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Because of those inherent flaws, the command structure during the Vietnam war almost defies description. The Vietnam command, which eventually included nearly one-fourth of all U.S. military personnel, remained, as it began, a sub-command under the U.S. Pacific Commander (located in Hawaii) who is responsible for "the entire Pacific Ocean from the Aleutian chain through the Strait of Malacca and most of the Indian Ocean." As the war escalated, the Army proposed that the Vietnam commander should be a full unified commander reporting directly to the Secretary of De fense and JCS. But the issue was too tough for the JCS to handle and formal command arrangements remained unchanged. As a result, a second, less official but more authoritative, direct command link between Washington and Saigon emerged.

Divided overall command was further complicated by the arrangements for air forces. The Vietnam commander was responsible for air operations in Vietnam. The Pacific commander conducted air operations against North Vietnam and the Laotian panhandle through separate subordinate Navy and Air Force commands. When B-52s were introduced, they remained under the direct command of the Strategic Air Command, headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska.

Thus, the U.S. fought four air wars in Southeast Asia, and top commanders responded to two redundant chains of command. No service was willing to relinquish a part of its control in order to further the joint war effort. The JCS, a committee of service chiefs, was structurally unable to iron out command differences. And even if it could have done so, the JCS lacked the clout to enforce its conclusions.

The American withdrawal from Vietnam was followed by more limited U.S. military operations—such as the Mayaguez and Desert One affairs—that focused attention on the problems of defense organization. Analyst Jeffrey Record went so far as to indict the 30year record of American military prowess since that system had been set up:

Not since the Inchon landing has a significant U.S. military venture been crowned by success. On the contrary, our military performance since September 1950 suggests that we as a society have lost touch with the art of war. Inchon was followed by the rout of American forces along the Yalu; Yalu by the Bay of Pigs fiasco; the Bay of Pigs by disaster in Indochina; Indochina by the fizzled raid to retrieve U.S. POWs thought to be confined in North Vietnam's Son Tay prison camp; Son Tay by the abortive assault on Koh Tang Island in search of the crew of the hijacked Mayaguez; and Mayaguez by the debacle

in the Iranian desert. In February 1982, General David C. Jones, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, kicked off the current JCS reform debate in an appearance before the House Committee on Armed Services. Following his testimony, he wrote an article entitled, “Why The Joint Chiefs of Staff Must Change”. He called for three changes: strengthening the role of the JCS Chairman, limiting service staff involvement in the joint process, and broadening the training, experience and rewards for joint service. He also struck a sobering note in describing why these changes were necessary:


In the World Wars we had the buffers of geography and of allies who could carry the fight until we mobilized and deployed. After World War II we depended largely on our nuclear superiority to cover a growing imbalance in conventional capability and deter direct clashes with the Soviets. However, today we no longer have the luxury of the buffers which in the past had allowed us to mobilize, organize and deploy after a conflict began. In fact today the factors of time, geography, and the strategic balance work largely to our disadvantage; they compound rather than mitigate our deficiencies in convention

al force size, readiness and deployability. In 1982, 1983 and 1984, the House Committee on Armed Services pressed forward with legislation aimed at JCS reform. Although the House of Representatives gave strong support to this effort, it was not reciprocated in the Senate. Beginning in 1985, however, the Senate Armed Services Committee indicated strong interest in pursuing structural reform issues.

In 1985, the House enacted legislation that provided for comprehensive reformation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That legislation, which is now before the Senate, will:

Make the Chairman the principal military advisor to the President, the National Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense; -Extend the term of the Chairman of the JCS and authorize the Secretary of Defense to route the operational chain of com

mand through him to the unified and specified commanders; -Give the Chairman control over the Joint Staff; - Create the post of Deputy Chairman of the JCS to act for the Chairman in his absence and thus insure continuity of operations and leadership; -Give the Chairman or his deputy a voice in the deliberations of

the National Security Council; and -Strengthen the Joint Staff.

