Enough brass to sink the Navy?

I was cynically amused – but not surprised – at a post by CDR Salamander.

Any student of history knows what happens to a military that becomes a boated patronage machine more focused on privilege and status than service and warfighting.

Everyone likes to talk about how “expensive” manpower is – but as we decimate the meaty center of our operational capability with ERB and other programs – we ignore the most expensive bloat of all; our Admirals.

There’s more at the link.  CDR Salamander links to a post at the US Naval Institute blog, ‘Sixteen Pages of Admirals‘, and an article by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), ‘The Hidden Costs of Star Creep: Generals Making More in Retirement Than In Service‘, to back up his arguments.

At present it appears that there are 1.17 Admirals for every ship in the US Navy.  If that’s not a living, breathing definition of the word ‘ridiculous’, I don’t know what is!  Of course, the US Navy isn’t alone in having to deal with this problem.  The Royal Navy had more admirals than ships in 2008 (41 versus 40), and the situation has grown much worse since then – the service now has only 22 surface warships, which will drop to below 20 as older ships are retired before planned new construction replaces them.  Needless to say, the number of Royal Navy admirals has not suffered a similar pruning. The other US armed forces are equally guilty.  For example, until the end of the Cold War US Air Force wings were usually commanded by a colonel.  However, today many are commanded by Brigadier-Generals.  There was no real need for this escalation in command rank;  it was a case of ‘jobs for the boys’.  More and more colonels needed an upward promotion path, so the USAF top brass obligingly created one for them.  (The fact that this further decreased the number of command slots for colonels – already greatly diminished by post-Cold-War defense cuts during the 1990’s – appears to have been ignored.)

Given a declining US defense budget and proposed major force reductions, it would be unconscionable if there were not at least a commensurate reduction in the number of senior officers in our armed forces.  In fact, given the way in which their numbers have crept upward relative to the size of the armed forces as a whole, it may not be a bad idea to ruthlessly prune the ranks of Flag and General Officers – personally, I’d suggest by as much as 50% – before a single enlisted position is eliminated.  Oh – and by all means eliminate the ridiculous provision that allows US Generals and Admirals to receive more than their pre-retirement salary as a pension!



  1. Under Catherine the Great, a handsome young lieutenant could become an Admiral literally overnight if Catherine liked the cut of his jib and he could keep his oar in the water.

    The joke ran that after a bit there was a rear Admiral in the rear and a front Admiral in the front of every rowboat in the Russian Navy.

    I have noticed that as soon as the available postings for high-ranking officers moves from behind desks in the Pentagon to inside tents in East Crackistan, the number retiring goes way up, thinning the ranks.

  2. It's unbridled bureaucracy and it won't end until a President, with military experience, does their job and trims the fat.

  3. Remember reading somwhere that the Army had more Generals than machinegunners; the Brits put out a paper one this in the 19th century, called The Admiralty Simdrone or sum such, they recognized the problem even if they did'nt fix it. (sun setting on the Empire and all that, wot?). JohninMd(help!)

  4. be careful what you wish for- this could be an ideal situation to "retire" just the wrong ones-and leave those who will ignore their oath of office.

  5. Yep, it's a problem, no question… The issue is actually military wide. Joint programs/projects 'must' have equal representation e.g. rank/rank, and the proliferation of "Fleet" Commands, e.g. we now have FFC, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 10th Fleets, which equates to THREE more Fleets than we had during Vietnam. Also, the breaucratic changes inside the Pentagon have caused problems too. I know we had Navy one and two stars in theater both in Iraq and Afghanistan, as they provided "cover" for the IAs sent in to support the Army.

  6. We're gradually approaching officer-to-enlisted ratios of truly Italian proportions. Too many chiefs, not enough Indians. Or is that racist? I hereby denounce myself.

  7. I've read an interesting article recently about one of the reasons for this. Long story short it comes down to how the US military is structures post WW2.

    Primarily it is prepared for a "surge" akin to WW2 from peace time levels to full war footing. This requires a large amount of officers to suddenly coordinate the large and inexperienced force. On top of that to prevent bloatedness an "up or out" policy became ingrained causing a counter indicative effect of promotions for the sake of careers. Since the alternative before this was pretty much waiting for the general to drop off dead or retire, it made sense at the time, but obviously has serious downsides.

    Luan – Perth, Australia

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