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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Military Incompetence

Why the American Military Doesn't Win

Richard A. Gabriel

Hill and Wang


Military Incompetence

THE ability of a nation to work its will through military force is one of the vital elements of national power. The credibility of a state's military forces (based on its record) is an important factor in its ability to gain its foreign-policy objectives without the use of force. The threat of force is often sufficient to gain policy objectives. As a corollary, when a nation has a record of successful military operations, the available options of its adversaries are often self-limiting. It was, for example, the excellent reputation of the British Navy during World War II that prompted Hitler to call off the invasion of Britain when strong evidence suggested that the invasion could have been successful. And it was the reputation of American naval and air forces that convinced Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis of 1963 that Soviet ships would be engaged if they attempted to pass the American naval blockade. The threat of military force operates best when it is aligned with specific foreign-policy objectives whose goals are militarily obtainable. The injunction of Clausewitz that military applications of force should always be subordinate to well-defined political objectives remains as valid today as it was one hundred and fifty years ago when he first stated it.
The reverse is true of a nation with a record of failure and incompetence in its military operations. Such a state puts itself at a great disadvantage. A pattern of repeated military failure can prompt or encourage an adversary to embark upon policies designed to take advantage of this pattern. A reputation for failureencourages a nation's adversaries and increases the possibility of military confrontation. This axiom is more true of conventional wars and the use of military force in the service of limited objectives than it is of nuclear war. Thus, a nation that acquires a reputation for its inability to execute successful military missions increases risk to itself.
It seems almost beyond doubt that since World War II the United States has acquired a reputation for failure and inefficiency in its military operations. This well-deserved reputation is supported by the evidence. The truth is that the application of military force has not been decisive in furthering American foreign-policy goals since World War II. The Korean conflict resulted in stalemate, and while it could be credibly argued that U.S. forces performed reasonably well, the fact remains that U.S. forces were pushed out of North Korea by the massive weight and determination of Chinese armies. Only after the Chinese had inflicted a series of military defeats upon U.S. forces and pressed them back against a line roughly equivalent to their position prior to the hostilities did the conflict settle into a political stalemate. U.S. forces did not achieve most of their battlefield objectives during that war. After Korea, there was Vietnam. For ten years, American military forces engaged an elusive enemy and in the end withdrew from the conflict. The performance of American combat forces in that war left much to be desired in terms of military technique, quite apart from the larger political reasons for the withdrawal of the United States. The American military effort was characterized by the improper use of ground tactics, combat units that did not fight well, officers that led badly, the fragging (assassination) of officers, and the application of enormous rates of firepower delivered by highly complex systems that simply did not succeed in breaking the will of the enemy to resist. By any standard, the Vietnam adventure must be classified as both a military and a political defeat.

It has been a decade since American forces left Vietnam and almost a dozen years since American forces began systematically to withdraw from battlefield operations and turn over responsibilityfor the fighting to the South Vietnamese. Since the drawdown in Vietnam, the American military has launched no fewer than five major military operations to apply military force in support of Washington's foreign-policy objectives. These operations are: (1) the raid on the Sontay prison in North Vietnam to rescue seventy American POWs held there; (2) the rescue of the crew of the Mayaguez in Cambodia in 1975; (3) the mission into Iran in 1980 to rescue the hostages held at the American embassy in Teheran; (4) the participation in the multinational force in Lebanon from 1982 to 1983 in support of the Gemayel government; and (5) the invasion of Grenada in the Caribbean in 1983 in order to topple a hostile regime and replace it with one more accommodating to U.S. interests. In every instance, the U.S. military either failed to accomplish its mission or else mounted operations characterized by serious shortcomings in military technique. The result has been to bring the credibility of American military forces into question in the eyes of America's friends and adversaries both. No less an authority on successful military operations than the former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force, Rafael Eitan, remarked in response to U.S. criticism of Israeli forces that he found it difficult to take seriously the advice of military commanders who could not even protect their own Marines at the Beirut airport.
The record over the last fifteen years of American military ventures has been demonstrably one of failure bordering on incompetence. The critical question is why this has been so. What factors contribute to military failure and the development of incompetence? Is there something about the American military that tends to produce leaders who cannot plan and cannot lead? Are there systemic institutionalized practices and values that increase the probability of military failure? The answer seems to be yes. Moreover, when military failure becomes as frequent as it has, the chances of success are diminished by the system itself. When themilitary as a matter of course produces people who cannot do their jobs, then the system is corrupt.
Military incompetence can be defined as the inability of military leaders and forces to avoid mistakes which, in the normal course of things, should and could be avoided. This definition says nothing about those contingencies that cannot realistically or reasonably be planned for or foreseen and therefore avoided. All war involves the "fog of war," and the fog of war can never be totally overcome. Chance and folly play major roles in any military operation. But military competence is a result of avoiding the avoidable; planning for reasonable contingencies and being able to produce and execute plans that have a reasonable chance of success; and exercising control over events rather than being buffeted about by them. In short, military competence means the application of prudential judgments which minimize foreseeable risks, thereby increasing the probabilities of success.
There appear to be a number of institutional conditions engendered by the American military structure itself which increase the probability of military incompetence. How the impact of any one of these conditions will affect any particular mission cannot, of course, be determined in advance. What can be said is that these conditions certainly increase the probability of military failure and incompetence. Military decision-making is, of course, never flawless. Victory and success go not always to the brilliant but to those who make the fewest mistakes. My contention is that certain institutional practices of the U.S. military increase the probability of failure: planners will make more mistakes than could reasonably be expected under normal conditions.
The responsibility for military planning, direction, and execution falls most heavily on the officer corps. What is it about the American officer corps that seems to produce officers who fail to succeed on the battlefield? It should be pointed out that the problems which characterize the officer corps today were first manifestin Vietnam. They had devastating effects on the ability of U.S. forces in the field to conduct battlefield operations, and they continue to have great impact on operations as the record of military operations since 1970 seems clearly to indicate. Worse, it is likely that without serious reform, these shortcomings will lead to future military failures.
The officer corps is critical to combat operations. It is the institutional memory of an army, the living repository of its history, its experiences, and, above all, its lessons. It is the officer corps that reflects the values and characteristics of the military. If the corps is corrupt or incompetent, the whole army will be also. If the corps is of high quality, then it is possible to forge a good army. The officer has three chief obligations: to be technically competent, to be an example to his men and his junior officers, and to provide solid judgment. Without role models, effective combat units cannot be built. Without an officer corps that sets the example for behavior in battle, an adequate corps cannot be developed, since there is no clear line stretching from the past through the existing corps to the corps that must meet the future. An officer corps that is incapable of good battlefield judgment will be unable to avoid defeat.
