FY 2010 Defense Initiatives


There has been no substantial change in the U.S. military since the 1986 Goldwater-Nicolas Act. This established a unified command structure, but also resulted in a massive growth of large headquarters. There are thousands of military experts ready to offer solutions to the Pentagon's complex problems. As the Obama administration takes over with a promise for change, those hoping to improve the U.S. military are excited. The Center for Defense Information (CDI) www.cdi.org published a detailed book "America's Defense Meltdown," which provides many excellent ideas. However, Congress has little interest in complex issues and is easily intimidated by all-knowing Generals trained to never change anything. 

The best chance for prompting change in the U.S. military is for reformers to unite behind a short list of simple changes that can be inserted into the FY 2010 defense budget. This may be done by civilian leaders in the new administration, or as amendments by Congressmen. Congressional experts like Winslow Wheeler at CDI could write the actual legislation and distribute the ideas throughout Washington. If most military reformers refer to the list as a good start, powerful people will take note. These must be simple ideas that cost nothing to implement. The elimination of major military programs is important, yet are hot topics best left for individuals to address.

Having pondered ideas to improve the U.S. military for decades, my top ten are listed below. Hopefully, CDI and other organizations will endorse these, or develop their own list that may include some. I admit that each will have a very minor impact, but they will crack the wall of resistance in the Pentagon, so officers realize that change is not all bad. After this FY 2010 salvo of minor changes, reformers can push for deep, long-term changes that require years to implement.

1. Freeze the Defense Budget                                                         

U.S. military spending has nearly doubled during the Bush administration. It is now obvious that the nation must devote more funds to domestic issues and deficit reduction. Nevertheless, the Pentagon is ready to demand another major increase in military spending for FY 2010.

They will argue that military spending is good for the economy. However, military spending is a very poor method of stimulating growth and jobs. It provides comparatively few jobs and no long-term benefit. In contrast, government spending on labor intensive wind and hydroelectric power projects can repay the investment.

While there are great arguments to cut military spending, it will be difficult to stop the military spending juggernaut. Democrats fear that cutting the military budget will show them as soft on defense and anti-military. Generals will warn of dire threats unless their greedy demands are met. Just halting growth will prove difficult, so those concerned about the nation's future must insist that the FY 2010 Defense Budget remain frozen at the FY 2009 level.

2. Eliminate Military Air Show Demonstration Squadrons

The U.S. military spends millions of dollars and burns millions of gallons of fuel each year to entertain the public with air shows. It has two squadrons dedicated to this task, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. They perform Americaís most expensive and wasteful shows. They help with recruiting, but the cost is outrageous. They burn most fuel just preparing for shows and expend tremendous fuel traveling the nation with their aircraft, while staying in nice hotels.

How can political leaders explain the need to conserve energy, reduce greenhouse emissions, and cut government spending while dozens of expensive fighter jets zoom around the nation performing stunts? In addition, a $50 million fighter is lost in an accident each year while performing these dangerous shows. The military can still participate in air shows with static displays and fly-bys, but full-time demonstration squadrons are wasteful.

There have been efforts within the military to eliminate these expensive demonstration squadrons, but they have a cult following that protects them after every air show crash highlights this waste. Since fuel costs three times more than three years ago, now is the time to end this frequent demonstration of waste. This doesnít take an act of Congress. The President can set an example and disband these two squadrons today.

3. Procure 400 OV-6Bs

The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps must be forced to form observation squadrons with inexpensive and economical two-seat turboprop aircraft. These were eliminated as part of the Cold war drawdown when OV-10s were retired. Such aircraft are desperately needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, where expensive fast flying jet fighters attempt to provide observation support. The Army has demanded that the Air Force field small turboprop observation aircraft these past two years, but this has been flatly rejected. The Army contracted for some of their own, upsetting the Air Force. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Gates criticized the Air Force for refusing to adapt to current needs.

There are dozens of suitable aircraft, but the best choice is the T-6A now used as a primary trainer. These are more expensive than alternatives, but they are in service so the Air Force and Marines cannot delay this idea for years with studies and competition for the best aircraft. They also have ejection seats, something Air Force Generals will demand. More information can be found here: OV-6B.

