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Home : About : Origin of Joint Concepts

Origin of Joint Concepts

American history reflects the importance of joint operations. Captain Thomas MacDonough's naval operations on Lake Champlain were a vital factor in the ground campaigns of the War of 1812. The teamwork displayed by General U. S. Grant and Admiral David D. Porter in the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863 is a fine example of joint military planning and execution. However, confusion and lack of coordinated, joint military action raised public criticism in the Cuban campaign of the Spanish-American War (1898). By the turn of the century, war had become too complex for ad hoc joint planning to be successful.

After the Spanish-American War, a joint board composed of the military heads of the Army and the Navy and the chief planner of each Service was established in 1903. The Joint Army and Navy Board was intended to plan for joint operations and resolve pr oblems of common concern to the two Services. But, the Joint Board accomplished little; its charter gave it no actual authority to enforce its decisions. Denied the capacity to originate opinions, the Joint Board was limited to commenting on problems submitted to it by the secretaries of the two Military Departments; it was described as "a planning and deliberative body rather than a center of executive authority." As a result, the Joint Board had little or no impact on the conduct of the First World War.

After World War I, the two Service secretaries agreed to reestablish and revitalize the Joint Board. Membership was expanded to six: the Chiefs of the two Services, their deputies, and the Chief of War Plans Division for the Army and Director of Plans Division for the Navy. More important, a working staff (named the Joint Planning Committee) made up of members of the plans divisions of both Service staffs was authorized. The new Joint Board could initiate recommendations on its own. However, the 1919 board was given no more legal authority or responsibility than its 1903 predecessor. Although its 1935 publication, Joint Action of the Army and Navy, gave some guidance for the joint operations of World War II, the Board was not influential in the war. The board was officially disbanded in 1947.

Origin of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Soon after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill, at the Arcadia Conference in Washington, established the Combined Chiefs of Staff as the supreme military body for strategic direction of the Anglo-American war effort. But the United States had no established agency to furnish U.S. input to such a committee. The British Chiefs of Staff Committee, on the other hand, had long given effective administrative coordination, tactical coordination, and strategic direction to British forces. The British committee had planning and intelligence staffs to coordinate the war effort, as well as serving as a "corporate" body for giving military advice to the War Cabinet and the Prime Minister. The collective responsibility of the British committee was set by the Prime Minister in 1924 and given to each new member as a directive.

In response to the need for coordinated staff work, the concept described by Admiral Leahy as a "unified high command" was adopted by the United States in 1942. That group came to be known as the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. This first Joint Chiefs of Staff worked throughout the war without legislative sanction or even formal Presidential definition, a status that President Roosevelt believed preserved the flexibility required to meet the needs of the war. The first members of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff were the "opposite numbers" to the British Chiefs of the Army, the Navy, and the Royal Air Force (an autonomous and coequal military organization): Admiral William D. Leahy, President Roosevelt's special military adviser, with the title of Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy; General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the Army; Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet; and General Henry H. Arnold, Deputy Army Chief of Staff for Air and Chief of the Army Air Corps. Each member was promoted to Five-Star rank in December 1944, when the grades of General of the Army and Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy were established.

The Arcadia Conference also gave formal definition to the terms "JOINT," as involving two or more Services of the same nation, and "COMBINED," as applying to organizations, plans, and operations of two or more nations.

Under President Roosevelt's leadership, the JCS steadily grew in influence and became the primary agent in coordinating and giving strategic direction to the Army and Navy. In combination with the British Chiefs of Staff, it mapped and issued broad st rategic direction for both nations.

At the end of World War II, the need for a formal structure of joint command was apparent and the wartime Joint Chiefs of Staff offered a workable model. The first legislative step was the passage of the National Security Act of 1947 which formally es tablished the Joint Chiefs of Staff and laid the foundation for the series of legislative and executive changes that produced today's defense organization. The most recent major congressional action is the 1986 Department of Defense Reorganization Act, commonly known as the Goldwater-Nichols Act.