One major problem of the American military officer corps is that it is too large. The ratio of an officer corps to its men is historically associated with its ability to perform well. There may even be an optimum size. Experience suggests that a corps that ranges between 3 and 6 percent of total strength is the most effective in battle. Historical examples abound and include the Roman Army, the Waffen SS, the German Army in both world wars, the British Army, the French Army in Indochina, and the present-day Israeli Army. American Marine units fought better than Army units in Vietnam in part because the Marine officer strength never exceeded 6.4 percent of total strength, whereas Army officer strength exceeded 15 percent.1
The reason that size is important is not difficult to discern. Tolimit the size--ratio--of the officer corps is a recognition that leadership is a relatively rare quality. When rigorous intellectual and physical standards of leadership are set, only a few can meet them. Historically, successful armies have tended to employ only qualified officers rather than to lower standards. American policy, both in Vietnam and since, has been marked by exactly the opposite policy; standards have deteriorated because there is an inflated officer pool, inflated staffs, and excessive school assignments.
The size of an officer corps contributes to good leadership and planning in another sense. A small corps is likely to develop a professional brotherhood--a sense of camaraderie and cohesion. A sense of profession, besides creating esprit, establishes within the corps an information network through which one can learn of an officer's reputation and abilities. In such a network, bureaucratic incompetence cannot be easily hidden. Members of a small corps, as in the Israeli Army, are likely to know one another and make it easier to develop mutual trust.
Small size also encourages officers to assume responsibility. Larger corps diffuse authority and thus diminish responsibility. It is interesting that despite the fact that the U.S. military has conducted five major military operations since Vietnam, all of which were failures, not a single officer has ever been removed from his command or position as a consequence of these failures. The ability to avoid individual responsibility and to blame "the system" is a major shortcoming of a large officer corps.
If the size of an officer corps is an indication that we produce officers who are not good planners and combat leaders, then the American military seems to be in great difficulty. During the Vietnam war, officer strength comprised about 17.5 percent of total strength.2 Since Vietnam, the percentage of officers has fallen to 11 percent (84,447 officers) of total force strength. Curiously, however, as the number of officers relative to enlisted strength has declined since the war in Vietnam, the ratio of general officers to troop strength has increased by 31 percent. The Army has more general officers relative to the number of troops it can put in the field than it did during Vietnam. And the same is true of the Navy and the Air Force as well. Today, Army troop strength is less thanhalf of what it was during Vietnam. Although the number of officers has declined, the percentage of officer strength is still far too large and maldistributed by rank. Historically, in effective combat armies, the percentage of officers to men almost never exceeds 5 percent. 3 By this standard, the American officer corps is twice as large as it has to be in the Army, and at least a third as large in the Navy and the Air Force. During Vietnam, the Army fielded one officer for every 8.5 soldiers, a ratio that was far too high and even exceeded the high World War II ratio of one officer for every 9.4 soldiers. Today that ratio is even more disproportionate, with the Army fielding one officer for every 6.8 soldiers.
The American officer corps is an association of strangers in which officers, even at the top, rarely know one another well. Its primary virtue seems to be that its size increases the possibilities for promotion when things go right and reduces the probability that anyone will be held directly responsible when things go wrong.
Historically, there is one thing worse than a large officer corps for engendering incompetence, and that is an officer corps in a state of perpetual motion. Stability of assignments is important to combat effectiveness. The period of assignment for officers has ranged, historically, from the extremes of the Roman Army (twenty years) to the modern Canadian and British Armies (five years). The greater the stability of officers in command and staff positions, the greater the likelihood that they will develop a close knowledge of their men and their units' abilities. When officers remain with their units for long periods, they can develop, learn from their mistakes, and grow in competence. But when an officer has only eighteen months with his unit, a common occurrence in the American military, every decision and mistake becomes crucial to his promotion and his career. These conditions are intensified by an evaluation system which requires officers to be almost perfect, on paper at least, to qualify for the next promotion or assignment. Thus, officersrarely learn from their mistakes. Few dare to admit that they made any, for fear of being passed over for promotion.
Officer-corps stability is also important to the development of unit cohesion, without which combat effectiveness and military competence simply cannot exist. The bonding of men in battle can occur only when subordinates see their officers as competent, trustworthy, and dependable leaders. These perceptions and attachments require long tours of duty with the same unit. The American officer corps is afflicted by excessive personnel turnover--turbulence. In 1980, 81 percent of the Army's officer and enlisted personnel changed assignments. A 1975 study of the 2nd Armored Division in Europe found that, in a seven-month period, the turnover rates were 119 percent for platoon leaders, 113 percent for company commanders, and 98 percent for platoon sergeants. In the same division, among the staff for the S-3 section, the crucial operational planners for the division, turnover ranged from 177 percent to 217 percent for senior staff officers and noncommissioned officers. The assignment turnover rate for the entire division in all ranks ranged from a low of 177 percent to a high of 388 percent.4
Things have not changed very much. A report on combat readiness produced by the House Armed Services Committee of the U.S. Congress in 1985 emphasizes the problem of increased assignment rotation in all military services as contributing greatly to a decline in combat readiness. It would appear, from a detailed review of the committee report, that the single most important factor, next to the lack of equipment and training time, in reducing readiness is the turnover in assignments of the officer corps. The high rate of turnover of officers makes it impossible to develop long-term strategies and, more importantly, to hold anyone responsible. The high rates of turbulence are evident not only in the officer corps but in the enlisted ranks as well. According to the House report on DOD appropriations,5 the average turnover rates in individual units range from 14 percent per month to 25 percent per month, and in some units it is almost a hundred percent a year. This situation refers only to external turbulence--that is to say, to turnover of officers and men who rotate in and out of theirunits--and does not take into consideration additional internal turbulence, the movement of men within their units. As a consequence, for all practical purposes, most American units turn over almost once every three months.
Not surprisingly, it is difficult to develop any sense of confidence, competence, or cohesion in such units. They are comprised of and led by men who are strangers to one another. The 1980 Army Training Study made the simple but important point that any unit which manifested a rate of assignment turbulence of 25 percent per quarter was simply impossible to train to an adequate level of combat effectiveness.6 This rate, regarded by the military as an extreme, seems to be typical of American units today, since it reflects the rate of turbulence in the officer corps and among the enlisted ranks as well.
