and Service personnel. A designated JTF commander will assemble his or her staff for the assigned crisis, formulate the plans, and, if required, deploy to execute combat operations. The CC commander will maintain a strategy for the crisis consistent with the President’s guidance in coordination with the Joint Staff and Secretary of Defense. CCs are not responsible for response to natural and man-made disasters since this problem set would be addressed by the GCs. The CCs will train and exercise on a regular basis to include the challenge of assembling JTFs.

The steady-state structure enables the CC to maintain day-to-day operational awareness and staff coordination across the Federal Government, the assigned GCs, and all relevant organizations. In addition, the planning staff will be responsible for formal plans within the AORs.

The Crisis Team is assembled in the C2 Center and begins updating plans and GC networks and assessments relevant to possible combat operations. The President and Secretary are now tied into the awareness network. The Crisis Team is expanded as required to prepare for deployment of a JTF to the affected area. Broad coordination across the executive and legislative branches of government is key to providing a globally consistent strategic message. The discipline of this coordination should also ensure that civilian leadership establishes clear political goals, objectives, and endstates for the crisis.

If the decision is made to proceed with force employment as part of the crisis execution, a JTF is deployed and assigned forces previously identified during the planning period between crisis initiation and crisis execution. The JTF commander builds a staff composed of previously identified and trained personnel from the CC, GC, and individual Services, and the Crisis Team transitions to support the JTF as the JTF anchor between the combatant commander and JTF commander (figure 3). JTF commanders will be certified one-, two-, and three-star officers who have completed JTF commander training. This training will consist of both initial certification and periodic updates, including participation in theater-level joint exercises, part of the CC’s mission, to ensure commanders are prepared for combat operations. Only senior officers who are JTF commander qualified will be considered for the leadership of CCs and GCs. The staff of the CCs will exercise on a continuing basis using live, virtual, and constructive training programs to respond to a wide range of notional crises. GCs will participate in contingency planning in support of aligned CCs.

Figure 3. Geographic Command Warfighting Crisis Support Transition
Figure 3. Geographic Command Warfighting Crisis Support Transition
Figure 3. Geographic Command Warfighting Crisis Support Transition
Figure 3. Geographic Command Warfighting Crisis Support Transition
Figure 3. Geographic Command Warfighting Crisis Support Transition
Photo By: NDU Press
VIRIN: 190125-D-BD104-003

As the CC is preparing for crisis execution, the GC is mirroring its activities. Figure 4 shows the parallel actions in the theater as the crisis unfolds. The JTF anchor in the GC C2 Center provides the JTF with continuous access to the networks, systems, and assessments that the GC has been working on during steady-state operations. The geographic anchor will also leverage personal relationships with the governments and involved organizations. This more radical approach to global engagement will have to be fleshed out to include specific manning with a focus on having a smaller net staff since JTFs will leverage multiple Service staffs. Personnel will be identified and trained for crisis response staffing and ready for mobilization and deployment.

Figure 4. Combatant Command Crisis Execution
Figure 4. Combatant Command Crisis Execution
Figure 4. Combatant Command Crisis Execution
Figure 4. Combatant Command Crisis Execution
Figure 4. Combatant Command Crisis Execution
Photo By: NDU Press
VIRIN: 190125-D-BD104-004

FCCs will maintain the same mission areas, tasks, and funding lines. FCC C2 Centers will mimic the CC C2 Center’s strategy, planning, and operations supported by an intelligence fusion center. Key to interaction with the GCs and CCs will be assigned LNO teams that will be imbedded across the CC and GC C2 Centers. These LNO teams will provide real-time connectivity to the functional experts and provide information on GC and CC requirements. The LNOs assigned to the GCs will contribute to the development of AOR-specific data on networks.

What Is Fixed and Not Fixed

This proposal represents a significant shift from the numbered, stovepiped staff structure and seeks to optimize changes in telecommunications and information systems technology. The two distinct missions of theater engagement and warfighting are separated, allowing the assigned staffs to focus on their mission without confusion or contradiction. There is also a clear path to establishment of a JTF in response to a crisis, with a defined network of support and links to existing organizations across the government. Resource competition is negotiated between the combatant commander and the other four-stars of the Joint Staff and the FCs without having to default to the Secretary or President.

If this option of restructuring commands without a J-staff is adopted, it must be done so across all commands in order to be effective and not repeat past mistakes. Should the Joint Staff abandon the classic staff structure? This is a discussion for another time, but the structure of the C2 relationships between the Secretary of Defense and the GCs and CCs will certainly change.

This proposal also relies heavily on an assumption of C2 connectivity. While modern forms of information technology provide great leverage in the battlespace, they come with their own costs and vulnerabilities. The effects of graceful, versus catastrophic, degradation of systems will be part of the pre-implementation assessment of this option. If the JTF staff loses connectivity or experiences a slowing of the information streams it is relying on, it must continue to execute the assigned mission with available resources. This is especially relevant at the tactical level, as units may find themselves cut off from higher headquarters.

Challenges will arise when a natural or man-made disaster escalates into a warfighting conflict. In assessing this proposal, General James T. Hill, USA (Ret.), was not in favor.17 In his words:

Bottom line: [I] do not like the idea of separating functions and staffs. Countries need one face and one voice to deal with. In my mind warfighting and nation-building/relationship-building [are] inseparable. My relationships allowed me to easily get countries to take up peacekeeping roles in Haiti [and] allowed me to withdraw my warfighting forces and easily transition to Brazil peacekeepers. Only combatant commanders have the ability to do that.

