Joint Chiefs of Staff

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In the United States military, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) are a committee of the senior officers of the uniformed services, headed by a Chairman and Vice Chairman. The JCS is responsible for developing national security strategy, but is not in the direct line of command of forces in the field.

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ADM Mike Mullen, U.S. Navy
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff GEN James Cartwright, U.S. Marine Corps
Chief of Staff of the Army GEN George Casey
Chief of Naval Operations ADM Gary Roughead
Chief of Staff of the Air Force GEN Norton Schwartz
Commandant of the Marine Corps GEN James Conway
See also: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Since the original legislation establishing the JCS, the role of the Chairman has been strengthened to be the principal military advisor to the President and Secretary of Defense of the United States; the Chairman, in turn, is advised by the service chiefs. The Chairman, however, does not initiate operational orders, although he will assist the National Command Authority in drafting, issuing and explaining them.


While there was an informal Joint Chiefs of Staff organization during the Second World War, the organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was formalized by the National Security Act of 1947.[1] That legislation made the CJCS a statutory advisor to the National Security Council, although not a voting member of the NSC. Under the U.S. system of civilian control of the military, the United States Secretary of Defense actually is the head of the Department of Defense.

Originally, the individual uniformed service chiefs were equals, with the Chairman chairing their committee and having his own staff, but being on a par with the:

With the passage of what is usually called the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1968, or, formally, the Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1968, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was made the senior member, and the position of Vice Chairmanestablished. This act made the CJCS the principal military advisor to the President[2], the Chairman was designated as

... the principal military adviser to the President, the National Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense...After first informing the Secretary of Defense, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may make such recommendations to Congress relating to the Department of Defense as he considers appropriate.

The Chairman and his staff may assist the passage of orders from the National Command Authority to the Unified Combatant Commanders. Goldwater-Nichols made it clear that the operational chain of command runs from the President, to the Secretary of Defense, to the commanders of the geographic (e.g., Pacific Command) and functional (e.g., Strategic Command) Unified Combatant Commands (UCC). [3]

Joint Staff

For more information, see: Joint Staff.

A Joint Staff, legally limited to 400 officers, assists the Chairman, and supports the JCS in their joint function. It is forbidden from acting as an operational staff, and is specifically responsible to the Chairman, not the group.

JCS Responsibilities

The JCS prepares master doctrines and plans, with a great number of implementing processes, instructions and guidelines. A key process is the Joint Strategic Planning System (JSPS), which produces the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP).


"This System provides providing strategic direction to the Armed Forces; prepares strategic plans; prepares and reviews joint operation plans; advises the President and Secretary of Defense on requirements, programs, and budgets; and provides net assessment on the capabilities of the Armed Forces of the United States and its allies as compared with those of their potential adversaries.[4]


The JSCP allocates resources to the Unified Combatant Commands, based on priorities given to their missions, the military budget, and intelligence assessments of the threats to the UCCs. The Plan provides a coherent framework for capabilities-based military advice provided to the President and Secretary of Defense (i.e., the National Command Authority).<ref name=JP1-02>