The turnover of general officers is equally rapid. From 1960 through 1980, the average length of time on station for a four-star general in the Army was only twenty months. For a three-star general, it was twenty-one months, and declining rapidly to nineteen months. For most lower-ranking general officers, the average assignment was less than twenty-four months.7 Even at the highest staff level, the rotation in assignments was excessive. Over the same twenty-year period, Lewis Sorely analyzed positions at the highest level of the Army General Staff. He found that the average time all these officers were stationed together so that they could function as a complete staff unit was only 4.8 months.8 Although this figure is up somewhat from the 3.8-month average found during the Vietnam war, turnover was still excessive. The comparable figure for the Soviet General Staff during the same twenty-year period was fourteen years! Thus, even the major planning mechanism at the highest level of the Army is in a state of continual turbulence, a fact which has led Paul Savage to conclude, in his article on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that it is simply unfit and unstructured either to plan or to command major military operations.9 At least three of the major military operations which failed between 1970 and 1983 were planned within the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The severe turnover is the logical consequence of other institutionalpractices which require that the officer corps change assignments frequently in order to prosper within the military's increasingly bureaucratic environment. One major cause is that the military has too many officers to begin with, and far too many field-grade and general officers. The increased number of staff officers, coupled with the unrealistically short twenty-year-retirement system, compels young officers to move through at least seventeen different assignments in order to qualify for promotion to general officer. The military does not allow captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels to serve long periods in their posts without having to compete for promotion and new assignments. This up-or-out policy forces an officer to pass through a number of gates or to punch "tickets" in order to continue to be promoted, and even to qualify for retirement benefits. An officer cannot remain on a specific assignment for a long time as his Canadian, British, French, German, Israeli, and even Soviet counterparts do, so he can stay on to perform effectively in that assignment. The emphasis is on numerous different assignments rather than long-term service in one or two fields of expertise. Command positions, so necessary to success, are far fewer in number than there are officers, and so, to ensure that each officer gets an opportunity to command, assignments are reduced to the shortest possible duration, frequently less than twenty-four months. The tremendous competition for these assignments adds to instability of the corps and increases the isolation of officers from one another, since they are continually forced to compete with each other.
This chronic instability at all levels of the officer corps, most particularly at the higher levels, has made it almost impossible for American military forces to develop a general-staff system. The system should be built around a corps of permanently assigned officers who have great expertise in their own fields. This corps should be selected from young officers, usually captains, and should have to endure slow promotions. In other armies, general-staff officers tend to be the best and the brightest members of the corps, and their value rests in providing a cohesive group of trained experts permanently in place. That allows experience and expertise to be brought to bear on the planning and execution of militaryoperations. They become the "nervous system and brain" of the military structure, a repository of the lessons and traditions of military service and history, as well as the locus of experience and expertise. Although the French, German, Israeli, Canadian, British, and Soviet Armies all have a general-staff system, the American military does not. As a consequence, the American military structure lacks a stable central nervous system which can continue to send orders and ideas to the fighting arms of the service.
Unfortunately, since we have no general-staff system, the American military has no institutional memory. There is no place where the lessons of past wars are brought together and analyzed for dissemination throughout the corps. Although one would think that some institutional mechanism to do this would be evident within the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in fact it is not. Further, the education of officers is such that they do not, as a rule, study the failures of their own history, especially if those failures tend to be recent. Consequently, there seems to be a marked tendency for military commanders who plan and execute military operations to repeat the mistakes of the past. As one wag remarked with regard to this tendency in Vietnam, "We were not in Vietnam for ten years; we were there for one year ten times." It has been said that the corrupt Bourbon monarchy remembered everything and learned nothing. The same is true of the American military high command.
Excessive rotation also produces an entrepreneurial officer corps. Competition and careerism make every officer look out for himself. Such a system engenders values corrosive of any concept of the military as a special calling requiring special service and sacrifice. It encourages attitudes and values in which one's men are seen as instrumentalities of advancement, and thus erodes any sense of special moral or ethical obligations. There is no place left for the competent officer who wishes to have a career in a givenfield of expertise and who is willing to forgo promotion and rotational assignment. Linking retention to promotion, instead of linking retention to competence and experience, is a serious flaw in the system.
Military experts have been replaced by managerial technocrats who have little interest or feel for the human dimension of war. In fact, as Jeff Record has pointed out, the few surviving combat leaders remain because they were also able to master management skills so demanded by a bureaucratic systems.10 One general officer (Yasotay) has gone so far as to suggest that "ours is an army of clerks, not fighters, and they are running the show."11 This general officer, still on active duty but writing under a pseudonym, makes the point that personnel managers are actually in charge of the system and they have redesigned the system of military promotion and rewards to reward managerial bureaucrats while penalizing the warriors. He notes that the Officer Personnel Management System (OPMS) was created by administrative non-warriors for managers, at the expense of combat leaders, who ran the military during its more successful days. He goes on to charge that the Army promotion boards in 1983 were chaired and controlled mostly by officers who were not front-line soldiers but who served in combat support or administrative positions for most of their careers.12 Paradoxically, the OPMS system was designed in the mid-seventies as a reform, to give the non-warrior an equal chance to remain in the Army and to prosper. The system, it seems, has been stood on its head. As a consequence, the officer who succeeds within the military bureaucracy is more often not a trained combat leader who has studied and practiced the arts of war but more likely an experienced bureaucratic infighter who has studied the art of management and knows how to survive in a bureaucratic system that rewards non-inventiveness, compliance, a willingness to follow rules without question, and an ability to protect bureaucratic turf and, above all, not to rock the boat. These are not the qualities of successful combat leaders or the qualities of successful military planners. A large number of American officers, especially at the highest ranks, are more fit for the boardroom than for combat command.
An additional problem is that many American officers are amateurs. Only a few have managed to make use of their combat experiences while at the same time acquiring the skills necessary to survive the bureaucracy. Amateurism is, of course, directly associated with rotational turbulence. Officers who move frequently are just about reaching a level of expertise where they can stop learning their job and carry out their tasks effectively when it is time to move to another assignment. Moreover, the need to spread oneself thinly throughout a wide range of different assignments and skills of short duration inevitably affects the quality of experience that the officer takes with him from one assignment to another. The recent reform to create a staff school for junior officers (called CASS CUBE) is ready admission that the military does not expect to keep junior staff officers in their positions long enough to learn the job. The theory is that officers will hit the ground already trained in staff skills, even if it means sending them to staff schools at the expense of reducing the time available to train them in combat skills. The fact is that many American military officers, especially at the higher levels of command and staff, are simply not expert in the military arts. Most high-level officers have not had troop command for many years and have spent a good part of their careers within the confines of staff assignments or at the "puzzle palace," the Pentagon. It is interesting that most of the higher-level command and staff schools throughout the services have courses on how to respond to congressional requests for information and how to testify before a committee hearing. In short, the frequent turnover of officers through a multiplicity of assignments, most of them not associated with the attainment of military war skills, almost guarantees that any given officer in place at any level of the military at any given time, but most particularly at the highest planning levels, will likely be an amateur in the sense that he is still learning his job rather than being able to carry out his responsibilities on the basis of experience.
