Rapid Deployment Force

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In 1977, a presidential directive called for a mobile force capable of responding to worldwide contingencies but to be established without diverting forces from NATO or Korea. Not until the aftermath of the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the acknowledgment of a Soviet combat brigade in Cuba in that same year, however, did a concerted effort to establish the force envisioned in the directive begin. These events led to President Carter announcing before a television audience on 1 October 1979 the existence of the Rapid Deployment Force, or RDF. The concept was to develop forces that could operate independently, with neither forward bases nor the facilities of friendly nations; geographical areas cited as requiring such cover included Korea, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East. Conceived as a force with a global orientation, the RDF soon focused its attention and planning on the Persian Gulf region. This narrowing of emphasis was precipitated by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on 26 December 1979 and the subsequent announcement of the Carter Doctrine with respect to the Gulf region in January 1980. The Carter Doctrine stated that the Persian Gulf area, because of its oil fields, was of vital interest to the United States, and that any outside attempt to gain control in the area would be "repelled by use of any means necessary, including military force."

With evolving interpretations of the RDFfs purpose and geographic orientation, the command structure of the RDF has also undergone repeated change. Operation of an RDF headquarters (formally known until 1 January 1983 as the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force—RDJTF) officially began at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida on 1 March 1980. Initially commanded by a Lieutenant General, the headquarters was adjoined to the U.S. Readiness Command (formerly U.S. Strike Command) also located in Tampa. This command relationship proved unsatisfactory, however, as there was no single channel of communication through which the RDF commander could communicate directly to the Secretary of Defense on matters specifically relating to the RDF.

On 24 April 1981, Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger announced that the RDJTF would evolve into a separate command with specific geographic responsibilities. The planned change was favorably received in the Congress, though not unanimously. Both the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the Senate Committee on Appropriations expressed their concern ". . .about the absence of an organized effort to plan and provide for possible power projection requirements in other Third World areas which are also critical to U.S. interests." The decision to focus the attention of the RDJTF solely on Southwest Asia—to the exclusion of other areas, such as central and southern Africa—did little to ease this concern. In 1983 the RDJTF became a separate unified command known as the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). The commander enjoys the same stature as other theater commanders, and he reports directly to the Secretary of Defense. His operational planning responsibility is limited to Southwest Asia only. The Department of Defense distinguishes between the U.S. Central Command and the RDF. The Central Command is primarily a planning headquarters; the forces available to it are the RDF.


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