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Encyclopedia > United States Military
United States armed forces
Military manpower
Military age 18 years of age
Availability males & females ages 15-49: 73,597,731 (2004 est.)
Reaching military age annually males/females: 2,124,164 (2004 est.)
Military expenditures
Dollar figure $400 billion (FY2005 est.)
Percent of GDP 2.7% (FY2005 est.)

The armed forces of the United States of America consist of the

Note: The United States Coast Guard has both military and law enforcement functions. Title 14, United States Code, Section 1, states "The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times." In peacetime it is part of the Department of Homeland Security, but in wartime becomes part of the Department of Defense. Coast Guard units have seen combat in every war of the United States, including the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The combined United States armed forces consists of 1.4 million active duty personnel along with several hundred thousand each in the Reserves and National Guard. There is currently no conscription.

The United States military is a hierarchical military organization, with a system of military ranks to denote levels of authority within the organization. The military service is divided into a professional officer corps along with a greater number of enlisted personnel who perform day to day miltiary operations. Unlike certain other countries, the United States officer corps is not restrcited by society class, education, or nobility. United States military officers are appointed from a variety of sources, including the service academies, ROTC, and direct appointment from both civilian status and the enlisted ranks.

The U.S. military also maintains a number of military awards and badges to denote the qualifications and accomplishments of military personnel.

On July 26, 1948 U.S. President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which racially desegregated the military of the United States. Homosexuals, however, are still barred from serving openly.



Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States. — President George W. Bush, National Security Strategy, Chapter IX, September 2002.

The United States military is unique in the amount of power it can project globally. Although France and the United Kingdom are capable of projecting limited amounts of power overseas, the United States military is the only military capable of fighting a major regional war at a distance from its homeland. The U.S. military is also one of the few nations in the world that has a sizable nuclear arsenal and maintains active doctrines for plausible nuclear attack operations. Although, it is the standing policy of the United States military to never strike an opponent first with nuclear weapons, but rather as retaliation to similar attacks. The most recent approch to this doctrine was during the Gulf War when the United States military threatened a nuclear strike on Iraq should the Iraqi military deploy chemical and biological weapons against U.S. troops.

As such, much of the U.S. military capabilities are tied up in logistics and transportation, which allow rapid buildup of forces as needed. The Air Force maintains a large fleet of C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster, and C-130 Hercules transportation aircraft. The Marine Corps maintains Marine Expeditionary Units at sea with the Navy's Atlantic and Pacific Fleets. The Navy's fleet of 12 aircraft carriers, combined with a military doctrine of power projection, enable a flexible response to potential threats.

The United States Army is not as portable as the Marine Corps, but Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker announced a reorganization of the Army's active-duty units into 48 brigade groups with an emphasis on power projection.


Under the United States Constitution, the President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The President is responsible for ordering the armed forces through the Secretary of Defense to perform an objective. To coordinate military action with diplomatic action, the President has an advisory National Security Council.

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 illustrated many cases 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, Commandants of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, 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 simultaneously holds the military rank of commander-in-chief.

This system lead 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 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.

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.

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.

United States military organization now flows from service arm generals (such as the commander of an Army division or corps), to the appropriate regional or functional combatant commander. The combatant commander reports to the Secretary of Defense. Both the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense report to the president, the national CINC. As a result of these changes, the Joint Chiefs of Staff no longer have operational control of regional command, but they act as a military advisory body for the President. In practice, the combatant commander advises both the Chairman and the Secretary as to conditions in his area of responsibility.

On October 29, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered the use of the term CINC to be changed to the term "combatant commander" and immediately be used when referring 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 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 felt to properly clarify the military's role vis a vis the civilian government.

National Command organizational chart

 -------------------President------------------- | | | | | | | | | | | SECDEF ----------| | | | | | | | | | | Chairman JCOS NSC | | | | | | JCOS | | | | | Regional Combatant Commander or Commander (specific command,e.g. STRATCOM) | | Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Responsible commanding General 

The United States is a party to the Australia, New Zealand, United States security treaty and the NATO treaty.

Each service is responsible for providing military units to the commanders of the various Unified Commands. The nine Unified Commands and their commanders as of January 2003, are shown in the next two sections.

The five regional Unified Commands

AORs for regional Unified Commands
image:Unified Command map s.jpg
  • United States Northern Command (http://www.northcom.mil) (NORTHCOM), Admiral Timothy J. Keating (USN), Commander
    • NORTHCOM's "area of responsibility" ("AOR") covers air, land and sea approaches encompassing the continental United States (including Alaska), Canada, Mexico, and the surrounding water out to approximately 500 nautical miles. It also includes the Gulf of Mexico, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Island states, territories, and possessions (including Hawaii) in the Pacific Ocean fall under the AOR of the U.S. Pacific Command. NORTHCOM provides homeland defense and coordinates homeland security with civilian forces. The commander of NORTHCOM is also the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). NORTHCOM was formed in 2001 in response to the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks. Before 2001, the US and Canada were not part of any military command, with the exception of Alaska, which was formerly under Alaskan Air Command, and is currently jointly part of Alaskan Command.
  • United States Central Command (http://www.centcom.mil/default.htm) (CENTCOM), General John Abizaid (US Army), Commander
  • United States European Command (http://www.eucom.mil/index.htm) (EUCOM), General James L. Jones (USMC), Commander
  • United States Pacific Command (http://www.pacom.mil/index.shtml) (PACOM), Admiral Thomas B. Fargo (USN), Commander
  • United States Southern Command (http://www.southcom.mil) (SOUTHCOM), General James T. Hill (US Army), Commander