The problem of bureaucracy interfering with military planning has reached outrageous proportions within the American military. And, indeed, it is a problem that begins at the top, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is difficult to imagine a military organization and staff which cannot effectively and continuously control resources, implement war plans, allocate funds, direct operations, or enforce its discipline over operational commanders. Neither can the JCS control the direction, quantity, or quality of weapons and material available to the fighting forces. The JCS is prohibited from all of this by law. While the law can be circumvented, as it often is by Department of Defense directives or by order of the President, the authority granted is often both temporary and tenuous. The JCS is but one of a number of planning staffs that compete for a share of the defense budget and for influence at the highest levels. These other staffs, including the office of the Secretary of Defense, the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, the National Command Authority, etc., are often very large and very powerful. While there are 1,082 officers in or directly supporting the JCS the office of the Secretary of Defense has 1,120, including nineteen general officers. There is presently a ratio of one general officer to every 1,735 enlisted men. In short, the JCS, as the highest planning agency in the American military, is a bloated and overburdened bureaucracy.
The consequence is that the number of staffs, study groups, and sub-group interests proliferate greatly, as do committees and sub-committees, with the result that decisions eventually reached by the JCS represent the least common denominator among competing bureaucracies. Such decisions tend to reflect two common pathologies: first, group think, the tendency to go along with plans and policies even when expertise and experience suggest that the plans may be in error or the policies flawed; and second, component thinking, a tendency to plan operations piece by piece, with little consideration to whether the pieces can be integrated into an operational whole. The results are often failure. Today the staff organization of the U.S. military forces is superburdened by largenumbers of officers, powerful sub-staff elements, and, of course, paper flow. The execution system is characterized by commanders who often neither trust their subordinates nor are trusted by them. Officers in high-level staff positions clearly understand that a single mistake may be the kiss of death to their careers, and, as a consequence, tend to develop a propensity to act like bureaucrats rather than military leaders.
Historically, a military staff is a collective intellect for the military services that assists and advises the commander in the accomplishment of missions assigned to him or his forces. Generally, there are four dimensions to staff work: operations, logistics, personnel, and intelligence. These dimensions are designed to do two things. The first is to prepare for war; that is, to see to it that the forces are in the highest state of preparedness permitted by the resources available. The second is to assist the commander in war in such a way that the overall strategic and tactical interests of the nation and the fighting units are preserved and that operational plans are realistic and achievable. Both the commander and the staff operate according to two central ethical imperatives: anything that contributes to combat readiness is good, and anything that detracts from it is bad. A commander and staff who are not permitted to act by these rules for reasons of self-interest, organizational maldesign, political obstruction, external corruption, or even conditions beyond their control will inevitably find themselves producing military plans which simply do not succeed.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest planning agency of the American military, is a historical curiosity in that it fulfills few of the conditions for rational and effective staff work. In the first instance, the JCS has no operational authority at all. In creating the JCS, the Congress authorized its existence but limited its authority and power to planning and coordination and, above all, transmitting the military orders of the commander-in-chief to subordinate commands. It is denied any operational role at all. Thus, the JCS was not and is not in the chain of command and, since 1953, can act only when authorized to do so under signature of the Secretary of Defense. This leads to a number of serious and difficult problems. Since the chain of command for operations runs fromthe President to the Secretary of Defense to the five unified commands and the three specified commands, the JCS cannot originate orders. It can only transmit orders given by its superiors, and even then, not always. Moreover, in the absence of a single national strategic plan as there is supposed to be, the JCS can scarcely plan with much effect in any case. There is a National Command Authority centered in the President, who surrounds himself with individuals who are personally loyal to him regardless of their professional role-most of whom are not military men at all. Since cronyism is inevitable in such circumstances, coupled with the fact that few civilian authorities around the President last a full term of office, the National Defense Authority itself is characterized by the same amateurism in military matters that is found at the top of the military bureaucracy itself. Worse, it is an amateurism far more sensitive to political considerations than to military ones. Thus, for example, the average term of a Secretary of Defense between 1960 and 1980 was only 2.3 years, while the average term of the military staff officer in the JCS was between twelve and fifteen months. There seems to be an evident failure to evolve a coherent national planning mechanism for directing military operations within the larger requirement of civilian control. Paradoxically, none of this has stopped civilian leaders from placing operational responsibility for planning and execution of military operations on the JCS when they have felt it politically expedient to do so. Note, for example, that it was the JCS, under General John Vessey, which planned and executed the Grenada operation.
The members of the JCS face a dilemma. Reaching their present positions depended heavily on their ability to work successfully within their individual services. Support of his subordinate commanders, who, after all, control the operational resources, is directly proportional to the degree to which the individual member of the JCS is prepared to support his subordinate interests in interservice rivalries. While the JCS service chiefs are individually influential within their own services, they are often forced to choose between conflicting interests: the classic interservice rivalry and the interests of overall force planning to meet the military needs of the nation. If they act responsibly, they must almost always goagainst the short-range, pressing interests of their respective services. And yet, if they do this, they will lose the support of their constituencies. If, on the other hand, they act primarily in the interests of their respective services, they will almost surely sacrifice the interests of the nation. The fact is that since every member of the JCS must wear "two hats," as a member of the JCS and as chief of his own career service, there is an almost inevitable conflict of interest.
When these bureaucratic interests clash with the requirements of balanced long-range operational planning, it seems inevitably that the interests of the individual service take precedence. One consequence is a military structure that is often burdened with personnel and training programs and weapons systems that do not work and, devastatingly, often work at cross-purposes to the development of a cohesive, well-led, and competent military force capable of successfully executing military operations. It takes little imagination to suggest that a great deal of the responsibility for failure on the battlefield rests at the top.
