The $100-Billion Challenge

As if war were not enough of a challenge, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has committed to cut $100 billion from the Defense budget within the next five years.1 To reach this goal, the Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, have both indicated that it is necessary to restructure the Armed Forces to eliminate the overlaps and duplications (who needs four air forces, four 4-year colleges, four special forces commands, etc?). 

At the Eisenhower Library on May 8, 2010, the Secretary said, "The private sector has flattened and streamlined the middle and upper echelons of its organization charts, yet the Department of Defense continues to maintain a top-heavy hierarchy that more reflects 20th-century headquarters superstructure than 21st-century realities." Mullen added another clue: "As capable as our joint forces are today, this will not be enough to meet future challenges."2

Current combat units from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps are found in "Unified Commands" not under the direction of the chiefs of the military departments, but directly under the Secretary of Defense. This raises the question: what is the rationale for four separate individual military departments? Secretary Gates said, "It is clear ... this Department is burdened by 20th-century processes and attitudes, mostly rooted in the Cold War."3  

Organization of the military should depend upon whom you fight and how you fight, not upon an outmoded tradition started with the Uniformed Military Act of 1792. This act organized the military by the environment in which the service operated -- land and sea initially, air in the early 20th century, and space and cyberspace in the mid- to late 20th century. The question facing the military planner is, "Who will be our foes in the future?"

According to some military experts, only two major nations currently have the capability to pose a significant military threat to the United States in the foreseeable future: Russia and China.4 Both depend heavily upon the United States and European markets to sustain their economic growth and satisfy the ever-growing demands of their populations.5 Russia and China are not enemies of the U.S.; they are competitors. There is no rational reason for either Russia6 or China7 to war with Western nations, particularly the United States, for the simple reason that it is not in their best interest. What would be their incentive? No nation goes to war without a cause. That does not preclude irrational behavior, but nevertheless, the probability of an armed conflict between two major powers in the foreseeable future is miniscule. 

North Korea and Iran are major nuisances but not major powers. Although they do not pose a military threat to the United States mainland at present, they are potential threats to their neighbors and to the West through proxies. The worldwide war in progress between extremist Muslims and Western culture, religion, and thought, as well as the attempt to dominate and proselytize moderate Muslim nations in the Far East, constitutes the greatest military threat to world peace. A velvet glove approach will work only if the glove is worn over an iron fist. 

During a June 2008 speech at Maxwell Air Force Base, Secretary Gates stated, "This range of security challenges -- from global terrorism to ethnic conflicts, from rogue nations to rising powers -- cannot be overcome by traditional military means alone." To achieve a $100-billion savings in the next five years and still remain capable of defending the United States will require more than cosmetic changes to the Department of Defense structure and programs:

1. DOD should be mission-centric throughout its organization as opposed to the current service-centric structure.

2. Military forces should be organized according to the mission they perform, such as strategic deterrence forces and expeditionary forces, with both combat and support forces capable of operating across mission lines. Creation of Unified Support Commands would consolidate such services as training, education, supplies, maintenance, procurement, transportation, medical and research, and development to support the current Unified Combat Commands.

3. Each major military force and sub-force should be equipped with the personnel and equipment essential to carry out its mission under a single commander.

4. Common educational and training forces should be established for the new unified military forces. Duplicate and excessive facilities could be eliminated or changed in use. 

See a proposed organization chart here.

The extension of the Unified Command concept to all aspects of military operations and consolidation of similar activities under one commander will better define lines of communications and accountability from the president down. In his Eisenhower Library speech, Secretary Gates concluded, "The Defense Department must take a hard look at every aspect of how it is organized, staffed, and operated -- indeed, every aspect of how it does business." At Maxwell, Gates said, "The culture of any large organization takes a long time to change."

Restructuring the DOD from top to bottom is essential for Secretary Gates to reach his $100 billion of savings, but it will also better prepare the United States armed forces to meet real 21st-century challenges. It is clear that for at least the next fifty years, the United States must remain a dominant military world power. It is still a dangerous world.

There are Beltway obstacles to Gates' plan. The ghost of Dwight Eisenhower is hovering over the Pentagon, K Street, and its suburbs, whispering, "Beware of the military-industrial complex." Ike should have added "Congress" to his warning. Gates' recent action to eliminate a redundant command structure and to make reductions in Pentagon major weapon systems acquisition are justified, but his timing is terrible in this political season, when members of Congress face a wrathful electorate over jobs and the economy. It remains to be seen if Secretary Gates listens to the whispers of Eisenhower's ghost or the roar of members of Congress whose districts are affected by Defense cutbacks and the surfacing resistance of generals and admirals who see falling stars. If Gates bows out in 2011 as reported, it is unlikely that his initiatives will survive.

Let the debate begin. 

Dr. C.W. "Bill" Getz is a retired combat officer and industry and government executive.

1 "Pentagon Moves to Cut Costs, Save $100 Billion," Wall Street Journal, June 5-6, 2010, p. A2

2 "Capstone Concept for Joint Operations, Version 3,0, 15 January 2009, Foreword

3 "Report Details Army Failures on Hasan," Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2010, p. A3

4 "Quadrennial Defense Review," 2010, Department of Defense (www.defense.gov/QDR/)

5 "Medvedev Sees Risk To Euro," Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2010, p. A1

6 White, Geoge L., "Russia, in Internal Report, Signals Shift Toward U.S.," Wall Street Journal, May 12,  2010.

7 "China Strikes Positive Note in Talks With U. S.," Wall Street Journal, Sept. 8, 2010, p. A11
As if war were not enough of a challenge, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has committed to cut $100 billion from the Defense budget within the next five years.1 To reach this goal, the Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, have both indicated that it is necessary to restructure the Armed Forces to eliminate the overlaps and duplications (who needs four air forces, four 4-year colleges, four special forces commands, etc?). 

