Robert Kozloski is back with another idea for shaking up the DoD. Since the author works for the Department of the Navy, this piece may appear as mere Service Parochialism. However, the author has equally disruptive pieces pending publication on Navy/Marine Corps issues in the United States Naval Institute's Proceedings and in the Naval War College Review.
Disruptive Thinkers aims to be a proving ground and central forum for innovative military thought (off the wall is okay...). This can be on anything from Grand Strategy to tactical solutions to solving minor military irritants. If you have a suggestion for improvement within the Department of Defense, we will be happy to post it.
In a recent Washington Post article, veteran defense correspondent Walter Pincus argued that forthcoming budget reduction efforts should target the highest levels of Department of Defense bureaucracy. I could not agree with him more. Reductions in operational military capabilities should only be considered after all efforts to reduce unnecessary overhead have been exhausted. We are far from reaching that point.
Preserving as much military operational capacity as possible, while not contributing excessively to the national debt, will require bold ideas from civilian and military leaders in the DoD and in Congress. We must move beyond trimming the fat from the current structure to setting our sights high and eliminate overhead. However, the level of bold concepts DoD must consider are beyond its control, and cooperation between the Hill and Pentagon is imperative.
One such bold idea that warrants serious consideration is to reverse the portion of the National Defense Act of 1947 that created the US Air Force as a separate military department. This action was appropriate at the time in order to create the US Air Force as a distinct Service that was no longer part of the US Army. However, reversing this legislation today would reduce overhead as well as create two similar military departments – both executing Title X authority over two independent Services.
|There Goes Lockheed's Funding...|
Not only could savings be achieved at the Department level, this merger would provide additional opportunities for integration. For example, the Naval Air Systems Command manages fixed wing, rotary wing, unmanned aviation programs, aviation weapons and avionics, as well as standardizes tactics and airfield operations, for both naval Services. A similar organization model could be adopted for the Army and Air Force aviation programs.
Many defense experts warn against over-integration because a single point of view and group think reduces the healthy competition of ideas that normally spurs innovation and provides a variety of options to deal with uncertainty. Having organizations working on similar issues in the Army and Navy Departments would still allow for this intellectual competition.
Recently, General Ron Fogelman, former Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, argued the best solution for an affordable national defense force is to return to our historical militia roots. Similarly, defense expert Dr. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute recommended decreasing the current size of ground forces and increasing the size of the National Guard during his Senate testimony. These concepts would align well to the two Military Department model.
The Department of the Army, with its close association with the National Guard Bureau, comprised of Air Force and Army Guardsman, would focus on major contingency operations and homeland defense missions, while the Department of the Navy would be the Department aligned to the full range of expeditionary capabilities and forward presence missions.
It is difficult to accurately capture the cost savings that would occur from this proposal, but as a general rule of thumb, eliminating 1,000 positions saves $1B. There would certainly be an up-front investment required for the transition. Previous large-scale mergers within the DoD have not realized the anticipated savings. This is largely because no control limits were put in place for the size of the merging staffs. As witnessed with the Joint Basing initiative, full staffs merged with little reduction in personnel or functions.
In order to achieve savings, a 10 to 20 percent growth limit for the expanded role of Department of the Army must be put in place. Many are concerned that drastic cuts in the federal work force would only exacerbate the national unemployment problem. However, if this merger were done in a phased approach over 3-5 years and personnel reductions were achieved through normal attrition, the effect could be minimized.
Not only does restructuring the Department of the Air Force make fiscal sense, it may improve military operations as well. As a 2007 RAND study highlighted, despite 25 years of joint reform brought on by Goldwater-Nichols, the Army and Air Force still had difficulty integrating operational capabilities during recent combat operations. This new organizational model could serve as a catalyst for true air-ground integration.
Some may be concerned that this new Military Department alignment would create a bipolarity within the operational forces. However, each Service Chief would still be part of the Joint Staff and therefore have equal representation in operational issues. Joint operations will remain unaffected by this realignment.
While creating a separate Department of the Air Force may have been appropriate in 1947, it is difficult to justify its existence today given the current fiscal crisis facing the nation and the much smaller size of the total force. Ideas that appear to be too difficult to implement are frequently dismissed. Easier solutions, such as eliminating troops or enforcing double-sided printing, are often the ones considered for implementation. Our national leaders must accept the challenge and take on the hard problems to preserve our military power and develop fiscally responsible national security solutions.