Defense Headquarters:

Geographic Combatant Commands Rely on Subordinate Commands for Mission Management and Execution

GAO-16-652R: Published: Jun 30, 2016. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 2016.

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What GAO Found

Data provided by the Department of Defense (DOD) shows that 22,170 total authorized permanent and temporary military and civilian personnel are allocated to five geographic combatant commands and their service component commands, subordinate unified commands, and joint task forces. Service component commands are established by the individual military services and provide administrative control over assigned forces, but can provide operational control when delegated from the combatant command. Subordinate unified commands are established by the Secretary of Defense and manage operations within a geographic area or on a functional basis. Joint task forces are, in most cases, established by the combatant commander for a focused and temporary purpose, although they may be more long-lasting organizations if there is a continuing requirement. The service component commands account for the largest allocation of personnel with 10,799 (48 percent). Additionally, military personnel make up 14,656 (66 percent) of the total authorized personnel among all the commands. Some commands are also supported by contractor personnel, but the availability of data on the number of contractor personnel varies and could not be quantified consistently by all the commands.

GAO found that the combatant commands delegate operational and tactical level mission execution to service component commands, subordinate unified commands, and joint task forces, allowing the combatant command headquarters to focus on planning and oversight. For example, U.S. Southern Command has delegated its mission to manage the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO). However, the extent to which each combatant command utilizes service component commands, subordinate unified commands, and joint task forces to execute assigned missions varies. For example, U.S. Northern Command includes four service component commands, two subordinate unified command, and three joint task forces, while U.S. Pacific Command includes four service component commands, three subordinate unified commands, and a joint task force. The joint task forces in the geographic combatant commands within GAO's scope are utilized to address continuing mission requirements and have existed for at least a decade, and several pre-date their parent combatant command. For example, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, a subordinate command to U.S. Africa Command, was originally established in 2002, prior to the combatant command itself, and continues to address an ongoing mission requirement. GAO is not making any recommendations in this report.

Why GAO Did This Study

To perform its variety of missions around the world, the Department of Defense (DOD) operates six geographic commands, which manage all military operations in designated areas of responsibility: U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Pacific Command, and U.S. Southern Command.

GAO was asked to review missions and structures of the combatant commands. This report describes (1) DOD's current allocation of personnel to the geographic commands and their subordinate commands (service component commands, subordinate unified commands, and joint task forces), excluding U.S. Central Command; and (2) how the geographic combatant commands utilize their subordinate commands to accomplish assigned missions. For this review, GAO obtained and analyzed documentation on authorized permanent and temporary military and civilian personnel and assigned missions at five geographic combatant commands (U.S. Africa Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Pacific Command, and U.S. Southern Command) and their service component commands, subordinate unified commands, and joint task forces. Additionally, GAO included the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), because, according to U.S. Northern Command officials, each command has personnel that support both commands. GAO excluded U.S. Central Command and its corresponding subordinate commands due to its responsibilities to support ongoing military operations in the Middle East. GAO also interviewed knowledgeable officials regarding the authorized personnel at each command and how they meet their assigned missions.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is not making any recommendations in this report.

For more information, contact John Pendleton at 202-512-3489 or pendletonj@gao.gov.

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