At the Eisenhower Library on May 8, 2010, the Secretary said, "The private sector has flattened and streamlined the middle and upper echelons of its organization charts, yet the Department of Defense continues to maintain a top-heavy hierarchy that more reflects 20th-century headquarters superstructure than 21st-century realities." Mullen added another clue: "As capable as our joint forces are today, this will not be enough to meet future challenges."2

Current combat units from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps are found in "Unified Commands" not under the direction of the chiefs of the military departments, but directly under the Secretary of Defense. This raises the question: what is the rationale for four separate individual military departments? Secretary Gates said, "It is clear ... this Department is burdened by 20th-century processes and attitudes, mostly rooted in the Cold War."3  

Organization of the military should depend upon whom you fight and how you fight, not upon an outmoded tradition started with the Uniformed Military Act of 1792. This act organized the military by the environment in which the service operated -- land and sea initially, air in the early 20th century, and space and cyberspace in the mid- to late 20th century. The question facing the military planner is, "Who will be our foes in the future?"

According to some military experts, only two major nations currently have the capability to pose a significant military threat to the United States in the foreseeable future: Russia and China.4 Both depend heavily upon the United States and European markets to sustain their economic growth and satisfy the ever-growing demands of their populations.5 Russia and China are not enemies of the U.S.; they are competitors. There is no rational reason for either Russia6 or China7 to war with Western nations, particularly the United States, for the simple reason that it is not in their best interest. What would be their incentive? No nation goes to war without a cause. That does not preclude irrational behavior, but nevertheless, the probability of an armed conflict between two major powers in the foreseeable future is miniscule. 

North Korea and Iran are major nuisances but not major powers. Although they do not pose a military threat to the United States mainland at present, they are potential threats to their neighbors and to the West through proxies. The worldwide war in progress between extremist Muslims and Western culture, religion, and thought, as well as the attempt to dominate and proselytize moderate Muslim nations in the Far East, constitutes the greatest military threat to world peace. A velvet glove approach will work only if the glove is worn over an iron fist. 

During a June 2008 speech at Maxwell Air Force Base, Secretary Gates stated, "This range of security challenges -- from global terrorism to ethnic conflicts, from rogue nations to rising powers -- cannot be overcome by traditional military means alone." To achieve a $100-billion savings in the next five years and still remain capable of defending the United States will require more than cosmetic changes to the Department of Defense structure and programs:

1. DOD should be mission-centric throughout its organization as opposed to the current service-centric structure.

2. Military forces should be organized according to the mission they perform, such as strategic deterrence forces and expeditionary forces, with both combat and support forces capable of operating across mission lines. Creation of Unified Support Commands would consolidate such services as training, education, supplies, maintenance, procurement, transportation, medical and research, and development to support the current Unified Combat Commands.

3. Each major military force and sub-force should be equipped with the personnel and equipment essential to carry out its mission under a single commander.

4. Common educational and training forces should be established for the new unified military forces. Duplicate and excessive facilities could be eliminated or changed in use. 

See a proposed organization chart here.

The extension of the Unified Command concept to all aspects of military operations and consolidation of similar activities under one commander will better define lines of communications and accountability from the president down. In his Eisenhower Library speech, Secretary Gates concluded, "The Defense Department must take a hard look at every aspect of how it is organized, staffed, and operated -- indeed, every aspect of how it does business." At Maxwell, Gates said, "The culture of any large organization takes a long time to change."

Restructuring the DOD from top to bottom is essential for Secretary Gates to reach his $100 billion of savings, but it will also better prepare the United States armed forces to meet real 21st-century challenges. It is clear that for at least the next fifty years, the United States must remain a dominant military world power. It is still a dangerous world.

There are Beltway obstacles to Gates' plan. The ghost of Dwight Eisenhower is hovering over the Pentagon, K Street, and its suburbs, whispering, "Beware of the military-industrial complex." Ike should have added "Congress" to his warning. Gates' recent action to eliminate a redundant command structure and to make reductions in Pentagon major weapon systems acquisition are justified, but his timing is terrible in this political season, when members of Congress face a wrathful electorate over jobs and the economy. It remains to be seen if Secretary Gates listens to the whispers of Eisenhower's ghost or the roar of members of Congress whose districts are affected by Defense cutbacks and the surfacing resistance of generals and admirals who see falling stars. If Gates bows out in 2011 as reported, it is unlikely that his initiatives will survive.

Let the debate begin. 

Dr. C.W. "Bill" Getz is a retired combat officer and industry and government executive.

1 "Pentagon Moves to Cut Costs, Save $100 Billion," Wall Street Journal, June 5-6, 2010, p. A2

2 "Capstone Concept for Joint Operations, Version 3,0, 15 January 2009, Foreword

3 "Report Details Army Failures on Hasan," Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2010, p. A3

4 "Quadrennial Defense Review," 2010, Department of Defense (www.defense.gov/QDR/)

5 "Medvedev Sees Risk To Euro," Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2010, p. A1

6 White, Geoge L., "Russia, in Internal Report, Signals Shift Toward U.S.," Wall Street Journal, May 12,  2010.

7 "China Strikes Positive Note in Talks With U. S.," Wall Street Journal, Sept. 8, 2010, p. A11