If one requires more evidence regarding the inability of the JCS to plan and execute successful military operations, one need only consider the fact that of the five military operations carried out since 1970, all of which failed or were marked by extraordinary shortcomings, three--the Sontay raid, the Iranian debacle, and the Grenada invasion--were planned and coordinated within the JCS. It is perhaps also worth noting that in at least two of these operations, the Sontay raid and the Iran mission, the JCS itself found the planning so uncoordinated and ineffective that it created ad hoc planning agencies within the JCS to plan and execute these missions, a move which, ironically, contributed to the failure of the missions.
If the JCS is neither empowered to act nor responsible for failures, then they are quite useless as a planning group. If they are responsible, they should have been punished. Failure at the highest levels to be ready for war is perhaps the greatest military sin: deliberate failure to plan for realistic contingencies; in short, negligence. While the members of the JCS collectively are not responsible for force development, they are responsible as theheads of their respective services. If there is a failure in readiness and military competence, the Chiefs have at least a moral responsibility to disclose this condition and make a protest. The same obligation exists for the Chiefs in their capacity as heads of their career services.
As one respected analyst has noted: "If the function of the JCS is in some measure to sort all this out and to introduce rational planning, procurement, reliable combat equipment, and adequate levels of military readiness, then they have clearly failed. If, on the other hand, they are unaware of the state of affairs, then they have not done what is expected of them. If, on the third, they are aware and have neither protested nor moved to correct it, then they have failed in their duty."13 These conditions seem evident in the operations of the JCS as a planning and execution group. The corollary of these circumstances, of course, is that the military operations the JCS plans or oversees generally fail.
The tendency to sacrifice operational requirements to bureaucratic interests and consensus has been evident in every one of the five military operations conducted by the United States since 1970. As we will see, each operation shows how the need to reconcile conflicting bureaucratic pressures within the planning structure dictated operational considerations. The Iran raid is a case in point.
This propensity to compromise operational standards for bureaucratic considerations leads to another major difficulty: group think. Group think may be defined as a condition in which the major assumptions of an operational plan go unexamined by the planners in order to protect the bureaucratic consensus. In the Iranian raid, once the decision was made to use Marine pilots (to satisfy the Marine Corps demands for a role in the mission), that decision was no longer subject to scrutiny or question. This remained so even though in the six months of planning prior to the raid, the Marine pilots never successfully mastered the technical skills required to put the plan into effect. From one point of view, there are great virtues in group think and in sustaining the bureaucratic consensus. If things go wrong, the entire planning staff has a vested interest in defending each component. This, inturn, minimizes responsibility, or deflects it altogether, reducing the probability that any individual or component will be penalized for failure to execute the plan successfully.
Another characteristic of the military planning process since 1960 is a tendency, once a consensus has been reached, to plan the details in a component fashion. Allowing each component commander to develop his own operational prerogatives in executing the mission gives the higher planning authorities an excuse to avoid responsibility if things go wrong: the plan was sound, but the combat force failed to perform adequately.
These conditions can be readily and accurately characterized as military incompetence. The process itself seems to contain very basic institutional pathologies which produce something akin to a civilian bureaucracy rather than a military force capable of conducting operations that have a success rate at least greater than 75 percent. By even this modest standard, the historical record of U.S. military operations over the last fifteen years has been miserable.
The poor quality of senior military leadership and, indeed, the generally poor quality of leadership at the lower levels is recognized by soldiers in the ranks. One of the remarkable findings of the Vietnam years was that the incompetence of the officer corps was readily perceived by the common soldier. In the U.S. Army alone, over one thousand officers and NCOs were killed or wounded by their own men.14 In peacetime, of course, things rarely go so far. Nonetheless, the perception of the soldiers that their officers are not of good quality remains evident in the Army and, one suspects, in the other services as well. In a study conducted annually since 1974, the data show that Army officers are perceived by their men in a rather poor light. Since 1974, the overall perceived quality of officers by their men has declined. In 1974, 58 percent of the soldiers interviewed believed that their officers were competent; ten years later, that number had fallen to 48 percent.In that decade, despite some significant attempts by the military at reform, the soldier's perceptions of officer leadership declined. Moreover, the quality of junior NCOs continues to be the major problem it was in the mid-seventies: 55 percent of the soldiers feel that their NCOs are competent while 45 percent think they are not. While the trend has remained relatively stable over the years, the number of soldiers who lack confidence in their officers and NCOs is, in absolute terms, very high, compared to other Western armies.
Among the officers interviewed in the survey, 77 percent felt that the quality of junior NCOs is a major problem, and most strikingly, it is among unit commanders that the perceptions of low-quality NCOs seem to be most severe. Equally important is the soldier's impression that his officers do not truly care for him. About 42 percent believe that the officers truly care for their men, a general decline since 1974, when 58 percent felt that the officers cared for their men. In addition, only 50 percent of the soldiers think their NCOs care for them, about the same number as a decade ago, but in absolute numbers still very low.15 The soldiers' perceptions that the officers are of poor quality stand in sharp contrast to the perceptions of the officers themselves, who, in general, believe they are doing an adequate job of establishing a bond with their men. Perhaps what counts most in terms of fighting ability is the perception of the soldiers. As the Army report noted: "Recent Israeli research on cohesion indicates that the most critical factor influencing unit morale is leadership competence. But, correspondingly, it appears that because a soldier's perceptions of leadership competence are declining, so too are perceptions of unit morale and esprit, namely cause and effect ... . Nonetheless, the level of a soldier's performance is largely determined by these perceptions." 16 In short, the Army seems to admit that its studies of morale and leadership have reached the same conclusion for a decade: soldiers do not hold their leaders, officers or NCOs, in particularly high regard.