The Navy and Air Force have procured these new "JPATS" for several years. The Navy wants 44 JPATS in FY2009 for a measly $290 million ($6.7 million each). The attack/observation variant (called the T-6B) has been sold to foreign buyers. It costs more for the weapon's computer and six hardpoints, but a unit price of $8 million is reasonable. 

Congress or the Obama administration should simply demand that the Air Force and Marines form observation squadrons, and fund a multi-year buy for maybe 300 for the Air Force and 100 for the Marines. Both services have the manpower as they will deactivate fighter-attack squadrons over the next few years to downsize and afford ultra-expensive jet fighters like the F-35 (JSF). A squadron of OV-6Bs will cost as much to procure as a single F-35. In addition, OV-6Bs are two-seaters and can fly slower and turn tighter than an F-35.  No studies or evaluations or competition are needed, just buy these proven aircraft now.

4. Absorb the Air National Guard

The rational idea of absorbing the shrinking Air National Guard into the Air Force Reserve is explained here. This may be the most difficult of these initiatives, but sane people agree that it is a reasonable change. Congressmen will worry about losing Air Guard units, but most will simply become an Air Force Reserve unit. The only powerful opponent is the Army National Guard, which may fear this will lead to cuts. However, they could be rewarded with some Air Guard facilities and a thousand more positions, those saved by eliminating the Air Guard state headquarters.

Generals in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps should have no objection. Moreover, active Air Force Generals support this change. The only hard opposition will come from a few thousand career focused Air Guard bureaucrats whose careers would then depend on competition within the Air Force Reserve, rather than their state political contacts. This is an excellent target for bureaucratic elimination, especially now that most Air Guard flying units have been disbanded.

5. Allow All GIs to Drink at Base Clubs

Career military personnel scoff at the idea that outsiders know what is best for the U.S. military. New ideas are suspect, and the motives of those pushing for change are questioned. As a result, GIs will be shocked if evil reformers force through a change to allow all GIs to drink at base clubs. This will be supported by 80% of GIs, and opposed by most base commanders. The advantages are numerous, as explained here: Allow All GIs to Drink at Base Clubs.

Most assume that drinking at base clubs was banned during the 1990s because of political pressure from groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and some Christian groups. That was a factor, but officer careerism was the main force. The biggest headache for base commanders is the continual problems at their base clubs. These cause late night phone calls, adverse publicity, and threatens their career. Under the total responsibility concept found in the U.S. military, base commanders are personally responsible for misconduct at "their" base clubs, so they prefer that young GIs drink illegally off-base. As a result, most supported the idea of matching local drinking laws. In reality, raising the drinking age to 21 was forced on the states by the federal government.

This does not seem like a reform issue, although it will improve recruiting, morale, and unit esprit. However, it is simple to implement and will generate almost a billion dollars a year in sales that support other base recreational activities. Moreover, all GIs will see that changes forced upon their service that Generals oppose are not all bad.

6. Allow E-7s and E-8s to Serve 30 Years

Highly-skilled career enlisted men are forced to retire in their early 40s because of an old, irrational law. While E-9s can serve 30 years, most E-8s must retire at around age 46 at their 27-year mark, while E-7s must retire at around age 41 at their 22-year mark. There are good arguments that E-7s and above should be allowed to serve until age 56, but suddenly allowing E-7s and E-8s to serve 30 years will temporarily clog the manpower system. Manpower planners need a few years to digest this change before more ambitious reforms are implemented.

Allowing E-7s and E-8s to serve 30-years would slow promotions, but that means enlisted are more experienced. Moreover, longer careers mean that fewer recruits are needed each year, so the Army and Marine Corps can grow in size without increasing recruiting, basic training, and initial specialty training expenditures. 

This would also make military careers more attractive. GIs will know that once they make E-7, they are assured 30-years and will not face discharge at age 41 because of an irrational manpower policy. They met promotion requirements for E-4 and E-5, and were selected for promotion to E-6 and E-7 above 40% of their peers. They are the best enlisted with great experience that our military should retain. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once mentioned this problem when he noted that many servicemen in his office were younger than his children, yet were forced to retire. Allowing E-7s and E-8s to serve 30-years is one small step toward ending "up or out."

