Text Browser Navigation Bar: Main Site Navigation and Search | Current Page Navigation | Current Page Content

U.S. Army War College >> Strategic Studies Institute >> Publications >> Defining U.S. Atlantic Command's Role in the Power Projection Strategy >> Summary

Login to "My SSI" Contact About SSI Cart: 0 items

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

Authored by Professor Douglas C. Lovelace Jr., Dr. Thomas-Durell Young. | August 1998

Share | |   Print   Email


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 haspursued an evolutionary and sometimes indirect approach to adapting to its new and ambitious roles.

Beyond publication of the 1993 Implientation 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 implienting 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 implientation 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 implientation 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 defacto 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 implienting 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.


Although the STRICOM/REDCOM experience provides some precedence, the reformation of the Atlantic Command into USACOM was motivated by different factors. Noteworthy among them are a geostrategic environment and national security strategy that have substantially increased Washington's need to more rapidly and efficiently project trained, ready, and integrated armed forces from CONUS to virtually any point on the globe.

Yet, rather than being guided by specific national policy, USACOM has been allowed to evolve virtually on its own over the past 4 years. As acknowledged by USACOM, ?the command was challenged to take general concepts and refine them into practical missions.?1 That, coupled with significant changes in the geostrategic and domestic environments within which USACOM evolved, has precluded the orderly, deliberate development of the command's new roles. Consequently, ?[a]long the way there have been false starts?initial concepts have led to forks in the road and down unexpected paths.?2

One unexpected result is that USACOM is not yet able to fulfill the intent of its 1993 Implientation Plan: ?to provide military forces where needed throughout the world, and to ensure those forces are integrated and trained as joint forces capable of carrying out their assigned tasks.? Furthermore, in developing capabilities to accomplish that mission, the command evolved in some directions neither foreseen nor provided for in the Implientation Plan (e.g., determining future force requirements). Nonetheless, these have proven to be beneficial to the implientation of a CONUS-based power projection strategy. It appears clear at this point, however, that ifUSACOM is to mature as the joint force provider of jointly trained and integrated general purpose forces to the supported commands, USACOM?s ultimate roles, functions, and configuration must be more clearly described in the following ways.

First, the organization that USACOM should become, Joint Forces Command, is not provided for in extant law or policy. Such a command would have responsibilities and perform roles similar or identical to those currently assigned to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Staff, a Service, or a combatant command. Title 10 of the United States Code, therefore, must be revised to provide for this proposed hybrid command by describing its status, roles, functions, and missions, as well as the manner in which it receives resources, the type and extent of authority granted its ?commander,? and the chain of command or channel of authority within which the command exists. Once the statutory basis of the new organization is established it should be precisely defined by policy promulgated by the Secretary of Defense in consultation with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

With regard to USACOMs joint training responsibilities, the three-tier training program should be formalized in the joint training policy promulgated by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. USACOM?s responsibilities for, and authority over, tiers two and three joint training should be clarified vis-à-vis the Services and the combatant commands. It may be advisable, but not necessary, to grant USACOM control over all training funding, save institutional training provided by the Services and joint exercises conducted by the combatant commands. In either case, USACOM must be provided a method by which it can direct, rather than merely request, Service conformance to its tiers two and three training programs. Additionally, the new organization must have the authority to evaluate the joint training of its forces, remediate deficiencies, and rationalize the joint training conducted by the combatant commands.

The development of USACOM?s joint force integrator role has been accompanied by considerable ambivalence. Initially adhering to its Implientation Plan?s description of joint force integration,3 the command attempted to apply the adaptive joint force packaging concept as the vehicle for guiding joint force integration efforts. After encountering stiff resistance from the supported geographic commands and receiving insufficient support from the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, USACOM redefined joint force integration to include identifying and integrating requirements for future force capabilities. Title 10 of the U.S. Code, however, assigns the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the responsibility for integrating requirements for future capabilities.

While the command?s expanded definition of joint force integration cannot be found in the Implientation Plan and is not provided for in current law or policy, it could lead to more effective and efficient execution of the CONUS-based power projection strategy. USACOM, however, should not subordinate its efforts to identify, package, train,and prepare CONUS-based joint formations and to expedite their deployment to the supported combatant commands. That task is its foremost joint force integrator responsibility, and it applies to deliberate planning and preparation as well as to crisis response situations.

