Defense Secretary Ash Carter has launched a review of the landmark 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act that has defined military careers and organizational structure for decades, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.
“The secretary feels (it) is important to take a look at the department and the structure right now within the DoD and to make sure that we’re doing things as efficiently as possible,” said Peter Cook, Carter’s primary spokesman.“This is something that he’s initiated here within the department itself, to take a hard look at … whether or not things could be done differently in the spirit of Goldwater-Nichols and the changes that resulted from that many years ago,” Cook said at a news briefing.
There’s a long, long list of things to criticize Ash Carter for. This, however, is not one of them.
Goldwaters-Nichols was a needed reform. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the justification for the organization it brought collapsed as well. But primarily through bureaucratic inertia, the regional CoCom structure just kept going. Which, it did make a certain amount of sense. For instance, when Desert Storm popped up, CentCom, the regional combatant commander for the Middle East, simply deployed from its Tampa Bay headquarters to the field in Saudi Arabia. An existing unified chain of command was already in place, with Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Special Operations subordinate commanders already assigned. All the organization needed was to be filled out with troop units, first from XVIII Airborne Corps, and then later from VII Corps.
Where the G-N framework started to collapse was in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq. The armed services were already fighting in Afghanistan. And suddenly, CentCom found itself fighting two completely unrelated wars. No one commander could reasonably be expected to focus sufficiently to do well in both. So subordinate commanders were placed in each theater. Essentially, rather than doubling the size of the headquarters troops for the wars, it instead tripled them, as both Iraq and Afghanistan got an in-country headquarters, and certainly, CentCom wasn’t about to shrink, what with its role supervising both the subordinate staffs! Since then, the pattern has been set- any time there is a deployment, rather than the CoCom leading it in his region, and entire Joint Task Force unified headquarters is stood up and deployed, subordinate to the CoCom. It is essentially a duplication of effort.
And then there’s the Joint billet requirement. To reduce interservice parochialism, the requirement is that every officer has to serve time in a joint billet. Well, the problem with parochialism was mostly over how the budget pie got sliced. And the fact is, the Joint billet requirement hasn’t had any effect on that issue.
What is has done is drive a requirement for a lot of Joint billets, whether they do a real job or not, because clear down at the O-5 and O-6 level, to be “fair” to the promotion prospects of every single officer, they have to have a tour.
That’s pretty stupid in that it drives up the size of useless headquarters staffs, and takes officers away from their primary career field for no good reason. There is plenty of time at the O-7/O-8 paygrades to serve in a joint billet, where service integration really starts anyway.
So there’s great room for improvement over G-N, and we hope Carter looks carefully, but quickly at how best to change from an outdated, inefficient system.
One thing to consider. With the shift in focus in the Army from a divisional based organization to the Brigade Combat Team model is that the Army has been trying to design its division and corps headquarters to serve not merely as higher elements to deployed BCTs, but as command nodes for unified (that is, all services) command.
For instance, in the current deployment of Operation Inherent Resolve, based in Iraq and fighting ISIS, a corps headquarters might be deployed to serve as the JTF headquarters, with Air Force and Navy/Marine Corps and Special Operations subordinate commands attaching in a “plug and play” manner. The corps headquarters is already robustly equipped with the staff, intel, logistics, and communications to fulfill this role, and also to integrate with non-DoD agencies, such as the host nation, other US departments, and some NGOs.