A Croatian soldier and a Minnesota National Guardsman train together for Afghanistan.

A Croatian soldier and a Minnesota National Guardsman train together for Afghanistan.

Yesterday, four mid-grade military officers — one from each armed service – made a remarkable public recommendation to their boss, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel: It’s time to force the four services back into clearly demarcated “lanes” and reduce overlap between them as budgets shrink and competition escalates. They focused on three high-priority areas:

  1. Cybersecurity, the one area of the budget that’s actually growing. As a result, all four services are training “cyber warriors” and creating “cyber” units — but with no clear guidance from the Defense Department on which service should specialize in what, so everyone is doing a bit of everything. “The services risk building similar capabilities in different ways to conduct the same mission,” the co-authors write, “[with] significant duplication and overlap.” Their (tentative) solution: take away some of the services’ authority to “train, equip, and organize” cybersecurity personnel and give it to the interservice Cyber Command. That step would raise CYBERCOM to a status currently enjoyed only by Special Operations Command (SOCOM), halfway to being a full-scale independent service.
  2. Drones, aka “unmanned aircraft systems” (UAS). “Currently,” they write, “the four services are developing 15 separate UAS platforms of varying weights, speeds and altitudes” (see exhibits 1, 2, 3, and 4), as well as “42 separate UAS payload development programs… [and] 13 ground control stations.” While they stop short of a specific recommendation here, the co-authors do note regretfully  that the current UAS Task Force lacks “authority over the services for programmatic consolidation or termination.” (Hint, hint?) They also speak approvingly of the much-derided 1947 Key West agreement, which among other things defined what kind of (manned) aircraft each service could fly.
  3. So-called Phase Zero Operations, in which US troops train foreign forces, conduct exercises with them, and even quietly help them secure their countries. Historically, Special Operations Forces did the small-scale, low-profile, long-term work in the shadows, while the four services occasionally showed up for big high-profile exercises. But after 9/11, the “Big Army” and Marine Corps both had to build up Afghan and Iraqi forces, expertise they don’t want to lose. Now now they are to some extent competing (my word, not the authors’) with each other and with SOCOM for Phase 0 business around the world, especially in the high-profile Pacific. “The Department of Defense needs to provide the services guidance on their primary mission responsibilities in Phase 0 operations,” the four officer write, “instead of letting the services make their own decision about the force size and mix required.”

And those are just the top three: All told, the study identifies 10 areas of “excessive redundancy,” from nuclear deterrence to Apocalpyse Now-style riverine combat boats to chaplains. After 12 years of flush  budgets and urgent wartime needs, the services have all built up “excessive duplicative capabilities [that] the Department of Defense can no longer afford,” write Navy Commander Clay Beers, Marine Lt. Col. Gordon Miller, Army Col. Robert Taradash and Air Force Lt. Col. Parker Wright. It’s remarkable to see a single document with co-authors from all four services, especially since these are not high-ranking guys.

The authors are all smack in the middle of the officer corps: Three of them are grade “O-5″ and one is “O-6″ on a scale from fresh-faced new lieutenant (O-1) to four-star general (0-10). (Taradash is the lone O-6). The four officers are all currently military fellows at the Center for a New American Security, an influential think tank with very close ties to the Obama White House. The officers emphasize they are speaking only for themselves, not for their services. They’re being so cautious, in fact, that there are no quotations from any of them in this article — and that’s not because I didn’t try.

Nevertheless, even wrapping their criticisms in anodyne language, they’re sticking their necks out a bit. Here’s hoping that their respective services reward their initiative rather than punish it.

Comments

  • Gary Church

    It never ends well for anyone who does something like this. They know this and are probably not planning on staying in. Very bad for defense business to start demanding effectiveness; cuts into profits.

  • Richard Cavagnol

    Give cyber-security to the Navy, give the drones and strategic air power to the Air Force, give amphibious assault, tactical air and counterinsurgency operations training to the Marines, give the Special Forces foreign military training, give the Seal counter-terrorism and maritime security, and reduce the size of the standing Army and build up the Reserves and National Guard, and give the Army tactical air (Warthogs and helicopters), and stress combined arms expertise that can be quickly spun up with Reserves and National Guard should boots on the ground be required.

    • Gary Church

      Sounds like the way it was back in the day except for giving the Army tactical air. Not a good idea. The Air Force does jets and the Army does helicopters and it should really stay that way IMO. Two different worlds- I have worked on both, (and on armored vehicles). The whole point is to reduce duplication Richard, not add to it.

      • Gary Church

        What kind of assault rifle is that Croat brandishing? German?

        • ycplum

          If I were to guess, I would say a H&K G36.

      • ycplum

        I have to respectfully disagree. Divide the area of responsibility between the Army and Air Force along the types of aircrafts is unrelated to reality, but rather a function of political expediency.

        The Air Force should have control over Air Dominance, Strategic Bombing, Strategic and Theatre Air Defense, Strategic and Theatre Logistics, Strategic, Theater and Battlefield Air Traffic Communications and Control. The Army should have control over Battlefield Logistics and Troop Movement, Battlefield Air Defense, and Close Air Suppport. Any programs they want should support those missions.

        • Gary Church

          Of course you have to disagree. I have figured that out by now. Y. I think you would have disagreed no matter what my comment was.

  • jgelt

    I knew a man who got on the school board of a district with huge budget issues. The problem was there were too many people who wanted a little something on the budget. As long as every item got treated equally, nothing could ever get cut. This gentleman asked the following question. “If this school could only do one thing, what would it be?” All of a sudden councilors, janitors, home ec, home coming dances became unequal. I think “Reading proficiency” was the winner. He proceeded to the next question “If our school were to do only 2 things, what would the second be?” By doing this he secured core items and made it easier to attack the budget items with the least defenders. Of course he became a target in the next election, with hundreds of thousands of NEA dollars from around the country used against him. As long as the current process is a small committee, staffers and lobbyists putting together a giant spending bill that can’t be read; followed by the mass of congress rubber stamping the bill due to fear of being nailed for not supporting our troops, redundancy is here to stay.