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Goldwater-Nichols Act

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The Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (PL 99-433) was a reorganization plan which focused the chain of command in military operations undertaken by the United States Department of Defense. It passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 383-27 and the Senate by a vote of 95-0. It was signed into law by President Reagan on October 1, 1986. The bill is named after Senator Barry Goldwater and Representative Bill Nichols.

The Goldwater-Nichols act of 1986 completely reorganized the United States military command structure in the most far-reaching organizational change since the creation of the Air Force as a separate entity in 1947.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act was motivated by major problems that inter-service rivalry had caused during United States military operations in the 1970s and 1980s. These had emerged as a problem during the Vietnam War, had contributed to the catastrophic failure of the Iranian hostage rescue mission in 1980, and were still evident in the invasion of Grenada in 1983.

Until 1947, there were two independent lines of command from the President, one through the Secretary of the Navy to naval forces, and the other through the Secretary of War to land forces. World War II provided many examples where interservice rivalry caused problems, and in 1947 there was a reorganization by which all military forces including the newly formed United States Air Force would report to a single civilian Secretary of Defense.

However, the United States military was still organized along lines of command that reported to their respective service chiefs (Chiefs of Staff of the Army and Air Force, and Chief of Naval Operations). These chiefs in turn made up the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs of Staff elected a Chairman to communicate with the civilian government. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in turn reported to the Secretary of Defense, the civilian head of the military. Both the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense reported to the President of the United States, who holds the position of commander-in-chief of all U.S. armed forces.

This system led to serious counter-productive inter-service rivalry. Peacetime activities (such as procurement and creation of doctrine, etc.) were tailored for each service in isolation. Just as seriously, wartime activities of each service were planned, executed, and evaluated independently. These practices resulted in division of effort, the inability to profit from economies of scale, and inhibited the development of modern warfare doctrine.

The formulation of the AirLand Battle doctrine in the late 1970s and early 1980s laid bare the difficulty of coordinating efforts among various service branches. AirLand Battle attempted to synthesize all of the capabilities of the service arms of the military into a single doctrine. The system envisioned ground, naval, air, and space based systems acting in concert to attack and defeat an opponent in depth. The structure of the armed forces effectively blocked realization of this ideal. The US invasion of Grenada in 1983 further exposed the problems with the military command structure. Although the United States prevailed, leaders expressed major concerns over the inability of different service branches to coordinate with each other, and the consequences of a lack of coordination if faced with a more threatening foe.

Under the provisions of the Goldwater-Nichols Act, operational authority was centralized through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs as opposed to the service chiefs. The chairman was designated as the principal military advisor to the President of the United States, National Security Council and Secretary of Defense. The act also established the position of Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and simplified the chain of command, increased the ability of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to direct overall strategy, and provided far greater power to "Unified and Specified" field commanders.

Goldwater-Nichols changed the way the services interact. Rather than reporting to a service chief, each service reported to a commander responsible for a specific function (Transportation, Space, Special Operations), or a geographic region of the globe (Europe, Middle East, etc.), known as the commander-in-chief (CINC) (pronounced "sink"). The combined arms commander then fielded a force capable of employing AirLand Battle doctrine (or its successors) using all assets available to the military. The restructuring afforded a combination of effort, integrated planning, shared procurement, and a reduction or elimination in inter-service rivalry between commanders. It also provided unity of command, comporting with Military Science. Individual services changed from war fighting entities into organizational and training units, responsible for readiness. Thus CENTCOM (Central Command) for example, would be assigned air, ground, and naval assets in order to achieve its objective, not the inefficient method of individual services planning, supporting, and fighting the same war.

Shared procurement allowed the various branches to share technological advances such as stealth and smart weapons quickly and provided other ancillary benefits (such as the interoperability of radios between services, heretofore unknown in the military). Joint implementation of new technology allowed for joint development of supporting doctrine.

The first successful test of Goldwater-Nichols was the 1991 Gulf War ("Operation Desert Storm"), where it functioned exactly as planned, allowing the U.S. commander, Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, to exercise full control over Army, Air Force and Navy assets without having to negotiate with the individual services.

On October 29, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered that the functional and regional commanders be referred to as "combatant commander" and not as CINC. This applied to to regional organizations (e.g., USCENTCOM) or "commander" when talking about a specified unit such as the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM). Rumsfeld's reason was his belief that the use of the term CINC drew unfavorable comparisons to the President of the United States, enshrined in the Constitution as the only Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Changing the title was designed to properly clarify the military's role vis--vis the civilian government.

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