Mullen Signals Sea Change

Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the graduating class of the Army War College to accept responsibility, listen to their subordinates, and broaden their horizons. He also signaled a radical transformation of the way the Defense Department does business.

Mike Mullen Army War College Speech Photo The chairman also called on a national discourse on defense. “Quite frankly, I don’t believe our armed forces are as balanced as they need to be for that future,” he said. “That’s why I have so strongly argued for a renewed debate in this country about the level of defense spending.”

He said he would like to see a thoughtful reevaluation of the threats America faces and the risks the country is willing to run. He suggested the country should invest roughly 4 percent of gross domestic product in national defense. “Whether we stay at that level or rise above it is, of course, for the American people to decide, but we ought to have that discussion,” he said. “Maintaining a force that is correctly shaped, sized, trained and equipped so that we may adequately defend our nation is our most pressing long-term problem.”

Like Phil Carter, I see this as momentous and long overdue. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking but I think Phil’s interpretation is correct:

Mullen is speaking in code here. When he uses the word “balanced,” he’s referring to the allocation of resources among and within the services. Consider that along with his comments about counterinsurgency and the need for full-spectrum operations, and it’s clear he’s talking about a massive reallocation of Pentagon money and a dramatic reordering of priorities. More troops, especially those useful for small wars (special operations, intelligence, logistics, military police, civil affairs, etc.). Fewer high-tech aircraft, like the Joint Strike Fighter. More versatile low-tech aircraft, like the C-17 transport plane or the UH-60 helicopter. And many more changes along those lines.

I’ve been arguing, along with many others, for these things since the early 1990s. These things were obvious to me during the Somalia operation and without the benefit of a senior service college education. Indeed, there was widespread agreement on the need to transform, not merely resize, the force for the post-Cold War era. Except at the margins, though, it didn’t happen because entrenched interests and institutional inertia coalesced around saving the big ticket programs. It’s high time that we get past those barriers.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Military Affairs, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    Except at the margins, though, it didn’t happen because entrenched interests and institutional inertia coalesced around saving the big ticket programs. It’s high time that we get past those barriers.

    I agree–the big ticket items are not going to be very useful to stop a handful of nuts armed with $2.99 boxcutters from hijacking an airplane.

    But how do you reconcile this with Mullen’s call to increase the military budget by 18%?

    It seems that an honest threat assessment would find that there are more efficient ways to allocate existing resources and that such a radical level of expenditure would be unwise..

  2. James Joyner says:

    It seems that an honest threat assessment would find that there are more efficient ways to allocate existing resources and that such a radical level of expenditure would be unwise.

    Manpower, especially highly educated and trained manpower, is expensive.

  3. Triumph says:

    Manpower, especially highly educated and trained manpower, is expensive.

    Sure, but what you and Phil seem to be saying is that (to quote Phil): “it’s clear he’s talking about a massive reallocation of Pentagon money and a dramatic reordering of priorities.”

    By arguing for an 18% bump in the military budget Mullen isn’t arguing for a “reallocation” at all–that implies shifting around the amount of money they are already getting.

    He is advocating for a massive increase.

    There are currently about 1.5 million active duty forces and another 1.5 million reservists (or 105,000 Full Time Equivalents). If Mullen got his way that would be about $50,000 in additional revenue per soldier.

    That’s no reallocation–that’s a money grab.

  4. William d'Inger says:

    Triumph, you obviously never had to negotiate an increase within the Federal budget system. If you need a 3% raise, you ask for 18% and pray your guts out for 1.8%. If you ask for the needed amount, you’re naive.

    It has been obvious to me for years now that the Army needs more soldiers and the Air Force needs less F-22s. All those extended tours in the Middle East and rapid turnaround in redeployments is grinding down the troops, and they aren’t using the F-22s they already have.

  5. legion says:

    More troops, especially those useful for small wars (special operations, intelligence, logistics, military police, civil affairs, etc.). Fewer high-tech aircraft, like the Joint Strike Fighter. More versatile low-tech aircraft, like the C-17 transport plane or the UH-60 helicopter.

    I find it interesting that whenever anyone talks about high-cost, high-tech military purchases that don’t contribute directly to fighting insurgencies, they only ever mention multi-hundred-million $$ Air Force gear, but never the multi-tens-of-billions spent on Navy vessels that (arguably) contribute no more – and possibly significantly less – to those kinds of conflicts.

  6. James Joyner says:

    never the multi-tens-of-billions spent on Navy vessels that (arguably) contribute no more – and possibly significantly less – to those kinds of conflicts.

    I think naval affairs are, for whatever reason, simply more arcane and off radar. I for one have a decent understanding at the macro level of airpower but only the most theoretical one of naval power.

  7. Bob says:

    The Air Force corridor in the Pentagon has to be a fascinating place today. Last week they get beheaded, then Gates forwards for the AFCOS a Special Ops guy with lots of Joint experience, and now Mullen wants to change the allocations. The Fighter Mafia guys must be in tears. I suspect the Air Force will hole up and hope this blows over in next administration. The years of overplaying their hand has caught up with them.

  8. legion says:

    Bob,
    I think it’s more cyclical than traumatic. Before the Fighter Mafia, the AF was run by the Bomber Mafia. Now, with no USSR to compare our genitals against (and since nobody’s yet ready to use China as the new measuring stick), the FM guys are on the decline. I’ve made jokes in the past about a future AF run by the “Transport Mafia”, but maybe SpecOps is on the rise…

  9. sam says:

    At least folks at the top are saying they don’t want to prepare to fight the last war…

  10. mannning says:

    I believe that 4-6% of the GNP is reasonable and highly called for. As to the balance of the forces, I am a guns and butter man.

    Let the AF have a reasonable number of the latest fighters and plenty of pilots to man them, and be sure that we can up the production rate if needed downstream.

    Let the Army have four more divisions, and ensure that the reserves are cared for as well. Keep the M1A2s in shape, and work on a successor at a reasonable rate, as well as fighting vehicles and fast transport. Another division of special forces may be a good idea.

    Let the Navy maintain its carrier task forces, and replace carriers that have outlived their usefulness versus maintenance costs. Let them buy more Super Hornets, and train more pilots also. Increase the number of Virginia class subs significantly.

    Let the Marines stand up another division, and ensure their air support and transport.

    Let the Coast Guard solve their Littoral ship program and significantly increase their production rate.

    So, I think I have just spent that 6%, and I would be willing to raise my taxes to pay for it. Every time we go for a “peace dividend” we put ourselves in grave jeopardy at the beginning of the next conflict. I would rather be considered “nearly invincible” by potential enemies such as Russia or China ten or more years from now, than to rely on somehow weathering the first three years of a war with great losses before we catch up and go ahead.

    To me, this is the cost of our freedom: to stay strong militarily.