My God, it’s full of stars!

Our favorite ‘phibian, CDR Salamander, has post up today featuring Jim Webb, the junior senator from Virginia, about his current unhappiness with the number of Generals and Admirals in the services. GO/FOs, as they are know, keep increasing in numbers, regardless of the fluctuation in the numbers of troops. It’s a version of grade inflation, if you will.

We are somewhat conflicted about Webb. He was an effective Secretary of the Navy, and he’s written some very good books. But his decision to run as a Democrat, and his stance on the Iraq war diminished him in our eyes. Still, it is nice to see a member of the Democrat party that is serious about defense issues.

Some of the numbers he cites are disturbing:

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., is pressing the Defense Department for justification of why the military has so many flag and general officers, … In the case of flag and general officers, Webb said he wants an explanation why the number of senior officers continues to grow. He has not concluded there are too many, but is asking why there are so many, and what exactly they are all doing. Those kinds of questions began Glenn’s multi-year push to reduce the number of admirals and generals, which he based on the officer-to-enlisted ratio and termed “brass creep.”

Defense Department statistics show there were 38 four-stars, 149 three-stars, 299 two-stars and 464 one-stars on active duty at the end of March.

Let’s assume the Army has roughly one third of the two star officers, call it one hundred. Two stars, or Major General, is the nominal rank of a division commander. There are only 10 division headquarters in the Army. Now, there are some jobs outside of division commander that realistically call for a Major General (such as the Chief of Staff for a 4-star command), but if you’ve ever looked at a list of the jobs that most Major Generals hold, you’d be hard pressed to figure out what the purpose is beyond creating a billet and a staff.

A more realistic ratio of MGs to division command slots would probably be somewhere in the vicinity of 3-1 or maybe even 4-1.

In the Navy, it is even worse. The Navy has more flag officers than ships.

3 thoughts on “My God, it’s full of stars!”

  1. Isn’t this sort of the unintended consequence of a system that demands that in order for officers be retained that they have to advance in rank. Its my understanding that if you are not promoted after two(?) review periods, you are tracked out of the service. Instead of developing a system that rewards people in other ways, and allows for the retention of people in a certain grade, it requires that they go up. Eventually, if you want to keep them badly enough, its stars.

    Interestingly, the number of general/flag officers is a law. 10 U.S.C. § 526 says that there will be 302 for the Army, 216 for the Navy, USAF gets 279, and the USMC gets 80. Also, there is a code which states how many of those slots may have more than 2 stars, which gets modified by the actual authorization. From the 2008 authorization, for four stars, it means that the Army it comes to 12, USAF gets 11, the USN has 9 and USMC gets 3.

  2. I think it is more a case of the services seeing greater centralization in command, actually. Authority keeps migrating higher, which means you need more high ranking people to exercise that authority.

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