Editor’s note: This article is Part II in a series. Click here to read Part I.
The U.S. Department of Defense must restructure to accommodate deep budget cuts and, more importantly, be ready for the challenges of 21st-century warfare. Those challenges will include unconventional operations and wars fought in vastly expanded battle spaces. Reforms are needed in three areas.
First, today’s DoD—structured around land, air, and sea forces to accommodate Industrial Age conflict—is inadequate for Information Age warfare. The U.S. Air Force received separate service status in 1947 by a mating of the atomic bomb to the long-range delivery system of the day, the B-29 bomber. For five decades, air-power enthusiasts argued that air power formed the tip of the spear while land and sea forces constituted the supporting shaft. That is no longer the case.
Human-piloted combat aircraft undergird the Air Force’s reason for being. It is likely that the 20 B-2 bombers currently in the inventory, at $2 billion dollars a copy, will be the last of the manned bombers. Additionally, the F-35 is likely to be the last manned fighter developed by the United States. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be the fighting platforms of the future. They can do more for less cost because UAVs are not designed for pilot survivability. Additionally, in the current war, the Air Force has been the supporting—rather than the supported—service. It’s time to reintegrate the Air Force into the U.S. Army. This eliminates an entire service with accompanying bureaucracies while minimally expanding an Army likely to experience reductions throughout its other branches.
The U.S. Navy should assume primary responsibility for space and cyber warfare. Movement in space is more analogous to that at sea than it is to operations on land or air. The global reach of the Navy also makes it appropriate to place cyber operations under its purview.
Second, since warfare is foremost a mental and secondly a physical endeavor, DoD needs to restructure officer education. In the interest of building a truly seamless force, the three service academies should be closed and then consolidated into a single National Defense University located in Washington, D.C. Additionally, the professional military education system can be streamlined by doing away with the individual service schools for junior, mid-level and senior officers. Schools like the Air, Army, and Naval war colleges would become part of the National Defense University. Military physicians and lawyers, after completing basic medical and legal training at civilian universities, can be prepared for military service at the NDU. Students could also take courses at the universities within the District of Columbia’s educational consortium.
NDU’s graduate courses (replacing the current war colleges) would offer real masters and doctoral level courses. Individual service “think tanks” associated with the various war colleges exist primarily to support host service prerogatives. As in any civilian university, research and writing at NDU would be expected of all faculty members. A single, consolidated think tank might be established at NDU with resulting cost savings in personnel. This reform would close three academies; close the Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps command and staff colleges; close the Army, Naval, Marine Corps, and Air war colleges; and reduce facilities at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and Quantico, Virginia.
Eliminating three service academies reduces overhead costs and also might ameliorate the pernicious effects of inter-service rivalries by educating all officers at a single, integrated institution. An entering freshman class of 4,000 to 5,000 should provide enough entry-level Army and Naval officers. To further military diversity, ROTC would provide 2,000 to 3,000 officers a year, but ROTC should be restricted to the 50 to 75 top-rated academic institutions.
Third, allowing officers to retire at half pay after 20 years of service, and forcing them to retire (in most cases) at some point between 24 and 32 years, is a waste of human skills and money. Service careers should run between 25 and 40 years. Concomitantly, the number of flag-rank officers should be reduced by at least 50 percent. Older officers can be moved to desk jobs or, if academically qualified, serve as faculty at NDU or in ROTC units.
Finally, close the Pentagon. It was built to accommodate a bureaucracy needed to field and operationalize the Industrial Age armed forces of World War II. The tendency is for bureaucracies to fill empty space and once in place, become entrenched. The Pentagon would make a fabulous privately run retirement complex with enough room for a shopping mall, restaurants, a gymnasium, and even a hospital. A restructured DoD could be housed in the Forrestal Building in downtown Washington.
This restructuring streamlines bureaucracies, utilizes human capital and potential more effectively, and fosters a seamless interaction between the services. Armed forces exist to fight and win the nation’s wars. A leaner, better-educated force can meet the challenges of Information Age Warfare and do it at considerably less cost.
Earl Tilford is a retired Air Force officer and college professor who lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of several books on the air war in Vietnam. His latest book, Turning the Tide: The University of Alabama in the 1960s has been accepted for publication by the University of Alabama Press.