The four other Unified Commands

  • United States Special Operations Command (http://www.socom.mil) (SOCOM), General Charles R. Holland (USAF), Commander
    • SOCOM's AOR is to provide special operations for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Component commands are USASOC, AFSOC and NAVSPECWAR.
  • United States Joint Forces Command (http://www.jfcom.mil) (JFCOM), Admiral Edmund P. Giambastiani (USN), Commander
    • JFCOM supports other commands as a joint force provider. Component commands include FORSCOM, ACC, LANTFLT, MARFORLANT and SOCJFCOM. JFCOM originated as United States Atlantic Command, but its regional responsiblities have been split between NORTHCOM and EUCOM.
  • United States Strategic Command (http://www.stratcom.mil) (STRATCOM), Admiral James O. Ellis, Jr. (USN), Commander
    • STRATCOM's AOR covers the strategic deterrent force (ICBMs and other nuclear weapons) of the United States. It commands all of these forces, whether air (missiles and bombers), ground (artillery), or naval (nuclear strike submarines-SSBNs), regardless of location. With the merger of SPACECOM and STRATCOM in 2002, STRATCOM now also coordinates the use of space assets for support, intelligence, and command and control; this includes aerial refueling and airborne, satellite and computer network communications. Component operations include DSCS ground stations and satellites, JTF/CNO, JIOC, NNSOC and SPACEAF.
  • United States Transportation Command (http://www.transcom.mil) (TRANSCOM), General John W. Handy (USAF), Commander
    • TRANSCOM's AOR covers global mobility of all military assets for all regional commands. Component commands include Air Mobility Command (AMC), Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (MSDDC) and Military Sealift Command (MSC).

Budget comparison

The United States military budget is larger than the military budgets of the next twenty biggest spenders combined, and six times larger than Russia's, which places second. The United States and its close allies are responsible for approximately two-thirds of all military spending on Earth (of which, in turn, the U.S. is responsible for two-thirds), dollar for dollar. Military spending accounts for more than half of the United States' federal discretionary spending, which is all of the U.S. government's money not spoken for by pre-existing obligations. [1] (http://www.globalissues.org/Geopolitics/ArmsTrade/Spending.asp)

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2003 the United States spent approximately 47% of the world's total military spending of US$956,000,000,000.

Reasons for large U.S. military expenditures

There exist a number of reasons for comparatively large American military spending.

First, as of the early 21st century, the American military is unique among national militaries in its goal to maintain a large number of capabilities and to have the ability to project power globally. If its only goal were to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent and sufficient forces to defend against a direct attack on the American homeland, it could well have made do with a much smaller budget. However, the goals of the American military are much more expansive than that.

Since the 1940s, there has been a national consensus within the United States that the American military must maintain the capability to fight and win wars overseas in order to defend American allies and to maintain control over the high seas to protect American trade from disruption. This definition of American national interest began in World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor which ended any widespread support for isolationism. This way of thinking continued during the Cold War during which it was believed that the United States must maintain a global military presence to defend against Communist forces lead by the Soviet Union. By the 1990s, the Soviet threat had largely disappeared, however there remains a national consensus that the United States must maintain a global military presence to uphold democracy and maintain international stability.

As of the early 21st century, the United States is the only military in the world which is capable of global operations. Maintaining the ability to conduct operations throughout the world include the need to maintain power projection capabilities and the ability to deal with unexpected events - this includes the ability to fight (and win) multiple wars at the same time.

Second, the United States spends a great deal on its military because it can. Although the aggregate amount of military spending is large, it represents a relatively small fraction of the total United States economy, and unlike the case with the Soviet Union, the amount spent by the US appears to be sustainable.

Third, while there is a national consensus within the United States to maintain a military of global capability, there is also a national consensus to minimize the human cost to the United States both in terms of number of possible casualties and in terms of the overall size of the military. The solution to this dilemma has been to focus on improvements in technology, and hence the American military is committed to having a technological edge over its potential enemies and an expensive research program to maintain such an edge. Defense related research over the years yielded such major breakthroughs as space exploration, computers, the Internet, hypertext, nuclear energy, Global Position System, stealth aircraft, "smart" weapons, better bullet-proof vests, microwaves, and more recently lasers that can shoot down cruising missiles.

Military technology maintains a close relationship with the civilian economy and has contributed to general technological and economic development of the USA, and often, via technology transfer, other countries as well. Conversely, the military has also benefited from the American civilian infrastructure. This, however, is very expensive.

Fourth and finally, when comparing defense expenditures in the USA and in other nations, it must be appreciated that the buying power of money is different in different places. For instance, with relatively high American general living standards, paying decent salaries to American soldiers, who are all volunteers serving on a contract, is expensive in absolute terms. By comparison, countries with lower living standards with volunteer militaries (e.g. China or India), as well as those who draft men for the military and pay them only basic living expenses (e.g. Russia, both Koreas, and Taiwan), would spend a lot less in dollar terms to maintain similar personnel strength. Similarly, military technology produced by civilian companies in the USA and bought by the American military would be more expensive than that produced by Chinese companies and for the Chinese military simply because of lower production costs due to lower living standards, even in cases where the technological sophistication of goods procured is equivalent.

See also

External links

  • United States Order of Battle (http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/9059/usaob.html)
  • kamouflage.net: online index of camouflage uniforms from around the world (http://www.kamouflage.net/)
    • kamouflage.net > North America > United States of America > index (http://www.kamouflage.net/camouflage/00181/en_index.php)

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