Effective joint force integration requires a clear and logical trace from the supported commands? plans, through USACOM?s rationalization and integration process, to the joint formations designed to execute the plans. The most efficient method of ensuring such mission-to-task-to-capabilities congruence is for USACOM, in collaboration with the supported combatant commands and the Services, and with the approval of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to pre-designate joint task forces against the missions and tasks identified by the combatant commands. Neither an ad hoc nor a generic approach to joint force integration will provide the efficiency required to implient an effective CONUS-based power projection strategy.

The need for improving joint force integration will become more apparent as the geographic combatant commands complete and begin execution of their theater engagement plans. Those peacetime efforts to shape the international security environment will place continuous, competing demands on military resources that must be evaluated from cross-Service and cross-command perspectives. USACOM will be in the best position to assist the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense in providing jointly trained and integrated military capabilities to promote most efficiently the range of U.S. national security objectives during peacetime, given force structure and readiness constraints. Moreover, because of its familiarity with the combatant commands? contingency plans, USACOM will be able to assure the most effective transition from peacetime to wartime postures.

Once USACOM fully develops its joint force training and integration capabilities, duplication of effort between it and the Service components of the combatant commands can be resolved. Not all combatant commands will require a full suite of Service components as they exist today. For example, the European and Pacific Commands arguably may have a continuing need for Service components along traditional lines, but commands without substantial assigned forces may not. In the latter case, effective and efficient Service expertise may be provided by members of the CINC?s staff and may focus on Service support and sustainment of the command?s planned and on-going efforts.

Finally, USACOM?s complete evolution can be facilitated by significant changes to the Unified Command Plan. First, the command should be shorn of the remainder of its area of responsibility.

Furthermore, the Unified Command Plan should recognize USACOM?s successor, the Joint Forces Command, as a sui generis organization that is neither a combatant command nor a Service. With that in mind, the missions currently assigned to USACOM that go beyond its mission of providing trained and integrated joint forces to supported commands should be reassigned to a newly created Americas Command that would subsume the U.S. Southern Command.

The actions suggested by the foregoing analysis and conclusions would enable USACOM to become an organization capable of implienting the CONUS-based power projection strategy. While USACOM?s implientation plan may not have envisaged such an organization, the mission assigned by the plan?to provide jointly trained and integrated forces to the supported combatant commands?remains valid. USACOM?s interpretation that its mission includes facilitating the integration of joint requirements for future military capabilities should be viewed as an expansion rather than redefinition of its mission. If the command were to receive necessary external support and assistance and take the internal actions suggested in this study, Admiral Miller?s ?rheostat? could be turned to an intensity that even he and General Powell did not envisage.


1. Post-Cold War permanent overseas deployments of U.S. forces total only about 200,000. William J. Clinton, A National Security Strategy for a New Century, Washington, DC: The White House, May, 1997, pp. 21-28. As a more exact comparison, before the demise of the Soviet Union, over 500,000 U.S. personnel were deployed overseas. Of that number, about 340,000 were devoted to the European Command (EUCOM). The Pacific Command (PACOM) had about 135,000 forward deployed forces. By 1997, forces forward deployed in EUCOM?s area of responsibility (AOR) numbered about 111,000, and those in PACOM?s AOR totaled about 92,000. William S. Cohen, Annual Report to the President and Congress 1998, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998, p. C-2. Therefore, for U.S. presence in the PACOM AOR to equal the ?approximately 100,000? claimed in A National Security Strategy for a New Century (p. 23), one would have to count the West Coast forces assigned to PACOM.

2. Currently, U.S. Atlantic Command has command of over 80 percent of U.S. general purpose forces. Statement by General John J. Sheehan, USMC, Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command, before the Armed Services Committee United States Senate, March 13, 1997, http://www.acom.mil/public/new/cinst.htm, p. 1.

3. For example, see John M. Shalikashvili, National Military Strategy of the United States of America, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995, pp. 6-7.