Morale and esprit de corps is relatively low. Only 28 percent of the soldiers felt that the morale in their units was high, while 31 percent said that they were proud to be members of their units.Both indicators are down by almost ten points from 1974. Equally startling, only 62 percent of the soldiers believe that their units would be ready to go to war within a week, about the same level as a decade ago, but still very low. Only 43 percent of the soldiers think that their units would do well in combat, a decline of more than fifteen points from the 58 percent who thought similarly a decade ago.17
While the American military seems to be meeting its manpower goals for the first time since the All-Volunteer Force was created in 1973, the fact is that, due to the bureaucracy, the military force still remains short of trained combat soldiers. Weapons crews are often understrength; in many cases, crew-served weapons go completely unmanned, although they may appear on official reports as fully manned. There are also critical shortages in combat-support units and technical military operational specialties. The result, according to the House of Representatives Committee on Military Appropriations, is that "there are weapons unmanned, squads unfilled and maintenance unperformed and a general inability to accomplish training objectives."18 Paradoxically, while many infantry squads and platoons are at zero strength or understrength, the Army actually has an overage of 7,700 trained infantry combat soldiers! Why are these soldiers not in the positions for which they were trained? The answer seems to be that the military gives priority to staff assignments. When a choice has to be made, the administrative position is filled first. Moreover, there is a tendency to put a soldier trained in combat skills into an administrative position for which he is completely untrained. This happens most frequently with NCOs. It is standard military practice. In 1984, for example, the headquarters company of most division staffs was overstrength, while some of the fighting units did not have enough people to fill the war requirements. The headquarters company of the 2nd Infantry Division in 1984 was 104 percent overstrength, while the 82nd Airborne Division was 221 percent over its authorized staff strength. The 1st Armored Division was 147 percent overstrength in staff, while the 25th Infantry Division was 181 percent overstrength.19 Moreover, many of these posts were filled by NCOs, which further exacerbated the shortage of NCOs incombat units. In the words of the House Committee: "The army has not placed enough soldiers in tanks, squads, and maintenance shops, where they belong."20
The NCO corps is also encountering problems. There is a critical shortage of small-unit combat leaders within the NCO corps; the combat army is short of the trainers of new soldiers. As the old saw has it, the NCO corps is the "spine" of the Army. The Army's own public reports note that the Army has about 96 percent of all the NCOs it needs. But within combat units, the Army has only 89 percent of the NCOs necessary to go to war. The Committee on Military Appropriations uncovered the fact that, among the services, the Army has only 80.4 percent of what it says it needs to meet its combat requirements.21 While somewhat better than a few years ago, the NCO shortage is still present. One result of this shortage is that troop training and equipment maintenance are below standard. There are simply not enough trained NCOs to go around, to supervise and train soldiers in critical specialties. Worse, the shortages and poor quality are greatest in the combat units.
In one division which the House Committee did not identify, in 1984 out of 231 tank crews and 184 artillery firing crews, only twenty were together long enough to participate in two consecutive field training exercises.21 The military solution to the problem is administratively to define it out of existence. Thus, the Army has invented "battle rostering," an administrative redefinition of the number of men required to operate a tank or man artillery. A tank crew in battle, for example, requires four men. By battle rostering, the military simply redefines the number of men to two who are "actually essential": the tank commander and the gunner; if it becomes necessary to fight, the Army can only hope that a loader and a driver can be found somewhere. In reality, of course, the shortages exist. In one battalion in 1984, out of fifty-four tanks, the commander could only field fourteen with full crews, although under battle rostering the battalion can be reported to be at full strength.22 A large number of tank and artillery crews (and crew-served weapons systems) will simply be unable to fight.
Equipment shortages continue to plague the military. Our NATO forces are short the following equipment: cargo trackedvehicles to equip ten field-artillery battalions; ammunition trailers to support sixty-four field-artillery battalions; five-ton trucks to comprise forty truck companies; armored personnel to field thirty mechanized infantry battalions; tanks for two tank battalions; missiles for twenty-two mechanized infantry battalions; and electrical equipment to staff fourteen maintenance battalions.23 Forces committed to NATO alone are short ground aircraft support for 293 aviation battalions. And these shortages reflect the needs of only one of the Army's present missions. The sad truth is that some units do not have enough rifles or small-arms ammunition, TOW anti-tank missiles, or anti-tank shells to perform even half their mission requirements. In addition, about 60 percent of the Army's combat support forces are in reserve, and they have only 74 percent of the equipment they need to fulfill their mission.24 Much of the existing equipment is old and unsupportable, because there are no spare parts to keep it functioning.
In order to deal with the problem of spare parts, the military resorts to the same type of administrative sleight of hand that it uses to conceal personnel shortages. The military has adopted the administrative practice of "exemptions" and "in lieu of" items, to account for equipment which it simply does not have. For example, if a unit is supposed to have a specific number of tanks and does not have them, trucks are counted as "in lieu of" items. The result is an administrative nightmare: "The Army has lost control of its equipment inventories."25 As the House Committee on Military Appropriations found out to its horror, the Army's logistical commanders have no idea how much equipment they have on hand or even where it is located. Nor can they provide a complete inventory of either their stocks or their battle needs. One of the paradoxes is that equipment shortages not only affect old items but tend to be most severe with regard to new items. Thus, while the old M-60 tank is continually short of spare parts, the fact is that the newly deployed M-1 tank suffers from far worse parts shortages. Most of the money allocated goes to pay for the tank, with the expectation that the money for spare parts will be appropriated in future budgets. Therefore, for a period of five years, new combat weapons systems often are deployed without adequate spare parts.
Much of the inability to maintain a proper inventory is due to inadequately trained personnel, especially NCOs. It is also due to the poor quality of the soldiers being graduated from military technical schools. Moreover, the military's penchant for purchasing equipment that is unnecessarily complex means that much of its equipment is subject to breakdown.
Many of the electronic components of weapons systems such as the TOW anti-tank missile fail to work at least 30 percent of the time. Indeed, some of the equipment seems never to work at all under actual field conditions. In 1981, for example, the Cobra helicopter gunship was short often critical maintenance items needed to keep it combat-ready. Two years later, that list had grown to twenty-five.26 As one critic noted, this condition turned one of the more effective field weapons into a very expensive observation platform!
War stocks needed to supply and support just the forces committed to NATO are less than half of what the wartime requirements are projected to be by the Army itself. In addition, the Pentagon admits that "there are not enough war reserve stocks to sustain currently planned combat operations."27 In short, the equipment problems of the American Army border on the disastrous. If the Army is forced to battle, it will most likely be unable to sustain itself as a combat force of any size for very long, perhaps only ten days.
The quality of Army training is low and considerably below that of our NATO allies. Training suffers as a consequence of reductions in funds, turbulence, and the lack of good officers and NCOs. These conditions are often compounded by equipment shortages. As more and more of the defense budget goes toward purchasing new equipment, less and less goes into funds for training. The 1984 budget showed a 6 percent reduction in operations and maintenance funds, funds used for training and maintaining the force, while the drop in O&M funds for the reserve was 5 percent. In short, the Army is training less and less as the defense budgets get larger and larger.