Only four years ago, when the committee began looking at JCS reform, these concepts were viewed as revolutionary and highly controversial. Many within the Pentagon argue that there is much more to be done. As retired General Edward C. Meyer, former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and a member of the JCS put it:

I don't believe that you can tinker with the issues any longer; tinkering will not suffice. Only by taking on some of the issues which in the past have been put in the box which says "too tough to handle,” are we going to have the kind of operational advice and military advisors that the next two dec

ades out to the 21st century are going to demand. Taking the comments of General Meyer to heart, the committee is now looking at the following four issue areas: (1) the role of the commanders-in-chiefs (CINCs) of the unified

and specified commands. (2) the selection, training and promotion of officers serving in

joint assignments. (3) the organizational structure and bureaucracy of the top man

agement of the Department of Defense. (4) the role of the Department of Defense agencies (e.g., Defense

Logistics Agency, Defense Mapping Agency, etc.).

It is often said that change must be an evolutionary question. But the key question is this: Does the present system allow us to evolve fast enough to do what we must do in order to provide for the common defense?


The combatant forces of the United States are organized into ten unified and specified commands. Six unified commands attempt to bring all U.S. forces designated to geographic regions of the world together under joint command control. These are the European Command, the Atlantic Command, the Pacific Command, the Southern Command (responsible for Central and South America), Central Command (responsible for Southwest Asia), and the Readiness Command (responsible for both continental U.S. defense, and for crisis mobilization and reinforcement of other commands). Three specified commands have functional missions: the Strategic Air Command, the Aerospace Defense Command, the Military Airlift Command.

This arrangement dates from World War II when the principle of "unity of command" replaced “mutual cooperation" as the doctrine of interservice relations. The principle was designed to provide for the integration of land, sea and air forces under the authority of a single commander-in-chief. Senator Barry Goldwater recently related this principle to our problems in Vietnam:

In Vietnam, we never had unity of command. Unity of command is one of the fundamental principles of any military operation. Every West Point plebe knows that. It means that there's only one commander. It means there is only one chief and he's over all the Indians-no matter what tribe. In his “Maxims of War," Napo leon said: “Nothing is so important in war as an undivided command." Too many cooks mean spoiled broth, and too many commanders mean lost battles. General Westmoreland never had command over all the forces in the Vietnam theater. Single service interests continued to block and frustrate unity of command and joint operations. For example, Gen. David Jones, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has observed:

Each service, instead of integrating efforts with the others, considered Vietnam its own war and sought to carve out a large mission for itself. For example, each fought its own air war, agreeing only to limited measures for a coordinated effort. "Body count” and “tons dropped” became the measures of merit. Lack of integration persisted right through the 1975 evacuation of Saigon-when responsibility was split between two separate commands, one on land and one at sea, each of these set a different “H-hour," which caused confusion and delays.

I don't need to dwell on the outcome of our more than 10-year military commitment in Vietnam.

Unity of command thus means integration of the nation's fighting forces. Yet critics such as former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger have observed:

In all our military installations, the time-honored principal of ‘unity of command' is inculcated. Yet at the national level it is firmly resisted and flagrantly violated. Unity of command is endorsed, if and only if, it applies at the service level. The inevitable consequence is both the duplication of effort and the

ultimate ambiguity of command. Academic observers, such as Samuel P. Huntington, author of the classic treatise The Soldier and the State, have commented on the pervasive nature of Service autonomy in a supposedly unified command system:

From top to bottom, the way the system works frequently belies the concept of a “unified command” structure.

