Determining the military of the future—its capabilities, size, and shape—requires more comprehensive deliberation than currently invested. Declining budgets necessitate designing a Navy and Marine Corps team from scratch while ignoring sacred cows, a true zero-based review.
The first step is to determine the type of combat forces required to fulfill Navy and Marine Corps missions while considering the capabilities possessed or under development by current competitors and likely aggressors. That doesn’t mean simply reconfirming requirements for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or the Littoral Combat Ship, for example; it means determining what broadly-defined ships and units—with what types of weapons, in what numbers, and where positioned—allow the Navy-Marine Corps team to deter aggression, maintain freedom of the seas, and conduct offensive amphibious operations capable of winning wars.
Next is a determination of the personnel and equipment required to man the identified force. Years of preparing for surface combat and amphibious assault resulted in naval forces ill-suited for the past decade’s prolonged ground warfare and so-called nation-building far from shore. We must consider known and likely adversaries and, if future battle requirements differ from the past decade’s, ensure we are prepared for the next major conflict while not forgetting again the lessons of irregular warfare.
The third step is to determine required support functions and personnel that, while not engaged in combat, actually man, train, and equip combat forces. This means evaluating every unit, school, billet (flag officers included), and staff to identify any that don’t contribute directly to delivering kinetic or non-kinetic weapons.
Any function that does not deliver munitions, assist in delivering munitions, or support the man, train, and equip responsibilities for those missions is ancillary and should be the lowest priority. These include non-combat training, diversity programs, and superfluous educational programs, to name a few. Many are popular but exist only for their legacy or political considerations and, though some support the active, reserve, and retired communities, they do not contribute to service missions. We must determine which truly benefit service members and admit which are just politically expedient. Eventually the well will run dry and when it does, it is these ancillary activities we must be willing to let go.
Only after the preceding determinations are made should we consider current forces and where they fit, which need to be resized or reshaped, which to eliminate, and what must be created. This exercise must also identify the area where much of the necessary savings can be made—waste. Many ideas for making systems more efficient or identifying pure waste can come from junior personnel. The opinions of those closest to the deckplates are not always popular or heard, but that is where some of the best ideas reside, much more than from those further removed who typically see everything through a flow chart or PowerPoint.
The zero-based review described here requires deckplate sailors and Marines seated alongside others of diverse backgrounds, philosophies, and pay grades, constituting a working group undertaking a difficult, time-consuming, and expensive endeavor. And that group must be chartered to do its work while ignoring political considerations or the sacred cows of individual warfare communities.
In fact, those sanctified programs that suffer the least scrutiny may contain the most waste and offer the most savings. Any program that has heretofore been treated as a sacred cow—and there are many—may benefit from the fresh perspective brought by a true zero-based review.
To determine where we should and shouldn’t spend money, and to identify true waste, we have to honestly look at every unit, every staff, and every school. It might be naïve to think this is at all palatable to current leadership or elected officials, but drastic fiscal times call for drastic measures. And what choice do we really have? This endeavor would not only identify savings but would serve as combat-focused, defendable justification for dwindling national resources.
Dictionary.com defines sacred cow as “an individual, organization, institution, etc., considered to be exempt from criticism or questioning.” In debating how to build the future Navy-Marine Corps team, we must do difficult work, and we must agree there will be no sacred cows.