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Too Many Generals?

too-many-generals

My latest for The National Interest, “Getting Rid of Generals Won’t Save Much Money, But It’s Still a Good Idea,” has posted.  The title gives you a very good idea where I’m going. Here’s an excerpt to give a bit more flavor:

Take the current Pacific Command organizational chart as an example. The four-star commander has a three-star deputy and a two-star chief of staff. There are nine J-code staff directors, who range from two-stars to colonel/captain rank, each of whom have a subordinate staff. There are three subordinate unified commands (Japan, Korea, and special operations) commanded by three-, four-, and two-star generals, respectively. Then there are four subordinate component commands, representing the services. The Army and Navy each have four-stars, while the Air Force and Marines have three-stars. There’s also a separate standing task force commanded by a rear admiral and a handful of special headquarters. And that’s just the top level of the organization.

Not only is that a lot of overlapping staff, with several four-stars reporting to one another (and in some cases to yet another) but it’s not even a warfighting headquarters. In the old days, a General Norman Schwarzkopf would run the war as the CENTCOM commander. Nowadays, we form a joint or combined task force, typically assigning either the deputy GCC or one of the component commanders as the task force commander and then designating a joint/combined ground force, maritime force, and air component commander. Why not just operate that way all the time rather than creating a new organization on the fly when it’s time to actually fight the force?

elatedly, the Senate plan would cut the number of four-star officers from the current 41 to 27, limiting the billets to the most obvious posts (“Chairman, Vice Chairman, and other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including the head of the National Guard Bureau; the Combatant Commanders”) plus “the Commander of U.S. Forces- Korea; one additional joint billet for which the President could nominate for advice and consent by the Senate an officer for a four-star joint command (such as the current mission in Afghanistan); and three additional four-star billets each for the Army, Navy, and Air Force to be filled as they choose.”

Indeed, from a pure unity of command perspective, the three “filled as they choose” slots for the services seem superfluous. It makes sense for the Joint Chiefs to be four-star officers. Ditto the combatant commanders, whether geographical or functional. They’re the core uniformed leadership of the armed forces. Likewise, it makes sense for commanders of especially large long-term task forces, such as the commanders in Korea and Afghanistan, to hold four-star rank, since they have multiple three-star subordinates.

It’s not obvious, however, why the vice-chiefs of the services need to also be four-star officers. Or the service-level component commanders at each of the combatant commands. Let alone the service-level Materiel Commands. The Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program?

Much more at the link.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I think it will save more money than you might think. Although the salaries aren’t an enormous chunk, their budgets add more and every three or four star has his or her pet projects that they promote and insist on funding. A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking real money.

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  2. gVOR08 says:

    Generals stars are sounding a little like participation trophies.

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  3. Scott says:

    At the end of the cold war, there was a downsizing of the military. To preserve the number of generals the AF made Wing Commanders Brigadier General slots instead of being Colonel slots. While all the services shrunk, there weren’t many GO slots cut.

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  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    It’s not obvious, however, why the vice-chiefs of the services need to also be four-star officers. Or the service-level component commanders at each of the combatant commands. Let alone the service-level Materiel Commands. The Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program?

    Because someone with enough experience and ability to run the naval nuclear propulsion program can probably retire from the service anytime they like, and would have plenty of opportunities outside the military, so a four star benefits package may be necessary to keep that sort of individual available?

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  5. Mu says:

    I think the main reason for the glut of generals is the lack of adaptation with the adoption of large joint commands and combined forces instead of traditional brigade/division/corps/army structures. As any subforce component has a commander the joint commander has to be the next level, and you end up with commands of much smaller numbers than the traditional rank would require. The US military might do better with more expansive crosstraining for the task of joint command to keep the rank dilution down.
    Or adopt the old German method of having separate peacetime and war ranks for the 5 star level (as field marshals were only authorized during war they had “general colonels in the rank of a field marshal” during peace time, with separate insignia). That way you can avoid 4 stars reporting to 4 stars.

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  6. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    I’m with Schuler on the savings available factor. The type of organizational structure (with out the stars, but you could sub Ed.Ds in Educational Leadership, I suppose) is typical of school districts and becoming typical even at the two-year college level (let alone 4-year and major-research universities where the structure started metastasizing developing 20-some years ago).

    The military does much more and differently with it’s money in terms of scale, but in the education sector, the growth of the administrative level has propelled it to 70 cents of every dollar spent on education in many districts and institutions. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a significant bloat in the military.

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  7. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Because someone with enough experience and ability to run the naval nuclear propulsion program can probably retire from the service anytime they like, and would have plenty of opportunities outside the military, so a four star benefits package may be necessary to keep that sort of individual available?

    Not so much. Here’s the quick bio of the previous and current Director:

    During his distinguished 33 years of naval service, Richardson has served in a variety of sea and shore billets including Commander, Submarine Forces, Commander, Submarine Group Eight, and Commanding Officer of USS Honolulu (SSN 718).

    Adm. Caldwell, a submariner and 1981 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, becomes the 7th Director, Naval Reactors. He has served in a variety of command positions afloat and ashore, including most recently as Director, Navy Staff. Prior to that he served as Naval Inspector General, Commander, Submarine Force Pacific Fleet, and Commanding Officer of USS Jacksonville (SSN 699).

    Impressive careesr, to be sure, although junior for four-star rank. But they’re by no means some sort of nuclear specialist.

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  8. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    Impressive careesr, to be sure, although junior for four-star rank. But they’re by no means some sort of nuclear specialist.

    33 > 20. He can retire from the military any time he likes and start collecting a sizeable pension. And he may not be a nuclear specialist, but I’m betting he could get a high level executive position at any number of companies or non-profits the second he decides he wants one.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Oh, sure. But that’s true of any FOGO—and becomes more true when you make them a 4-star, given the enhanced cachet.

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  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Right. They may not be experts on nuclear technology, but they’re probably expert at selling it to the Navy.

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