I experienced this aspect some years ago when seeking assistance in a communications center run by the Air Force. The four or five Airmen on watch were each trained in a unique, specialized portion of the overall communication system. The sole Airman working secure voice, the question at the time, wasn’t on board. The absence of this one technician resulted in an outage on a vital circuit supporting deployed forces. In contrast, a similar Navy communications center would have been manned by one, maybe two, cryptologic technicians communications (former enlisted rating CTO). Any CTO could operate every type of communication system in use at the time, but it took at least five Air Force communicators to perform the same tasks.
This is admittedly a limited example, but is a symptom of a much larger problem that is common knowledge among the services and undoubtedly continues in other career fields. Taken together, the potential manpower savings are huge.
The Air Force has an opportunity to fix this and capture savings that could be invested more wisely. Its Fiscal Year 2010/11 Force Management Program brief stated the service must “reduce the size of and shape the force to meet current and future mission requirements.” Unfortunately, while that document provides several initiatives for reducing end-strength, limiting specialization is not among them.
The Air Force will fight ferociously against any such cuts, but a thorough and objective examination of that service’s manpower would find a potential reduction of up to one-third, without negatively affecting readiness, if Air Force technicians were appropriately cross-trained. In fact, eliminating single point-of-failure personnel policies would actually increase readiness.
Assuming the Department of Defense can find personnel to reinvest in the Army, questions remain about the Marine Corps’ mission going forward. It should first be remembered that the last of the seven elements of the Marine Corps mission under the National Security Act of 1947 may be the most important. It reads simply, “Perform other such duties as the President may direct.” Whatever the President needs, the President can get from the Marines, and it’s hard to put a price on that.
The Marine Corps may also be well-suited to assume some missions from Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC). It seems logical that Marines, a naval expeditionary warfare capability, would be integrated into NECC, but they’re not. At a minimum, the Corps could provide the combat training that NECC is developing. Instead of seeking combat-arms training from outside sources, the Marines could effectively lead and manage this task.
NECC describes itself as “Adaptive, Responsive, and Expeditionary.” Those qualities certainly apply to the Marine Corps, so in addition to training, Marines could bring useful tactics and doctrine to one of NECC’s missions, maritime expeditionary security. What better service to provide “highly trained, scalable, and sustainable security teams capable of defending critical assets in the near-coastal environment,” and other missions detailed in the NECC FactSheet?
Furthermore, incorporating the Marines into NECC would result in end-strength savings for the Navy, which could be reinvested into a surface fleet suffering from continued efforts to do more with less.
Discussions on the Marine Corps’ future should include two strategic goals: finding end-strength savings across the Department of Defense, and finding the right places to direct future Marine Corps efforts. The options should not include disestablishing the Marines Corps. Instead, look for overages in the nation’s youngest service, not its most storied.
Semper Fi! Semper Marines!