Small Wars Journal

Is the Chairman a Disruptive Thinker?

Sun, 08/26/2012 - 8:41pm

An article in the most recent edition of the Naval War College Review takes a critical look at the cost of joint reform and offers some interesting recommendations to maintain the benefits of jointness in a fiscally austere environment:

“Jointness represents an inefficient compromise between two schools of thought: on one hand, complete unification of the military, and the other, maintaining a service-centric structure. Joint organizations and processes, many of which were created during periods of practically unconstrained spending during the Cold War and after September 11, 2001, are layered upon the existing overhead of the services.

Over the past twenty-five years many practitioners, elected officials, and scholars have written extensively on the positive and negative aspects of Goldwater-Nichols legislation and the extent of its implementation throughout the Department of Defense. However, a gap exists in the current literature—an assessment of the total cost of implementing and maintaining the current joint structure. This assessment must include the total cost of military, civilian, and contractor support to joint staff work; facilities; additional work levied across the enterprise to support joint processes; and the cost of developing joint products, exercises, and assessments. That total cost of Goldwater-Nichols implementation should then be compared to the benefits derived from twenty-five years of reform to determine if the congressional mandate has provided good value for the American taxpayer.”

The article also highlights the critical role the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had in stimulating the G-N reform movement 30 years ago:

“In a closed session of the House Armed Service Committee in February 1982, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General David Jones, U.S. Air Force, told Congress that the system was broken and that despite his best efforts he was not able to reform it— congressional action was needed. This testimony was ultimately the catalyst for bringing about the Goldwater-Nichols reform, though it would take nearly five years to garner enough support in Congress, the Pentagon, and the White House to pass the watershed legislation.”

Considering the numerous acquisition debacles, the broken personnel system, and the conduct of military operations over the past decade, will our current Chairman step forward with bold ideas for reform or will he simply defend the status quo in the face of forthcoming fiscal cuts? Could the current national fiscal problems and the public’s mandate to reduce military spending actually force much needed changes in the US Military?



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Jack Gander

Sat, 09/08/2012 - 11:50am

Looks like this Time blog post on the DoD Chauffeur's Service answers the question about the CJCS being part of the DT movement...

"The Motor Operations Division’s Chauffeur’s provides transportation support for the Senior Executive Staffs of the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Under Secretaries of Army and Air Force, Vice Chiefs of Staff Army and Air Force, Assistant Secretaries, and other Principal Officials of Headquarters Department of Defense (DoD)."

Good luck making the case to the American taxpayer that any cut in defense spending puts national security at risk with this type of information surfacing daily.

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 09/03/2012 - 11:26am

In reply to by Bill M.

Two things prevent the military from getting to the force it needs to be. One is up and out, the other is down and in:

1. The unwillingness to publicly confront civilian authorities on matters of policy that drive military spending and capacity unnecessary to the defense of the nation. From programs and bases that we don't need, to outdated treaties, policies, relationships, etc that drive plans and posturing for situations that have long sense evolved into something very different. Couple with this the unwillingness to tell civilian officials: "Yes, absolutely we can execute that mission, but when we do so it will not solve this problem and will likely create new, even larger problems. This is a failure of policy, not intelligence or military action. Let's discuss policy solutions rather than military band-aids."

2. Human nature. The natural tendency of every bureaucracy to protect itself and the tendency of every commander to want to do more, bigger, better than the last guy (with zero incentive to do otherwise). We recognized the need to develop greater jointness, but we did nothing to reduce the "serviceness" in a corresponding amount. We just added an additional layer of headquarters and staffs and processes to feed. Maybe it is time to take the final ultimate step toward jointness and kill the services? I don't know, but it is time for a MAJOR overhaul, not just another round of incremental changes.

We owe it to the nation to show the rest of government that we can accomplish our mission and do it on a budget the nation can afford. Instead of crying about how "sequestration" will create a "hollow force" and then refusing to plan for how we will take that challenge on, we should be doubling down. We should build a DoD plan for how we cut twice that much on our terms. Include the bases and programs we know we don't need to secure the nation, gut the bloated redundancies of our dual service/joint HQ structure, cut the hundreds of thousands of personnel we simply do not need in times of peace, get real on budget busting programs like fighter planes and aircraft carriers, slash the bloated redundancy of intel we have been layering on in recent years, etc.

Is the Chairman a "disruptive thinker"? I guess we'll find out. But if we wait until we are forced to change and then only do the minimum to meet that mandate, while sustaining as much of the status quo as possible, it doesn't sound very "disruptive" to me.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 09/03/2012 - 5:17pm

In reply to by Jack Gander


Good question and good point. I think the questions can be asked in myriad different ways but what it all comes down to is leadership on the part of the one who is asking the questions and assessing the answers. And if the questions are asked before the task organization is established during planning we can prevent some of these potentially unnecessary layers of HQ from being deployed (I emphasize potentially because sometimes they are justified and do add value but what we have to avoid is just adding a HQ just because it exists or just because part of its elements are being deployed) But again, in the end, it is all about leadership and figuring out and then doing what is right - and though it is a cliche, doing the hard right over the easy wrong.

