Sequestration, Star Inflation and the Modern Military

While passing a DoD spending bill that would allow the sequestration-beleaguered Pentagon to fund such key programs as ten new Arleigh Burke class destroyers, new Virginia class submarines and the Joint Strike Fighter, the Senate subcommittee sharply limited the money that would put toward ramping up F-35 production in FY 2015. According to the chairman, “Aggressive overlap in designing, testing and procuring this aircraft earlier in its history got us into serious trouble, and this committee is eager to avoid a repeat of these problems.” Wisdom, they say, is a resource that becomes available after you need it.

Sequestration has also apparently given the Senate the gumption to take on some of the more ridiculous manifestations of Pentagon extravagance, in this case, star inflation. “According to a recent analysis, the US military is 30 percent smaller than it was at the end of the Cold War, but it has almost 20 percent more three- and four-star officers,” in the words of the Chairman. Funding for these positions has been reduced by $8 billion.

The Project On Government Oversight published a paper on officer inflation back in 1998 that is still worth the read- because nothing has changed, at least for the better. To quote:
“In 1945, the number of Army generals per active Army division was 14. In 1986, at the height of the Cold War, the army had 24 generals per division. Now, as we face no major threat, there are 30 generals per division. At the end of WWII there were 130 Navy ships per admiral. In 1986, at the height of the Cold War, there were 2.2 ships per admiral. Now, as we face no major threat, there is an average of only 1.6 ships per admiral.”

A more recent (2011) report from POGO highlights that even during the decade of the Iraq and Afghan wars, the percentage increase in enlisted personnel was the smallest of any rank category (under 5%), while 3 and 4 star flag officers experienced a nearly 25% increase.

The costs of star creep continue well beyond the retirement of the officers, as well.

Of course, the United States is not alone in this regard- Canada, with a force smaller than the US Marine Corps, had around one general or admiral per 1000 members as of 2012.

Some of this is understandable- after all, a high-tech, modern military does need more highly skilled people- but if you believe that explains what all those senior officers are doing, I have an island in Indonesia I’d like to sell you.

Neither, as a number of service members have pointed out, does this preponderance of highly-polished brass mean that the military as an institution, is any good at retaining talent.

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