Time for Real Reform

By Commander Marvin E. Butcher, Jr., U.S. Navy

Today, we have 362 ships (active and reserve) and 4,900 aircraft (about 2,000 of which are Navy fixed-wing). 2 There are 218 flag officers 3 and a vast, complex command infrastructure that was built to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and maintained to conduct the 40-year Cold War with the Soviet Union. It is neither focused nor organized to address the current realities of reduced operating forces, diverse threats, and increasingly centralized control of operations by joint staffs.

World War II and the Cold War are over; it is time to reassess our joint responsibilities and command infrastructures with respect to organization and training; time to do away with the two-navy concept; and time to rediscover our operational niche inside the joint military framework.

The three present commanders-in-chief (CinCs)—U.S. Naval Forces Europe (CinCUSNavEur); U.S. Atlantic Fleet (CinCLantFlt); and U.S. Pacific Fleet (CinCPacFlt)—reflect the Navy's view of the world, centered on the great oceans and sea lanes. Of the three, CinCPacFlt and CinCLantFlt are the most important, and the divisions and duplications between them create the two-navy syndrome within the U.S. Navy.

CinCPacFlt and CinCLantFlt exercise control through administrative and operational command structures. The most important of these are the type commanders, which control training and administrative requirements and material repairs for all ships, submarines, and aircraft within the CinC's domain. The U.S. Navy always has had type commanders. The major difference, however, is that in 1939 there were five 4 covering the entire Navy; today there are 12, divided into two sets, one for the West Coast and one for the East Coast.

We no longer can afford this vast command infrastructure of the Cold War. The Navy is much smaller than it was five years ago. Rightsizing the command structure, to reflect a force reduced by 25%, is necessary to keep it vibrant and focused.

A new, smaller command structure should be created that eliminates CinCUSNavEur and combines CinCPacFlt, CinCLantFlt, and their type commanders. (See Figure 1.) A single administrative CinC with one set of type commanders would streamline the requirements heaped on our individual units and create a unified Navy. No matter where a ship (or unit) is located—Norfolk, San Diego, or Timbuktu—maintenance, training, and administration requirements would be the same.

The new command infrastructure would eliminate staffs and flag officer billets that are duplicated on each coast. A conservative estimate would put the amount of duplication at about 60%, which means consolidation would eliminate two admirals, two vice admirals, four rear admirals, and about 2,400 other billets—a substantial savings in infrastructure. In addition, it would rid us of the two-navy syndrome that has plagued us for more than 50 years.

This new structure, however, would not solve the problem of command relationships with the unified CinCs. With the inclusion of a significant body of water in Southern Command's area of responsibility, the Navy's command structure was dealt a blow from which it cannot recover. Our attempt to cover this area with command structures and forces from the Atlantic Command is a disaster in the making—Does CinCLantFlt work for Southern Command, Atlantic Command, or both? Is Second Fleet the numbered fleet commander for both areas of responsibility?—and it will require us to scramble for a solution that is acceptable to both Southern and Atlantic Commands.

With the savings from our administrative reorganization, we should create a naval component commander billet within all geographic CinCs, including U.S. Commander-in-Chief, Southern Command (USCinCSo). Establishing a naval component commander with fleet command capabilities is necessary if we are to integrate fully with the joint unified command plan. Figure 2 shows a generic operational command structure for all of our naval component commanders. If necessary, the naval component commander and the numbered fleet commander could be dual hatted, although two separate staffs would be required.

Note that the new structure calls for a vice admiral instead of an admiral in the naval component commander billet. Should the Navy desire a four-star officer, it should base its case on alliance concerns and other such outside issues, and each case should be argued individually. The fact that another service has a four-star officer in a similar billet generally would not be a valid argument, inasmuch as the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army are grossly top-heavy organizations.

There will, of course, be many objections to this recommended command structure. One is that the Navy would give up eight flag officer billets. In fact, this probably is the principal objection to this plan. But let's face it, 865 general and flag officers in the military 5 are too many. Many of the functions now performed by flag and general officers were performed by colonels and captains in the past. Grade creep is alive and well in the Department of Defense.

Another objection is related to training. How do you fit the two training fleets (Third and Second) into this new structure? Does a special relationship exist between them and the new CinCUSFlt, or is Third Fleet merely the Pacific Command's training fleet and Second Fleet the Atlantic Command's training fleet? What is the tier two joint training relationship between Second Fleet and Atlantic Command? These issues will have to be worked out, but unification certainly would simplify doctrine, capabilities, and administration. Another bonus would be the consolidation of all doctrine-producing agencies—Naval Doctrine Command, Surface Warfare Development Group, etc.—under this new administrative command structure.

The second infrastructure issue facing the Navy is the composition of its officer corps. More than 40% of the officers in the U.S. Navy are restricted line and staff corps officers. 6

  • One out of every six officer billets in the Navy is medical related.' What is the expense of maintaining this type of infrastructure, in both monetary and institutional costs? Why can't we contract out most of these activities? All of the doctors, nurses, dentists, and medical service corps officers performing administrative duties at the Bureau of Medicine or as detailers at the Bureau of Naval Personnel are not doing patient care.
  • The Navy Exchange Resale system accounts for another segment of our officer corps. Why should our supply personnel be involved in retail sales? Congress created an organization charged with the defense of the country, not a retail concern. These functions could be contracted out to a major retail company.
  • Do we need a Judge Advocate General Corps? There doesn't appear to be a paucity of lawyers in the civilian community. What functions should it perform that a civilian legal contractor or civil service cannot?
  • Couldn't the duties performed by our fleet support community be performed by civilians? After all, fleet administration doesn't look much like a warfare specialty.

The restructuring solutions that appear to be most attractive are to contract out these services, establish civil service, or merge them into a multiservice organization. Our staff and restricted line communities should be structured based on the answers to three questions:

  • Do we need their services? If not, the corps or specialty should be disestablished.
  • Can they do the work we require cheaper and more efficiently than a civilian contractor or civil service? If not, we should contract out the requirement.
  • Can we merge these support functions into a DoD-wide agency that performs this for all the services? If we can create a purple agency, let's do it.

These are major paradigm shifts, but they are necessary if we want to retain our status as a premier fighting force. Think of the renewed energy within the Navy officer corps, if 70-80% of all officers were focused on war fighting instead of on resale issues, patient care, support, and administration. The time has come to reform; the only question is whether it will be Congress or the Navy that drives the issue.

1 J.C Fahey, The ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1976)

2 Chief of Naval Information. Washington, D.C., 22 July 1996.

3 W. Pincus. "Pentagon Presses for Flag Officers," The Washington Post, 24 July 1996.

4 Fahey, The Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet.

5 Ibid

6 Bureau of Naval Personnel. Washington, D.C., Register of Active Duty Officers, 1993.

7 Ibid.

Commander Butcher , a surface warfare officer and distinguished graduate of the Naval War College, is attached to the staff of Commander, Second Fleet. He has served as commanding officer of the Harlan County (LST-1196) and Aquila (PHM-4) and has been selected for promotion to captain. 



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