Small Wars Journal

New Unit of Measure: The Lance Corporal Equivalent (LCE)

New Unit of Measure: The Lance Corporal Equivalent (LCE)

by Zacchaeus

I just read a sobering blog post  over at the USNI.  While some in the business may look at the forthcoming budget reduction efforts as academically stimulating, it’s important to keep in mind the toll end strength reductions will have on the young men and women who’ve done nothing wrong except wanting to serve their country. The navy’s approach to personnel reduction says a great deal about leadership priorities.

During the height of the Cold War smart folks in the defense analysis industry came up with the concept of a standardized unit of measure – the Armor Division Equivalent –  as a useful tool to run through sophisticated models to predict  the results of attrition warfare engagements that never occurred.

We now face a different form of attrition warfare – attrition of end strength and force structure due to the inevitable reality of budget reduction efforts.  Today, a useful tool to make comparisons is to use the Lance Corporal Equivalent.  The Lance Corporal is a highly adaptable weapon system used successfully across the full spectrum of military operations from HA/DR to MTW and everything in between.

The LCE is a great tool when examining the budget trade space. Some tradeoffs are acceptable.  In many cases it makes perfect operational and fiscal sense to commit funds to an effective weapon system. However, all too often, senior leaders in DoD accept inefficiency at the expense of operational capabilities.

The LCE equates to $25K.  It takes into consideration annual salary and incidentals such as chow and living expenses for a single leatherneck living in the barracks. This does not consider ammo, personal weapons,  training, etc.  It is not a perfect model but it is effective to bring to light the tradeoffs for accepting status quo programs and processes. Here are a few examples:

1 Senior Program Analyst on OSD Staff : 6.2 LCE

1 Graduate of Army War College : 6.6 LCE

1 Schedule C SES at the Pentagon : 7.6 LCE

1 Married set of 0-5s working on acquisition programs at the Pentagon : 10.6 LCE

1 Naval Academy Graduate : 14.6 LCE

Graduating Class at USMA : 16,800 LCE

1 COCOM HQ Staff : 64,000 LCE

Military Personnel doing civilian work – 2.24M LCE

This is a very short list generated with the level of analysis that could be conducted on the back of an MRE box.  I am not advocating eliminating any of the above items so need to go into the D, I am simply attempting to place the tradespace in perspective. By accepting inefficiency in whatever form within the DoD we are eliminating  valuable operational capacity.  Framing the issue in LCEs may help reinforce this fact.

Zacchaeus was a Greek tax collector hated by his peers for perceived collaboration with the enemy.  It is the pseudonym of a retired Marine, working at the Pentagon.  He lives in fear for his children, family pet and automobile should his real identity fall into the hands of status quo thinkers in the Marine Corps.


Ken White

Thu, 12/08/2011 - 10:42am

In reply to by zacchaeus


Just a ball park on the 100K to better show the merit of the typical LCpl. Your concept and ratios are great for showing the excessive cost versus limited value provided by many of the other items.<blockquote>"Is DoD committing limited resources to perpetuate mediocrity and bad practices at the expense of the warfighter?"</blockquote>I'd say yes, emphatically so...


Thu, 12/08/2011 - 8:04am

In reply to by Ken White


Perhaps I wasn’t clear on the tradespace concept. I’m not sure how you are getting to the $100K figure but if you are calculating the total cost of recruiting, training, benefits, etc – I agree that the $25K is much too low. I did not include forms of deferred or cash compensation since they would be applicable to each example. In the current budget process, Services are given a mark (or bogey) and they have to make the appropriate cut in a specified period of time. For instance, a $10M cut from military manpower account in FY12. Cost savings can only be booked in that fiscal year so the investment cost cannot be recouped and future cost avoidance numbers aren’t considered.