Finally, this approach will require a rigorous assessment of current U.S. Code, and what if any changes must be made to maintain legality. These changes will probably include examining the role of Service secretariats and the structure of Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Sailors rig barricade during drill on flight deck aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, December 2, 2018, Mediterranean Sea (U.S. Navy/Rebekah A. Watkins)
Sailors rig barricade during drill on flight deck aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, December 2, 2018, Mediterranean Sea (U.S. Navy/Rebekah A. Watkins)
Sailors rig barricade during drill on flight deck aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, December 2, 2018, Mediterranean Sea (U.S. Navy/Rebekah A. Watkins)
Sailors rig barricade during drill on flight deck aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, December 2, 2018, Mediterranean Sea (U.S. Navy/Rebekah A. Watkins)
Sailors rig barricade during drill on flight deck aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, December 2, 2018, Mediterranean Sea (U.S. Navy/Rebekah A. Watkins)
Photo By: MC3 Rebekah A. Watkins
VIRIN: 181202-N-UJ496-0024


In a time of funding demands for recapitalization, organizations look for increased efficiencies without decreasing overall effectiveness. Clear leadership roles, a focused staff, and an understanding of the operational environment are aspects of successful command and control relative to a CCMD. The missions of TSC and planning and execution remain incumbent on the structure of the U.S. military at some theater/nation-state level, if the current vision of maintaining a force that can be leveraged to address global conflict and natural and man-made disasters is to be maintained.

The Secretary of Defense and Chairman should consider implementing this proposal across DOD since it has the potential to increase efficiency by simplifying C2 organizations and focusing on critical areas relevant to understanding the battlespace and preparing for a crisis response. Added bonuses include a decrease in the number of four-star billets while maintaining a specific focus on theater engagement for the GCs.

Napoleon I died in 1821, having fought his last campaign at Waterloo in 1815, yet the staff structure built on his legacy lives on. After nearly 200 years, modern U.S. warfighting has evolved a standardized J-staff structure as well as modifications for Service components and coordination that reflect global engagement. Due to the stress of fiscal constraints with no commensurate decrease in tasking, DOD has an opportunity to either streamline existing theater command structures or establish a new paradigm for theater engagement to include TSC and warfighting. Changes will not be implemented without challenge by special interest groups and may require a fundamental change to the public laws of 10 U.S. Code to reflect new structures. Not adopting a significant change to the theater system will continue the existing status quo with a lack of coherence as the CCMDRs attempt to address all the concerns of the U.S. military in an increasingly complex world—in short, the continuance of ad hoc response to crises. The opportunity, indeed the requirement for change, is now. JFQ


1 “Secretary of Defense Speech, Reagan National Defense Forum Keynote, as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, CA, November 15, 2014,” available at <>.

2 “Remarks by Secretary Carter in a ‘Fireside Chat’ at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York,” March 23, 2016, available at <>.

3 Jim Garamone, “Mattis Asks Congress for Stable Budgets, End to Sequestration,” DOD News, June 12, 2017, available at <>.

4 Edward J. Drea et al., History of the Unified Command Plan, 1946–2012 (Washington, DC: Joint History Office, 2013).

5 Adam Mazmanian, “Trump Elevates CyberCom to Combatant Command Status,”, August 18, 2017, available at <>.

6 The total number of Servicemembers in 1945 was 12,209,238. See “Research Starters: U.S. Military by the Numbers,” The National World War II Museum, New Orleans, LA, available at <>. The total number of Servicemembers in 2017 was 2,875,500. See “Military Personnel,”, available at <>. The total U.S. population in 1940 was 132,165,129; in 1950, 151,325,798; estimated in 2018 at 327,421,076. See “Selected Historical Decennial Census Population and Housing Counts,” available at <>. The percentage of the population in the military in 1945 was 8 percent and 0.8 percent in 2017.

7 Feickert, 2013, 14.

8 Joint Publication 5-0, Joint Operations Planning (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, June 16, 2017).

9 Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2018), 3.

10 Clark A. Murdock, Beyond Goldwater-Nichols: Defense Reform for a New Strategic Era (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2004), 75–77.

11 John Grady, “Panel Advocates Reducing Number of U.S. Combatant Commands, Staff Size,” USNI News, November 5, 2015, available at available at <>.

12 Charles D. Sycora, “Has the Time Come to Merge SOUTHCOM with Another Unified Command?” (Master’s thesis, U.S. Naval War College, 2004).

13 Rhude Cherry III, “Reorganizing Geographic Combatant Command Headquarters for Joint Force 2020” (Master’s thesis, Joint Forces Staff College, 2013).

14 National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: The White House, December 2017), 8–12; Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, 4.

15 The author’s color codes are Red, enemy; Blue, declared friends and allies who may be covered by treaty agreement; White, declared neutral; Gray, nationless states and stateless nations; and Green, friends who may provide indirect support to the enemy.

16 David H. Ucko, “When Intervention Works: The Instructive Case of Sierra Leone,” War on the Rocks, August 31, 2016, available at <>.

17 Email from General James T. Hill to author, May 9, 2018.