Interesting article in Government Executive about unhappiness in the mid-ranks of the Army over the Marines being the ones to set up the base in southern Afghanistan, a job that would have been more traditionally fulfilled by the Army. This goes beyond simple interservice rivalry–it speaks to potentially serious problems, in which we have a combination of an Army that is still designed for the Cold War (over for more than a decade now) but with inadequate resources to even fulfill that miscast role.
?The Marine Corps foresight seems to have eliminated the need for the Army,? one Army captain complained in an online forum. ?Here?s the bitter pill I?ve been chewing on. My Army is operating equipment designed to fight Soviets in the Fulda Gap, and the stuff in the pipeline is just a more expensive version of the same. My Army has a personnel system that was build to defeat the Kaiser. My Army trains to fight fictional forces in make-believe lands instead of focusing on real-world missions. My Army has one-half the number of generals as we did at the height of World War II, even though the force is one-tenth the size. The resultant leadership inertia bogs decision-making down in a bureaucratic morass, as more chiefs fight to protect their hallowed turf. The end result of all this is we get to watch the Marines perform Army missions because they can do them better,? he wrote.
This provides a hint of the kinds of issues that Don Rumsfeld was dealing with, even prior to September 11, and it’s perhaps become an even more crucial one as we contemplate Iraq.
Reader Craig Biggerstaff writes:
I don’t have any history with either the Army or Marines, or any reason to favor over one another, but this article reinforced what has been obvious for a long time to a casual observer: there is major overlap of capabilities and missions. As a taxpayer, I don’t want to pay twice for the same thing unless there’s an arguable benefit to keeping the redundancy.
Well, there is an arguable benefit for redundancy–it provides backup, and more importantly, it provides competition. That some in the Army are unhappy with the current situation may spur them to improve.
What, really, is the difference between Army Rangers and Marines? Between Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs? Why do all four services have fighter aircraft?
I can’t speak with any detail to the first two questions, but the Army does not, in fact have fighter aircraft. It has the helicopters and the A-10 Warthog attack planes for close-air support, and it had to fight tooth and nail to get them, but finally did because the Air Force refused to give priority to this mission, and guys were getting killed on the ground from its lack. Navy has fighters because it doesn’t make sense to base Air Force operations on aircraft carriers (we haven’t done that, AFAIK, since the Doolittle Raid, which used US Army Air Corps personnel/aircraft). I’m not sure why the Marines have them.
Perhaps someone more knowledgeable on this can comment. Assuming for the sake of argument that overlap exists, what ought to be done about it? Merge or consolidate services? Transfer duties and personnel from one to another? Or keep them separate but merge the command hierarchy (general/flag officer staff below JCS)?
One has to be very careful in reorganizing and consolidating to not overdo it, and totally eliminate competition, which is as useful in government bureaucracies as in the free market. In theory it seems more efficient to consolidate, but this is always based on the assumption that the consolidated entity will perform properly without the ongoing threat of losing its mission. This assumption is almost always invalid.
To change the subject only slightly, one of the reasons that NASA is such a disaster (and this is largely due to Dan Goldin) is that, in a bid for efficiency and to allow the budget cuts of the ’90s, he set up “Centers of Excellence” with technical specialties, and eliminated any competition to them at the other NASA centers. This, combined with little accountability, contributed greatly to the problems that we’ve seen with, among other things, ISS, various failed planetary probes, and our failure to make much progress in supersonic flight.
[Update at 12:30 PM PST]
UPI columnist Jim Bennett weighs in with the following:
See the discussion in the chapter entitled “The Material Bias: Why We Need More Fraud, Waste and Mismanagement,” in Edward N.Luttwak, The Pentagon and the Art of War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985), 13056.
According to Luttwak, “[The] outputs that count in war are very particular and very different from the outputs that count in peacetime, and when civilian notions of efficiency are applied, the difference is routinely overlooked.”
Saying that all combat aircraft, or even all such aircraft of a particular type, should be procured by a single service, and therefore procured by a single decision point, is Soviet-style central planning. Furthermore, it is central planning about an area in which past expertise is often misleading. Luttwak discusses the experience of the Marine air arm in Korea, where the general consensus was that the Marine pilots flew lower, stayed longer, and took more risks than their Air Force and Navy counterparts while flying close support missions. This may have been because Marine pilots had been trained with the ground troops before they became pilots, and it may have been because they were more likely to actually know the people on the ground. Also, the Marine air arm has been more innovative in procurement: in buying the Harrier, they were the first service in decades to fly a non-US fighter.
Too bad the Air Force doesn’t have tanks, as some South American forces do.
He also refers readers to this article for further background on the close-air support issue.