Jack Gander

Mon, 09/03/2012 - 2:49pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


Do you think that approach worked? I fear that such a question could result in a canned answer such as HQ X is needed to maintain the Commander’s SA or to facilitate span of control. To me the better question today is, “can we accomplish the mission without it?” JFCOM offers a good example.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 09/03/2012 - 9:05am

In reply to by Bill M.


When I was an S3 our Group Commander, COL Todd, when looking at how to task organize forces, said that for each headquarters and level of command the following question should be asked and if the answer is negative then it should be eliminated from the task organization: Does this HQ contribute to effective operations and if so how?

This article was well researched and presented, and made a strong case for cutting overhead staffs before cutting one soldier, marine, aircraft or ship. The author is not attacking the pursuit effective jointness, but the unintended detrimental consequences of excessive jointness.

Some key examples cited included:

The culture of jointness and desire to speak with one voice silenced dissented opinions about the logic of the Iraq war leading to bad military advice to our civilians. (an example where this didn’t apply was GEN Shinseki’s challenge to the prevailing logic concerning Rumfield’s assumptions prior to invading Iraq)

He noted that jointness has improved efficiency, but in some cases has eroded effectiveness as seen in Grenada and the failed attempt to rescue our hostages from Iran. The desire to “always” use joint to the extent possible resulted in some illogical decisions such as using unqualified Marine pilots for the hostage rescue in Iran, and brining in the Army to support the Grenada operation, which the Navy-Marine team could have handled on their own with much less confusion.

The author in my view misrepresented some of the facts regarding effectiveness. Clearly the military was more effective in Panama than Grenada, and very effective during the first Gulf War which is partly attributable to improved jointness. However, the author argues we may fail in Afghanistan, which in his view means the military hasn’t improved in effectiveness since the Vietnam conflict. I think an argument could be made that while the military made several serious mistakes in both conflicts, but ultimately the factors driving failure were/are unrealistic policies. From a fighting perspective the military has improved considerably.

Where the author hits a grand slam is his detailed description of unneeded layers of staff. The article points out there are between 17 and 30 layers of staffs between the national level and the action officer. That equates to 17 layers of filters from Joe on the ground to decision makers. Any wonder our higher level leaders can't get ground truth?

The ever present and troublesome personnel system was noted several times. One point made was the excessive focus on making all officers joint qualified, and the detrimental impact of demanding to much diversity in officers’ careers. He wrote, “Is it realistic to expect a naval officer to become an expert in a technical field and warfare specialty, complete successful tours at staff and command positions, perform joint duty, and remain current in professional military education, all within twenty years?”

The requirement for all officers to get joint qualified has resulted in 13,070 joint billets of which only 758 were classified as critical. The cost of maintaining this equates to how many Army or Marine Battalions? He points out that closing Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) has had no negative effect on the force, and advocates considering the doing the same to STRATCOM. The savings would be considerable. This would be a positive change in my view, especially since the prevailing trend since 9/11 has been to grow staffs.

What about the myth that the military is underpaid? He points out, “A 2011 Congressional Budget Office study noted military compensation was significantly higher than that of federal employees with the same education and experience. Eliminating the four-star command infrastructure and many of the military billets in the logistics arena would provide considerable savings, as the two-billion-dollar savings from the closure of JFCOM suggests.”

He adds, “Eliminating up to a third of the total admirals and generals would provide a significant cost savings.” Of course it would, because most of these officers come equipped with their own mini-staffs, luxury offices, perks, etc. and worse had layers of bureaucracy to the system.

He sums it perfectly, “The current “easy choice” of reducing end strength to survive the forthcoming budget reductions should be considered only after all means of reducing unnecessary overhead have been exhausted.”


Tue, 08/28/2012 - 9:24am

In reply to by Surferbeetle

I second the Barnett recommendation. Over the last several years I've had the honor of teaching over 1,200 civil affairs students. Each one of them has seen the TED video referenced here and many of them have written summaries of it.

Good stuff.

If we (USG) desires to continue engaging in stablity operations (with an eye towards stability-an entirely separate conversation), then something needs to give. Either big Army needs to embrace non-lethality as a core competency (for example, making BSO's out of loggies instead of combat arms types) or DoS needs to buy a lot more equipment.



Mon, 08/27/2012 - 1:55am

We as a nation have long ago lost sight of optimum tooth to tail and power to weight ratios and have instead sold our collective soul to pork to vote ratios.

Military Keynesianism, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

TED Talk, Thomas Barnett: The Pentagon's new map for war and peace,

<i>In this bracingly honest and funny talk, international security strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett outlines a post-Cold War solution for the foundering US military: Break it in two. He suggests the military re-form into two groups: a Leviathan force, a small group of young and fierce soldiers capable of swift and immediate victories; and an internationally supported network of System Administrators, an older, wiser, more diverse organization that actually has the diplomacy and power it takes to build and maintain peace.</i>

Don Henley - My Thanksgiving,