“War is too serious to be entrusted to generals.”
Georges Clemenceau, 1914
“Today war is too important to be left to politicians who have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought.”
Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper, 1964
The production of B-52 bombers ended 54 years ago in 1962. Earlier this month, the Department of Defense (DoD) redeployed B-52s to Qatar. These bombers have been technologically updated, rebuilt, and well maintained. On extended missions from Qatar, a handful of B-52s will be using precision-guided munitions to obliterate ISIS targets with impunity and deadly accuracy.
The continuing operational status of B-52s is, however, symbolic of today’s Department of Defense. Just as the venerable B-52 was designed and built for a different era—Cold War deterrence through massive nuclear retaliation—DoD remains structured for Industrial Age warfare. It is a dinosaur from a bygone age.
Militaries exist for the primary purpose of fighting and winning their nation’s wars. Every country faces different national security threats. Some, like Israel, must prepare for enemies close at hand, and few others are so clearly threatened. While the United States and Russia share strategic interests attendant to their global super-power status—and deterrence plays a major role for both powers—our specific security interests are fundamentally different. The United States is a sea power with global interests. Russia’s challenges are inherent in the Eurasian landmass from Europe to the west, to China in the south, and the terror-and-crime ridden states along its southwestern border. Despite these strategic differences, the armed forces of the United States and of Russia have one reason for being: to fight and win their nations’ wars. Currently, Russian political and strategic interests are better focused on that mission. America’s lack of military credibility adulterates deterrence, raises the specter of infidelity among allies, and weakens diplomacy.
The Army drawdown from 495,000 to between 420,000 and 450,000 by 2017, continued deployment of personnel to combat tours, and aging of weapon systems exacerbated by continuous use—Air Force combat aircraft are now aggregately older than at any other time—are trends begging correction. But much more is needed.
First, focus on the primary mission of fighting and winning wars. Assuring career opportunities for anyone, including racial minorities, women, gays, lesbians, or transgendered people, is superfluous to that mission. Whatever distracts any serviceman or woman from effective performance of their individual operational combat duties is counterproductive.
Second, the Pentagon was designed to manage the Industrial Age armed forces needed to fight and win World War II; a force of 12,000,000. Close it. Office space inspires the creation of bureaucratic fiefdoms competing for personnel and budgets. Sell the world’s largest office building to a gigantic retirement corporation. It already has a shopping mall, medical facilities, and a central courtyard. Build a state-of-the-art facility at Bolling Air Force Base with one-quarter the Pentagon’s floor space and slash the military and civilian bureaucracy accordingly. Cost reductions would be enormous.
Third, reform personnel policies. Extend minimum time for retirement from 20 to 25 years. Reward extraordinary talent by making each person automatically eligible for their next promotion the day they are promoted to their current rank. Such “fast tracking” should be rare and require appropriately high levels of support, but great talent should not be wasted on “time-in-grade” standards. Slash the number of senior field-grade and flag-ranked officers to match the pared-down bureaucracy. Sharply reduce the Civil Service component. Perhaps many of the Pentagon’s current civilian workers can work for the gigantic retirement complex overlooking the Potomac, Arlington, and the Watergate. Finally, no civilian unions permitted in national security-related jobs…period.
Fourth, since war is at least two-thirds mental and one-third physical, reform military education at every level. Close all service academies, the breeding grounds that spawn inter-service rivalries. Maintain one large National Defense University (NDU). Simply enlarge the one in Washington. Let the Reserve Officer Training Corps system at civilian colleges and universities conduct the first two years of military education to include common core essentials like military history, strategy, philosophy, and ethics. Outstanding cadets would receive the chance to earn regular commissions by spending two years specializing in appropriate land, sea, or air service components.
Additionally, close all intermediate service schools along with the Army, Navy, and Air Force war colleges. All subsequent professional military education would be at National Defense University. Top military leaders would have the opportunity to earn academically sound graduate degrees in cooperative programs with the multitude of universities in the Washington, DC area.
Finally, our nuclear weapons are aging and need modernization. The venerable Triad based on land, sea, and air delivered systems must continue because it deters war between the major powers. A more flexible force, and in some ways more sophisticated force backed by credible diplomacy, is needed to deter the world’s renegade regimes like the ones in Pyongyang and Tehran.
What Clemenceau said may have been right 100 years ago. Nearly fifty-years ago, General Jack D. Ripper, in the 1964 satire Dr. Strangelove, presciently nailed the ineptitude of the Obama administration evidenced by their inept foreign policy and demonstrably apparent in the irresponsible hollowing out of the American military in a time of diverse and increasingly dangerous threats. The future of this nation, perhaps of civilized peoples everywhere, depends on our military credibility. It’s time for an American military reformation.
Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & Terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, he earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, international and domestic terrorism, and counter-terrorism.
Photo Credit: By U.S. Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons. An aerial view of the Pentagon as seen from a Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, July 8, 2011.