As a result, there is a lack of basic "go to war skills," to use the argot of the Pentagon. At the National Training Center, forexample, after-action briefings continually stress that the commanders of units make the same mistakes over and over. The 10th Special Forces Group has considerable difficulty in training its troops to read tactical maps, to say nothing of following them in nighttime. Some units, such as the TOW anti-tank missile crews, only fire one round a year (when they get to fire any at all), because of the expense of each round. The rifle qualification training of the soldier on his basic infantry weapon has been reduced to about forty rounds a year, down from four hundred rounds only five years ago, when even four hundred rounds was considered insufficient. The Army, in the words of the House Committee on Military Appropriations, "is simply inadequate to perform its required combat mission."28
If conditions in the Army are less than desirable, they are no less so in the other military services. The Air Force has severe problems in training and readiness as well, according to the House Committee on Military Appropriations. The Air Force in 1985 has about 7,200 aircraft in its inventory, which include 900 long-range bombers and tankers, 3,000 combat tactical aircraft, 1,660 training aircraft, 830 transport aircraft, 400 reconnaissance aircraft, and 500 support planes, including helicopters.29 This is a large amount of equipment to sustain at military readiness, and, not surprisingly, the Air Force has failed to sustain it. There are so many aircraft that there are not enough forward area bases to deploy them. In Western Europe, the number of bases is insufficient to handle the number of combat aircraft that are expected to deploy to them in the event of a crisis with the Soviets. Those bases that do exist are insufficiently equipped with fuel, ammunition, repair facilities, control towers, etc., to keep any additional aircraft in action. Even the Air Force admits that aircraft deployed to the European theater can't be maintained on the ground or in the air. Indeed, it notes that many of the deployed aircraft will become tempting, unprotected targets for the enemy.30 In a paradox of the first order, theAir Force finds itself in the position of actually reducing the combat power of the forces in Europe by deploying more aircraft to support it!
The manpower structure of the Air Force, like the Army's, presents a number of serious problems. There is a serious shortage of mid- and senior-level personnel, especially NCOs. This shortage is made up by an overabundance of junior-grade personnel, who lack both the experience and the training to keep sophisticated aircraft systems combat-ready. On some complex weapons systems, over 90 percent of the people maintaining them are either untrained or have insufficient experience. Service-wide, more than 84 percent of all maintenance personnel have less than three years' experience on the systems they must keep flying.31 It is not surprising, then, that the Air Force suffers from a high rate of aircraft breakdown and unreadiness.
Added to a lack of trained personnel is the fact that spare parts needed to keep the aircraft combat-ready are often unavailable. Some aircraft parts are so scarce that there is a constant cannibalization of war reserve stocks in order to keep aircraft flying. The Air Force's war reserve stocks in 1984 were about 65 percent of the capacity required to perform its mission in a shooting war.32 Cannibalization is so normal that additional aircraft are routinely assigned to bases to be used for spare parts. These "hangar queens" are often counted as combat-ready, thus giving the Air Force--and the rest of us--an inflated concept of the number of aircraft that it can use in wartime. The logistical system is so confused and inefficient, and delays from production to deployment so long, that six spare engines are needed within the logistical pipeline in order to ensure that one engine is available to combat units only 80 percent of the time.33 Our ability to sustain aircraft at a reasonable level in time of war is marginal at best.
If the Air Force would have difficulty sustaining its aircraft in wartime, it already has great difficulty sustaining them in peacetime. The fact is that the flying hours budgeted in 1984 amount to only about 65 percent of what is really needed to meet mission requirements.34 Many Air Force pilots cannot get sufficient flying time because their machines are not fit to fly, due to mechanicalbreakdown. And the Air Force lacks adequate personnel to perform maintenance functions. Like the Navy, it has had to employ civilian specialists, who have become a permanent fixture on American bases. The Air Force has become almost totally dependent on these civilians. In the event of war, however, these civilian technicians are under no obligation to deploy to the battle area to keep the aircraft flying. The Air Force confronts an interesting paradox: as long as there is peace, it can rely heavily on civilian technicians to keep its aircraft flying at least 65 percent of the time. But in the event of war, this ability will decrease so that combat-ready aircraft will decline perhaps to 20 percent.
If spare parts are a problem, so is the shortage of munitions that are supposed to make American aircraft among the deadliest in the world. Air Force munition shortages, as noted by Congress, include shortages of air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, conversion kits, ammunition, storage and assembly points, and even loading equipment. There are extreme shortages in chaffa and flares, two systems absolutely vital to deceiving attacking enemy aircraft.35 In addition, the reliability of many of these munitions is in grave doubt. A recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) report found that 35 percent of the Sidewinder missiles and 25 percent of the Sparrow missiles do not work.36 Moreover, the Air Force has limited ability even to determine the weather conditions over a battle area. In fact, this ability is close to non-existent. The ability to observe, collect, and process "real time" weather information over target areas is seriously deficient, even when the target areas are under friendly control.
Finally, any plan for fighting in Europe requires that the Air Force play a key role in airlifting reserves to the battlefront within ten days of the outbreak of hostilities. The inability to provide and sustain sufficient airlift will guarantee the defeat of U.S. forces. Airlift capability is absolutely vital to any realistic wartime scenario. And the Air Force does not have enough workable aircraft to perform the airlift mission. The shortage of deployable planes is duelargely to lack of logistical support, as well as to the limits placed on the performance of the aircraft themselves. Some of these restrictions have been imposed by the Air Force itself in recognition of the fact that some of their larger transports cannot perform in practice what they were supposed to when originally ordered. The defective wing roots of the C-5A,b which make it impossible to fly with a full load, are but one example. In the event of conflict in Europe, it is highly unlikely that U.S. forces will be able to reinforce with more than two divisions; much vital equipment will simply have to be left behind. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, no fewer than three major exercises designed to test the ability of the "aluminum bridge" (airlift capability) to perform up to requirements proved that airlift was not sufficient to meet mission requirements.37 If this condition is not improved rapidly, and there has been no improvement in the last decade, it is almost impossible to imagine a non-nuclear war in Europe in which U.S. forces will not be rapidly and decisively defeated.
The readiness and battle worthiness of the Air Force is no better than the Army's. A congressional investigation into Air Force readiness concluded in 1984 that "U.S. air forces are not capable of sustaining conventional war operations against the Soviets. The support elements required to sustain a conventional war simply do not exist. Wartime taskings cannot be met because of a shortage of aircraft spare parts. This shortage is not the result of funding but is the result of ineffective planning and the acceptance of shortages as the normal conditions of command."38 In light of the billions of dollars that have been spent on the Air Force over the last ten years, one can only question the competence of the military command which has allowed these conditions to develop. It is not unfair to suggest that officers whose responsibility it is to ensure that U.S. air forces are combat-ready have not performed well. Moreover, they have legitimately earned the epithet of military incompetent.
