You’re probably wondering what brass creep and cruise missiles have in common and the answer is quite simple Both issues involve money. Like many things in our modern military decisions are being made on the basis of money and these two areas are no exception.
Let’s look at brass creep or as it is sometimes called star creep first. By law the United States armed forces have a legal limit of 498 generals and admirals This is precisely defined as 230 for the Army, 208 for the Navy and 60 for the Marines.
But today, we currently are far beyond that legal limit with 963 generals and admirals for all of our services. That’s almost twice the legal limit.
The law that regulates the limits allows the Secretary of Defense to increase the number of generals and admirals in time of need. Bob Gates allowed the promotion of 300 officers to star rank during his term in office. In fact, the Pentagon’s largest cost overrun isn’t for military hardware but for top brass.
We now have more generals and admirals than we had in World War. This despite the fact that the armed forces are half the size of our World War II era military.
The Project on Government Oversight’s Ben Freeman testified in 2011:
The three- and four-star ranks have increased twice as fast as one- and two-star general and flag officers, three times as fast as the increase in all officers and almost ten times as fast as the increase in enlisted personnel. If you imagine it visually, the shape of U.S. military personnel has shifted from looking like a pyramid to beginning to look more like a skyscraper (i.e. higher ranks having fewer lower ranking personnel under them rather than more)….
Although not on pace with the Air Force and Navy, star creep within the Army and Marines is also apparent. The Army has decreased its number of one-star generals, while increasing its higher ranking generals. Specifically, the Army cut 13 brigadier generals between September 2001 and April 2011, but added 11 major generals, 11 lieutenant generals and two four-star generals. Thus, even within the general and flag officer ranks, it is the higher ranks that are being added while only brigadier generals are being cut. The Marines’ story is very similar: five brigadier generals were cut during this time period, seven major generals were added and four lieutenant generals were added. Since September 2001, three- and four-star officers in the Army and Marines have increased by 25 and 24 percent, respectively.
So not only do we have more top brass but we have more top-top brass with more three-and four-star officers. And they cost big bucks. They are paid a significant salary with generous benefits. But the real cost is in their staffs, housing, transportation and other perks that come with high rank.
The next time that one of these top officers testifies in front of a Congressional committee. The days of arriving with one or two lower ranking aides are long gone. Most come with a bevy of one- and two-star officers. You may see a full colonel or a Navy captain working the charts.
And this show of shiny brass seems to work on representatives and senators. They are over-awed by this show of military power. Has anyone sat down and calculated the cost of this display to the American taxpayers? I think not.
Members of Congress have, for the most part, seem hesitant if not reluctant to submit a three- or four-star general to close questioning. It would look bad on C-SPAN to be seen as beating up our soldiers.
Plus, the generals know how to speak Pentagonese (“We are working the problem on a time multiplex basis”), which makes it sound like they have everything under control while their staffs behind them shuffle ersatz, complex information up to the general to further confuse and intimidate the members of Congress.
So now we should look at the second half of the equation: the connection between brass creep and cruise missiles. The Obama administration has proposed that as part of Defense Department cuts that the Navy will decrease the purchase of cruise missiles and consider discontinuing the program by 2016.
Historically, the Pentagon has purchased roughly 200 Tomahawks a year from manufacturer Raytheon, at about $1.4 million per missile. But Obama slashed that number to 100 for all of 2015 – just double what the Navy fired into Syria in one day.
Let’s look at some of the facts. At the start of the Iraq War in 2003, for example, coalition forces fired upward of 725 missiles, accounting for one-third of the entire inventory. Eight years later, in 2011, the United States and the United Kingdom launched more than 160 Tomahawks in the opening days of the campaign in Libya.
The opening salvo against the ISIS terrorists was 47. We currently have 4,000 in inventory. At a rate of 50 per day we have an 80 day supply.
Navy acquisition executive Sean Stackley told DoD Buzz in March:
We had been sustaining a 200 Tomahawk-per-year rate. In 2015, we’ll drop down to 100. In 2016, we will revisit the question of whether the time is right to stop production of Tomahawks.
House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon is a huge supporter of the program and opined:
As we saw in this week’s airstrikes against ISIL, Tomahawk missiles are among the most valuable and precise tools in our military arsenal.
They provide unmanned, all-weather, deep-strike attack capability against both fixed and mobile targets, which makes them particularly useful against terrorist groups … that transcend nations and borders.
During markups of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2015, the armed services committees in both chambers supported continued production of Tomahawk missiles. In the Senate Armed Services Committee’s revision of the NDAA, lawmakers allocated an additional $276.3 million to maintain a rate of 200 per year.
So, rather than decrease the over-the-limit numbers of generals and admirals, the Pentagon has chosen to eliminate one of the most effective weapons systems in our arsenal. What’s wrong with this picture?