Saturday, November 24, 2012

Military Budget: Keep the Circumstance, But Let's Go Easy on the Pomp

We will hear quite a bit in the coming days about the defense budget.

Yes!  It is not comparable to those of other nations because of our unusually high personnel costs.

Yes!  It is not comparable to those of other nations because of the amount of government research and general programs that fall under DoD.

Yes!  It is not comparable to those of other nations because of our unique worldwide training engagement requirements and our role in sea lane protection.

So when someone starts off with, "Our DoD budget exceeds our nearest competitor by..." or plays sound bite bingo with "combined total" "other nations" and "surpasses" you can rein them in a bit.

But...that doesn't change the fact that we're tremendously bloated and ripe for cuts.  Every time someone stands up and proposes specific cuts, the supporters of [insert name of program or department] will inevitably cry "But what about the troops?"  The people yelling that will likely be thinking about anything but the "troops" on whose behalf they cry.

Well, here's an area ripe for fixing:  General Officer Creep.  By using the term "Creep," I'm not referring to any particular General's behavior, but am instead adapting the way we say "Mission Creep" to refer to gradual expansions in a mission's scope that eventually lead it to grow to an unwieldy size.

We have more Flag Officers today (that's Generals and Admirals...rank O-7 and above) than we had in World War II.  That statistic is really all you need to know.  The ratio of Admirals to Ships in the Navy is the highest it has ever been (it's not quite 1:1, but it could conceivably get there if we contract the ship fleet further without pulling back on the # of Admirals).  If you look back at our last huge RIF (Reduction in Force), back in the early 1990s after Desert Storm, you can see that the combined number of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines is much lower...but the number of Flag Officers has GROWN.

Why is this such a big deal?  Because it's not *just* about those Officers themselves.  Anytime an Officer with two or more stars on his collar breathes, there is a phalanx of OTHER servicemembers complimenting him on the magical way he converts oxygen to carbon dioxide...and how he makes it look so natural and easy.  One General's salary isn't going to make your eyes pop out (base pay could be in the range of 10k to 12k per month) but when you start adding up all the accoutrements and then you add up the pay and benefits of the dedicated staff, you can start to see the size of the problem.  If we can get rid of that Flag billet, we can repurpose those enlisted folks and mid-grade officers in another direction.

Don't be deceived by the people who say that any cuts to our military budget will weaken our national defense posture or hurt the troops.

Any honest assessment of our defense spending has to begin with this statement:  For all its wonderful attributes and capabilities (and they are legion), the force is way too top-heavy.

Gates had the guts to say it, but he already had an eye on the exit door when he did.

Can Leon Panetta (or whoever might be about to replace him) muster up that same courage?  


C R Krieger said...

I am all for slicing $100 Billion off the Defense Budget, but it is going to come from manpower cuts and most of those in the ground forces.  I am all for looking at GO/FO (General Officer/Flag Office (Navy Admirals)) billets, but in some ways they are cheap force multipliers.  From my time on a NATO staff I became impressed by the ability of the Brits to have influence above their weight class by providing extra GO/FO bodies.

One of the things that make our defense outlays large is that we are not usually fighting at Gettysburg.  To move an Army Division is going to take all ten Fast Sealift Ships and 400 or so airlift sorties.  Ships and aircraft have to exist when you decide you want to move.  And you need firepower over there.  Not one Carrier Battle Group, but three.  A wing of Air Force fighters, plus airlift and Command and Control.  The fight doesn't come to us—we go to the fight.

If you like isolationism and a robust nuclear deterrent we can do it on the cheap, but don't then come up with an R2P mission to protect some oppressed minority, because it will take us months to reconstitute any kind of intervention force.

And, we don't just move our own forces.  A few years back when France helped Chad resist Libyian encroachment, they did it based upon US airlift moving the French forces.

Regards  —  Cliff

Jon and Kate said...

Great post.

C R Krieger said...

Mae that eight Fast Sealift Ships (FSS).

Regards  —  Cliff