The Navy is no better prepared than the other two services. Although the Navy reports that it has 98 percent of authorized personnel, the quality of personnel tends to be low, as it is in its sister services. Navy personnel are also maldistributed, with priority given to filling staff slots. As a consequence, the Navy, too, is suffering from critical shortages of men and material absolutely vital to wartime missions. One shortage is of well-trained petty officers. This shortage means that, in many instances, normal maintenance takes too long to perform, and in many instances cannot even be performed by the crew. To correct this situation, the Navy has been forced to hire civilian technicians, called CETs (contractual engineering technical service personnel). Without CETs, the Navy cannot operate. Again, a congressional committee found that "the Navy has become totally reliant upon these CETs to keep its more sophisticated complex weapons systems operating."39 One commanding officer of an aircraft carrier noted that, "without my CETs, I don't sail at all."40 In 1983, the Navy spent $166.2 million for CETs. But in the event of a war, the CETs are under no contractual obligation to deploy with the fleet. The Navy is having great difficulty keeping its ships deployed and combat-ready and will almost certainly be unable to do so in time of war.
The Navy's combat skills are inadequate. It lacks the trained manpower to provide adequate fleet air defense. There is a lack of skilled people to man and maintain the search radars, the fire-control systems, and the missile launchers. In addition, there are significant shortages in weaponry. For example, there is an absolutely critical shortage of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.41 Further, what is in the inventory is unbelievably expensive; each Phoenix missile costs over $900,000, and some fighter pilots will never get to fire a single missile in training in their twenty-year careers. About 30 percent of the weapons which are available to the fleet are inoperable on any given day, moreover, because of technical breakdowns and lack of spare parts. The Navy is also short of chaff, which is vital to successful air defense. In testimony before Congress, both the Atlantic and the Pacific fleet commander pointedout that their ships lacked sufficient air-defense capability. The Atlantic fleet commander described his air defenses as "meager," while the Pacific commander said his ability to defend his ships from air attack was "minimal."
A crucial element in a successful air defense of the fleet at sea is the ability to scramble and sustain combat aircraft to intercept attacking enemy planes at long range. While the figures themselves are classified, congressional staffers for the House Armed Services Committee estimate that, on any given day, probably no more than 60 percent of the aircraft aboard an attack carrier can be put into the air. The remaining aircraft are "grounded," either because of a need for spare parts or because they have been cannibalized to keep the rest of the aircraft flying.
The House Committee concluded its analysis by stating that "the U.S. naval fleet's readiness to defeat a Soviet multi-dimensional threat is seriously degraded by existing equipment, logistical and manpower deficiencies. These deficiencies exist not only in the U.S. Navy's ability to defend itself against a 'first-strike salvo' but also in its ability to sustain full combat air and surface operations for more than two weeks in duration."42 As part of a multi-service force, then, the Navy will likely be unable to carry out its combat tasks in support of ground and air operations in the event of war. And such a situation can have come about only as a result of the inability of high-level commanders over a decade to carry out the obligations assigned them not only by law but as a consequence of their rank and position.
The Marine Corps is in slightly better shape than its sister services, largely because it's a small force which relies on the Navy for its logistical support. The Marine Corps, after all, must sustain only 195,880 men at any given time, about a third of whom are routinely deployed at sea as part of the Fleet Marine Force (FMF). Although the combat readiness of the Marines is generally better than in the other services, an examination of their ability to sustainthemselves once deployed shows that things are not too different for them. For example, the shortage of air-to-surface missiles which plagues the Navy comes home with a vengeance for the Marines. It seems to be Navy practice to strip the Marine air wings not only of their aircraft but of their weapons and other munitions, and the Navy mission of defending the fleet takes precedence. Thus, the critical shortage of missiles in the Navy falls heavily on the Marine air wings, which often have no missiles for carrying out their missions. Because Marine aircraft have no cannon for defense against other aircraft, they are defenseless. More important, the primary role of the Marine air wing is to provide close combat air support and air cover for the Marines deployed on the ground. Because their aircraft have no cannon and are short of missiles, the Marines risk having their ground forces subject to merciless air attack. Since Navy aircraft will be busy performing their own missions, the Marines will be defenseless from the skies.
The Marines hope that some of the shortages in combat air support will be compensated for by the use of naval gunfire to destroy targets on the ground, but, clearly, naval gunfire is of little help in solving the overall problem of air attack. Naval gunfire cannot support the Marines once they are deployed.
The Navy's own assessment of its ability to provide close air support for the Marines is devastating in its honesty. Official reports state that "the Navy is not now effective in the close air support role."43 What this really means, of course, is that once Marine units are deployed on the beach, they are unlikely to be able to control the air over the battlefield. As any number of wars have shown, including the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and its concomitant conflict with Syrian troops in the Bekaa Valley, ground forces without combat air support to interdict enemy aircraft and to silence ground positions are likely to be decimated.
In examining the ability of the military services to carry out their missions with some probability of success, it seems clear thatnone of them is in a position to do what it is required, should it be forced to battle. This is not a new condition. And it is important to state that these conditions are not the result of insufficient funding. Quite the contrary. Both the House Committee on Military Appropriations and the GAO reports have found repeatedly that the monies appropriated over the last decade have been, for example, more than sufficient to purchase the spare parts to sustain a modern force. The real problem is that the military has created a logistical and support system that is so complex that it cannot operate well, and at times not at all. Billions of dollars are spent every year on spare parts, but the military has failed to devise a system that can get the parts to the fighting units in a timely manner in order to keep these units combat-ready. It is a condition for which the high-level military commanders can be blamed more than their political masters. It is the military commanders who are given the task of planning and ensuring that U. S. forces are combat-ready. By all indications, however--and the evidence is overwhelming--they have failed to fulfill this responsibility. That the competence of such leaders should be brought into question as a consequence of their own actions is hardly surprising.
The real test of the officer corps and the military system is this: Can they plan and execute successful military operations? The question, then, is simply: How well have U.S. military forces done in battle? Five times in recent years, our forces have been engaged in battle overseas. An examination of the five military operations carried out by the United States since 1970 suggests strongly that the American military has failed that test. Even in those few instances where the success of military force was never in doubt, as in Grenada in 1983, the operations seem to have been conducted in such a manner as to raise serious questions about the quality of both the planning and the execution ability of the forces themselves. These operations, in short, have been characterized by a high degree of military failure and incompetence.

Copyright © 1985 by Richard A. Gabriel