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U.S. War Colleges

Career-long education is a cornerstone tradition of the American military. The capstone of the America's professional military education systems is the War College, or, more correctly, the Senior Service Colleges (SSCs). While each of the four primary SSCs reflects its service origins, students attending each are selected from the five military services, from civilian agencies, and from allied nations. The collective mission of the SSCs is to prepare senior leaders for duties of responsibility and to enhance their ability to make sound decisions in command, staff, and managerial positions. Each SSC provides interdisciplinary instruction in national strategy and operational arts, and seeks to instill a commitment to joint service and combined operations. SSCs also serve as centers for research, doctrinal development, and war gaming, focusing on issues of strategy and international relations, national security policy and mobilization, executive management and leadership, and the operational command of joint and multinational forces.

The oldest of these institutions, the Naval War College (NWC), was established at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1884 to provide an advanced course of professional study for naval officers. Commodore Stephen B. Luce served as its first president. Luce viewed the college as "a place of original research on all questions relating to war, and to statesmanship connected to war, or the prevention of war" (Naval War College website). Instructors were recruited from the Navy, other services, and civilian universities, shaping an interdisciplinary faculty that is characteristic of all the SSCs in the early twenty-first century.

The NWC is actually a university, home to five named colleges and numerous departments and specialized programs. Its SSC-level program for senior officers is housed in the College of Naval Warfare. The College of Naval Command and Staff educates midcareer officers selected from all five armed services and other governmental agencies. The Naval Command College serves senior naval officers from allied nations, while the Naval Staff College provides training for midgrade allied officers. The College of Continuing Education develops and administers a nonresident program equivalent of the College of Naval Command and Staff. Among its many departments is the War Gaming Department. Battle simulations have been part of the Naval War College curriculum since 1887, and they are used today to train leaders at all levels and to evaluate doctrinal concepts and operational techniques.

The Army War College (AWC) was established by Secretary of War Elihu Root in 1903. Root envisioned a learning institution "not to promote war, but to preserve peace" with a mission "to study and confer on the great problems of national defense, of military science, and of responsible command." Housed at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, the AWC focuses on education, research, and outreach. Three hundred American and allied students attend the resident course each year, while thousands of others participate in specialized programs and research projects. The Department of Distance Learning conducts an SSC-equivalent nonresident course, employing advanced Internet-based learning tools, and extensive professional readings and written reflection. Specialized programs include the Center for Strategic Leadership, Military History Institute, Peacekeeping Institute, and the Strategic Studies Institute.

The Air University (AU), located at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, was established in 1946, and has a broad education scope. Collectively, its five named colleges seek to "educate Air Force people to develop and lead the world's best aerospace force and to inspire commitment to a war-winning profession of arms" (Air University website). The Air War College educates senior officers to lead at the strategic level in the employment of aerospace forces, including joint operations, in support of national security. The AU also includes the Air Command and Staff College, the College of Aerospace Doctrine, the Department of Research and Education (specializing in war gaming), the College of Enlisted Professional Education, and the Community College of the Air Force.

The National Defense University (NDU), headquartered in Washington, D.C., serves the educational needs of uniformed and civilian officials from the Defense and State Departments and other federal agencies by focusing on the resource component of national power. NDU colleges emphasize material acquisition, industrial mobilization, and joint logistics. NDU oversees the educational and research programs of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Joint Forces Staff College, Information Resources Management College, the National War College, the Institute for National Strategic Studies, and the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies.

Collectively, the Senior Service Colleges, and the professional education systems they represent, are a national education asset of great value. Each employs a full range of advanced teaching techniques and information-age technologies, from case-based learning and simulations to distance learning and across-the-curriculum interdisciplinary studies. Graduation from one of these highly selective programs is the professional equivalent of a doctoral degree in other fields.


BALL, HARRY P. 1983. Of Responsible Command. The History of the U.S. Army War College. Carlisle Barracks, PA: Alumni Association of the U.S. Army War College.


AIR UNIVERSITY. 2002. <www.au.af.mil/au/schools/awc.html>.

ARMY WAR COLLEGE. 2002. <http://carlisle-www.army.mil>.


NAVAL WAR COLLEGE. 2002. <www.nwc.navy.mil>.


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