7. Require the GMAT

The area of officer career management is a disaster, yet the problems are complex and will take decades to correct. Meanwhile, Congress should require the GMAT for promotion to O-3, O-4, O-5, and O-6. This is an issue that all Congressmen and staffers can immediately grasp, and can be implemented at no cost. Since it will not affect  budgets, force structure, or the careers of O-6s and above, senior officers may not strongly oppose, except because of their institutional principle that change is bad.

This will not fix major problems, but pushing Congress to pass this simple reform will be a major task since the Pentagon has blocked all changes for the past two decades. If reformers force this minor change, it will prove successful and set the stage for more complex and comprehensive reforms.

8. Allow O-6s to serve until age 56

Today's O-6s (Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps Colonels, and Navy Captains) must retire after 30 years of service, regardless of age. An officer who does not enter the military until age 28 and is gradually promoted to O-6 is allowed to serve to age 58, while those commissioned at age 22 are forced to retire at age 52 because, that's the way an old law was written. An officer's retirement benefits cannot increase past 75% of basic pay after 30 years of service, however, many O-6s would prefer to stay in uniform a few more years rather than purse a new career in their early 50s. This will save the military millions of dollars annually as hundreds of O-6s forgo a few years of retired pay to remain in uniform. 

Senior Generals can serve until age 62, so why should most Colonels be forced to retire at age 52? They have been selected for promotion ahead of 72% of their peers during their career. Many recently obtained an advanced degree at government expense and on government time. Why must they retire so early? A modest change to allow O-6s to serve until age 56 will be appreciated and save money. This would result in a decrease in promotion opportunities for O-5s, but increase the experience level of O-6s, especially if allowed to stay in the same job their last few years. Once this change has been digested by the manpower system by reducing the excess officers in the pipeline, raising the retirement age even higher should be considered.

Moreover, O-6s could focus on their military duties without fear they will be jobless at age 52, when many have children attending expensive universities. Early retirement encourages them to pursue jobs with defense contractors while on active duty, which presents conflicts of interest. In contrast, O-6s with tenure to age 56 can offer candid and opposing assessments to Generals and Congressmen, without fear it will end their rare chance for promotion to the General officer ranks, resulting in discharge in their early 50s. Of course some O-6s lose their fitness to serve as they grow older, yet that is already an issue today. Therefore, annual O-7 selection boards should also retire any O-6 unfit for service. This is one small step toward ending "up or out."

9. Eliminate Meal Allowances (BAS)

This problem is little-known outside the U.S. military, as explained here. This is simple to fix and it will relieve a long-standing source of irritation and confusion. This may seem unimportant, but a frequent complaint from GIs is the irrational and unfair compensation system.

10. Close the Naval base at Guantanamo Bay

It seems certain that President Obama will close the U.S. military prison at  Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Senator McCain also wants it closed. One reason it was selected is because the base no longer has a function. A former head of the Atlantic command, Marine General John Sheehan, wanted to close it.  It was established after the Spanish-American war because the U.S. military always builds bases in newly conquered areas. Its original mission was to watch for enemy fleets heading toward the Panama Canal. This was before aircraft and satellites, and when the USA controlled the canal. 

As a result, President Obama should order the closure of the entire base, not just the prison. The base was retained the past four decades just because Castro was in Cuba. Castro will die soon, and relations with Cuba should normalize as Obama has already promised to ease trade barriers. Closing Guantanamo Bay is a first step, and one that will save the Navy millions of dollars a year and eliminate thousands of  base personnel slots at a remote, unpopular duty station. The Navy already has an air station at Key West, Florida for whatever Caribbean contingency arises, plus access to airfields in Puerto Rico.

Get Some Points on the Board

Anyone attempting to improve the U.S. military is considered naive and foolish. Generals in the Pentagon were selected for demonstrating loyalty to preserving the status quo.  They have no tolerance for outsiders imposing change, which is known as the "not invented here" reason that organizations reject sound proposals for improvement. These ten are some of the easiest and fastest reforms that can slip past through cracks in bureaucratic walls. Once these are breached with small changes, more complex and ambitious improvements are possible.

                                                     Carlton Meyer  editorG2mil@Gmail.com

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