Each service continues to exercise great autonomy, although in theory a single unified commander is supposed to issue orders for all Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine units assigned to a theater of operation, such as Europe, the Persian Gulf, the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Unified commands "are not really commands, and they certainly aren't unified" "What the nation suffers from is not militarism, but servi

ceism. Former Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird joins those who have linked these anomalies in the unified command system with the problems of military operations worldwide:

The commanders of American combat forces—the unified and specified commanders (CINCs) labor under a structure that assigns them operational control of all forces in the field, but denies them adequate influence over such vital related matters as the training, logistics, and readiness of their forces. As a consequence, these commanders face fragmented logistics, have excessively layered headquarter staffs, and lack uniform, command-wide assessments of the readiness of their forces. Moreover, they often command several component forces each of which has been designed to fight a different type of war. In short, American combat commanders may well lack the peace time authority to fulfill their wartime operational responsibil

ities. Gen. David Jones, who was both Chairman and the JCS and Air Force Chief of Staff, recalls his days as the commander of the Air Force component of the European Command:

When I was the Air Commander in Europe, I had two bosses, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and the Unified Commander—the Commander in Chief, U.S. European Command who is over all U.S. theater forces. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force assigned me all my people, gave all my rewards to my people, controlled all my money, gave me all my equipment. Obviously, he had nine times the influence over me than my Unified Commander had. So, he who controls the resources can have

tremendous impact. The frequent result of a system in which Service interests dominate is that joint questions are left unanswered or simply fallbetween the cracks. The integration of Service warfighting capabilities was examined in a U.S. News & World Report article which said:

Further undermining smooth, unified operations is the short shrift individual services often give to support operations for other branches of the military. For example, the Army relies on the Air Force and Navy to provide the ships and planes to haul its U.S. based troops into action. Yet both services traditionally stint on the funding for transport, meaning the U.S. today has more active, trained and equipped combat forces than it can send overseas rapidly.

The Air Force is also under orders to provide close air support for Army troops on the battlefield. Over the years, however, the Air Force has tended to concentrate funds on weapons for its primary job-strategy attacks and bombing missions behind enemy lines. That, assert some, forces the Army to build its own air force-mostly helicopters, which many critics

complain may be too slow and vulnerable to enemy fire. In addition to airlift and sealift, other examples of such "orphan missions” are airlift and sealift, special operations, land-based air support of naval operations and land-based air defense of air installations. Yet it is precisely these infrastructure concerns that are most critical whenever the CINC or the on-scene military command must integrate the diverse forces that are often required to carry out the assigned mission.

After Iranian militants seized Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, U.S. leaders learned there was no existing command structure able immediately to mount a complex rescue operation. The system used in the abortive raid had to be built from scratch.

Retired Air Force Lieutenant General John Pustay, a former assistant to the JCS chairman, commented:

In the Iranian rescue attempt, it was necessary to artificially join together disparate elements from the Services in order to get the minimum capabilities needed to carry out a complex anti-terrorist mission.

The helicopters used were RH-53 mine sweeping craft, the only rotary wing available in sufficient numbers with the required range. The pilots were a mixture of Marines and Air Force officers drawn from various operating units of their Services. The C-130 aircraft used to carry fuel bladders for the Desert One phase were taken from a USAF airborne command and control squadron after the command capsules were re moved. While this all illustrates classic American ingenuity, it also illustrates the lack of attention paid by the Services to operations in lower-level conflicts. The operation was carried out under supervision of the highest authorities in Washington, in part because of the sensitive nature of the mission and in part because of the inadequacies of the staffs of the field command

ers-in-chief (CINCEUR and CINCPAC). A U.S. News & World Report article observed:

Such rigid divisions of roles posed problems for the abortive Iran rescue effort. The mission called for launching rescue helicopters from aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean over hundreds of miles into the heart of Iran. Yet the division of service roles meant the Navy had no carrier-based helicopters specifically designed and equipped for a demanding overland journey. And while the Army had many pilots heavily trained for ground-rescue operations, the Navy had few. In the end, the U.S. used Navy helicopters equipped for mine sweeping and mostly Navy and Marine pilots. The above quotes point to the lack of an adequate cross-service perspective needed to develop and field forces to respond to low-intersity warfare.

Our top military commanders have the complete responsibility for the operational success of their combat missions—but they lack the authority to carry out that mission. Specifically, they lack sufficient command authority and adequate control over resources, personnel, organization, chain of command, support and administra


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