If you are getting to $100K by looking at the cost across the FYDP (5 years) then I can buy that as well. If that is your argument, then you would have to apply it to each example above and the ratios would remain constant. I am not a budget guy so others may have a different perspective on this process. If you are interested in this topic (and I can’t believe anyone in their right mind would be) CBO has some good studies on methods to compare mil to civ cash compensation. I didn’t want to get into the weeds on the model because I didn’t want the fact that we are accepting inefficiency at the cost of the warfighters to get lost in the mix.

Another great way to illustrate this point is the infamous DoD mentor program which appears to be alive an well according to a recent USA Today article.

1 DoD Mentor : 7.2 LCE

That is, if the DoD wants to hire 1 mentor for FY-12 the trade off is equivalent to 7.2 LCEs. I recognize this isn’t a perfect model.

I find this particular practice appalling given the work done by COL Yingling, Col GI Wilson (military careerism) and others on GO/FOs. Is DoD committing limited resources to perpetuate mediocrity and bad practices at the expense of the warfighter?

Ken White

Wed, 12/07/2011 - 9:53pm

In reply to by Peter J. Munson

About $100K per LCE would be more accurate. That can be pared but such paring should be done very carefully.

Peter J. Munson

Wed, 12/07/2011 - 9:02pm

The LCE is brilliant, although there is zero chance of anyone using such brilliance to actually determine policy or budget trade space. The personnel dead weight we have all over DoD often comes at high-LCE. For example, I walked past a door at CENTCOM labeled the CCJ5 Tasker Cell. So, we've got contractors whose sole purpose is to keep track of all the taskers other people are supposed to be doing, but we can't keep track of because there are so many people at CENTCOM doing myriad tasks that we need a cell to track them.

I do question the value of an LCE as $25K. When you add in all of the ancillary expenses such as training, healthcare, facilities, etc., the price of one LCpl must be more than $25K a year, no?

Ken White

Wed, 12/07/2011 - 9:51pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Five things to consider:

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The known factor of bullying in our schools -- indeed, worldwide among that age group -- perhaps tacitly encouraged by military service and the potential for your second year Troops to 'gently haze' their first year subordinates in that dwelling maintenance...

Lastly, consider taking an Army that is today only marginally trained and adding more people on a shorter retention line and the effect that would have on the level of training. We've done this before; we have too many people to run it fairly, training suffers because our already too stringent safety concerns will be exacerbated by the introduction persons serving involuntarily and more . Regression is not always beneficial...

Keep thinking outside the box, that's to be encouraged -- and do not be discouraged if someone suggests your ideas need a bit of work. All of us need other inputs to our ideas.

Move Forward

Wed, 12/07/2011 - 7:54pm

If a LCE is $25,000, what if we mandated national service at age 18 and 19 after high school graduation (or twenty if a non-graduate). That would be about 4 million young adults in each of the 18 and 19 year groups. After 4 months training in a service chosen for them at random based on service requirements, the man or woman would serve 8 months in the military at an LCE of about $12,500...more if deployed to a combat theater.

They would finish out their two-year commitment with a year of civilian service at slightly higher pay performing:

• Second year of military service at greater pay than other jobs below
• State, county, or city police/sheriff force or jail/prison worker
• Homeland security
• Fire department or paramedic organization
• Border Patrol
• VA hospital, rehab facility, or newly established nursing homes for veterans
• Other civilian hospitals serving in emergency rooms
• TSA and customs
• School district hall and lunch room monitor, bus-rider, other admin/janitorial
• State highway department

Personnel not physically or mentally fit for military service would spend two years in the civilian jobs at the lower first year pay scale to eliminate military overcrowding and provide an incentive to graduate and be sufficiently fit. A second alternative would be a few months spent performing duties such as KP, grass-mowing/trash pick-up, or ship painting on military installations in lieu of contractors before going to the civilian job.

The civilians would stay in government-seized foreclosed homes maintained and repaired by the youth themselves under supervision of others whose second year is spent in those homes as caretaker/maintenance supervisor.

The idea is to drive down the federal budget by exploiting a lesser paid labor force, while simultaneously addressing housing market problems, VA costs, and Medicare/Medicaid expenses.