The 2002 Unified Command Plan: Changes and Implications

February 21, 2003

The 2002 Unified Command Plan (UCP) has revised and expanded existing missions, theaters and duties for several military commands. Among those changes, the new UCP has created commands devoted to domestic protection and military transformation, as well as expanding the global functions of other commands. The modifications are part of a mandatory biennial review process undertaken by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) and approved by the Secretary of Defense and the President to better adapt American strategic military responsibilities to changing geopolitical situations worldwide

The UCP changes illustrate current transformational trends within the Department of Defense (DoD). The military is confronting new and unconventional threats to the United States at home and around the globe. It must also keep abreast of rapid technological advancements to maintain American strategic dominance. Genuine military transformation not only will incorporate the latest information technology and computer innovations but will require structural and procedural changes within the armed forces. DoD officials have prioritized the military’s capability for global response, homeland defense and counterproliferation

As a reflection of this, the 2002 UCP has shifted its emphasis from regional theaters to strategic global functions. With increased clout given to long-range precision strikes, C4 ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and special operations, DoD appears to be pursuing the Afghanistan model of military use of force, relying on airpower, advanced sensors and unconventional ground operations for combat success. The Army’s place in this dynamic appears to be shifting as well, with fewer combatant commanders, despite its significant combat role and resource commitments worldwide.

The 2002 UCP, announced in April 2002, established U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) for homeland defense and civil support missions. The plan redesignated U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) from its geographic responsibilities to a functional combatant mission focusing on transformation. Under the revision U.S. European Command (EUCOM) expanded its geographic area of responsibility (AOR) to include Russia and the majority of the Atlantic Ocean. Further amendments to the UCP, announced in June 2002, merged U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) and U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM). The Secretary of Defense announced four specific revisions to the STRATCOM task list in January 2003, expanding its role to include global strike, missile defense, information operations and C4 ISR.

Decisionmaking authority emanates from the President to the Secretary of Defense directly to combatant commanders. The direction guides the process for UCP implementation. A second authority structure runs from the President and Secretary of Defense to the secretary of each military branch.

The 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) emphasized the importance of homeland defense and military transformation in the changing strategic environment, particularly since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. The current UCP has incorporated those priorities and will put them into practice.