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How the National Security Act of 1947 changed the US military forever

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February was a pretty important month for the US national security community. It was in February 1947 when President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act, changing the trajectory of the U.S. national security community forever.

President Harry Truman signing the National Security Act into law on July 26, 1947
President Harry Truman signing the National Security Act into law on July 26, 1947 (National Archives).

The National Security Act of 1947 created the Department of Defense, the Department of the Air Force, the U.S. Air Force (up to this point the Air Force fell under the Army and was known as the U.S. Army Air Corps), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Council (NSC). In addition, it deactivated the War Department and the Navy Department and brought them under the newly established Department of Defense.

A couple of years later, the National Security Act was amended to give the Secretary of Defense more powers over the different services and consolidate military bureaucracy under him.

The Act’s preface stated that it was “An Act To promote the national security by providing for a Secretary of Defense; for a National Military Establishment; for a Department of the Army, a Department of the Navy, and a Department of the Air Force; and for the coordination of the activities of the National Military Establishment with other departments and agencies of the Government concerned with the national security.”

A B-52 Stratofortress leads a formation of Air Force and Navy F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15 Eagles, and F-18 Hornets over the USS Kitty Hawk, USS Nimitz and USS John C. Stennis Strike Groups. (U.S. Navy photo/Petty Officer 2nd Class Jarod Hodge)

Another important piece of policy introduced by the National Security Act was the creation of military combatant commands. Today, there are 11 combatant commands, divided into six geographic and four functional, each commanded by a four-star officer.

Here are the seven geographic combatant commands:

  • US Northern Command (NORTHCOM)   
  • US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)
  • US European Command (EUCOM)
  • US Africa Command (AFRICOM)
  • US Central Command (CENTCOM)
  • US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM)
  • US Space Command (SPACECOM)

Here are the four functional combatant commands:

  • US Special Operations Command (SOCOM)
  • US Strategic Command (STRATCOM)
  • US Transportation Command (TRANSCOM)
  • US Cyber Command (CYBERCOM)

The geographic combatant commands are responsible for different parts of the world and include troops from all services. The functional commands are responsible for specific types of operations, such as special operations, anywhere in the world. So, for example, when an Army Special Forces detachment deploys to Africa, it doesn’t fall under the geographic command responsible for the African continent (AFRICOM) but under the command responsible for special operations (SOCOM).

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This article was originally published 3/1/2021

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Stavros Atlamazoglou

Greek Army veteran (National service with 575th Marines Battalion and Army HQ). Johns Hopkins University. You will usually find him on the top of a mountain admiring the view and wondering how he got there.