Washington Watch: Surprise Package on Roles and Missions

Aug. 1, 1995

In the beginning anyway, the Commission on Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces had been expected to call for a major shake-up of the military services. The commission was the creation of Congress, which had not been satisfied with the roles and missions review that was completed in 1993 by Gen. Colin Powell, who was then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Powell review prescribed no significant changes to the division of functions among the services. That did not set well with members of Congress who had hoped to save large amounts of money by military consolidations and realignments. A private commission was therefore established by a provision in the annual defense bill and ordered to reexamine the situation. Dr. John P. White of Harvard University was named to head this commission, which began slogging through the problem in the spring of 1994.

Leaks that dribbled out periodically over the next year from closed-door working group meetings were puzzling, however. They indicated that the commission was not reaching the conclusions that had been anticipated. And indeed, when the commission published its final report on May 24, it differed from the original expectations in nearly all respects.

It said that radical restructuring of operational functions is not needed and that traditional sore points in the dispute–the clash between Air Force and Navy airpower, for example, and arguments about the Marine Corps as a second land army–are “nonissues.” Having determined that “popular perceptions of large-scale duplication among the services are wrong,” the commission declined to produce “a series of ‘put and take’ statements that rearrange US forces from one service to another.” It found that battlefield capabilities are more complementary than redundant and said that the “conventional criticism of the services–unrestrained parochialism and duplication of programs–is overstated.”

The real question, the commissioners said, “is no longer ‘who does what’ but how do we ensure that the right set of capabilities is identified, developed, and fielded to meet the needs of unified commanders.” The report says that joint effectiveness should be emphasized even more than it is already because “military operations are planned and conducted by joint forces under the direction of the CINCs [commanders in chief], not by the military services, defense agencies, or Pentagon staffs.”

The chairman of the panel, Dr. White, finds himself in extraordinary circumstances. In the closing days of the commission’s study, he was chosen to be deputy secretary of defense. One of the early duties in his new job, therefore, will be to deal with the roles and missions proposals he made in his previous position. In response to a question from the Senate Armed Services Committee during the confirmation hearings, Dr. White said he did not intend to recuse himself from Pentagon deliberations on commission proposals.

“Privatization” and “Outsourcing”

The commissioners stirred up a hornet’s nest with their call for “privatization” of depots and other support functions and for “outsourcing” to the private sector of work ranging from data processing and base maintenance to health services and classroom training. “More than a quarter of a million DoD employees engage in commercial-type activities that could be performed by competitively selected private companies,” the commission’s report said. “Experience suggests achievable cost reductions of about 20 percent.” This proposal drew fire instantly as a threat to a quarter of a million jobs at military depots and elsewhere.

The alarm has not been moderated appreciably by acknowledgment from the commission that extended transition programs would be required or by the identification of such concepts as “privatization-in-place,” in which the work would be done in the same facility as now but under private ownership “or possibly some form of employee ownership.”

The report speculates that more than $3 million a year could be saved by contracting out the “commercial activities” that the services now do themselves. “We recommend that the government in general, and the Department of Defense in particular, return to the basic principle that the government should not compete with its citizens,” the report says. “To this end, essentially all DoD ‘commercial activities’ should be outsourced, and all new needs should be channeled to the private sector from the beginning.”

The biggest target of this language would be the depot-level logistics support of weapon systems. Even after the 1995 round of base closure actions is implemented, the commission notes, the services will operate some twenty depots and shipyards, performing seventy percent of the industrial maintenance, remanufacturing, and modification of US military equipment.

The commission’s recommendation is to “establish a time-phased plan to privatize essentially all existing depot-level maintenance,” but both the Pentagon and Congress will approach that idea warily because of the political implications of the bases, jobs, and contracts involved.

“Core Competencies”

The commissioners were not oblivious to the fierce interservice arguments that have been raging all around them for the past year. In their estimation, though, these were not basic roles and missions problems but rather requirements and resource issues to be resolved by the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The closest the commission came to a statement of “who does what” was to recognize examples of “core competencies” that “define the service’s or agencies’ essential contributions.”

These are:

• Air Force: air superiority; global strike/deep attack; air mobility.

• Army: mobile armored warfare; airborne operations; and light infantry operations.

• Navy: carrier-based air and amphibious power projection; seabased air and missile defense; antisubmarine warfare.

• Marine Corps: amphibious operations; over-the-beach forced-entry operations; maritime prepositioning.

• Coast Guard: humanitarian operations; maritime defense; safety; law enforcement; environmental protection.

In a vindication of sorts for the Air Force, the commission said that “overseas presence is a core competency of all the services.” The Navy had made a strong claim that the aircraft carrier was the instrument of US presence abroad. In fact, part of the justification for the proposed carrier force depends on that proposition. The Air Force had argued that presence was a function shared by all of the services and that in some instances, it was best achieved by the deployment of long-range aircraft to the scene of crisis or need.

When the commission dug into a contentious issue, the underlying problems they typically found were not about roles and missions. Deep attack, for example, is performed in a variety of ways–all deemed useful–by each of the services. “No CINC that we talked to proposed eliminating any of these capabilities and it is almost inconceivable that one ever would,” the report said. The balance of these capabilities does need attention, though, and “currently no one in DoD has specific responsibility for specifying the overall number and mix of deep attack systems.”

Likewise, the commission said, there are questions about “whether the current mix of combat aircraft is the right one. That is, do we have the right mix of aircraft in terms of stealth, range, basing (land- and seabased), air-to-air and air-to-ground, and all-weather capabilities?”

The commission declined to designate close air support as a core capability of any service alone, noting that combat aircraft are multipurpose weapons, performing close air support of ground forces as well as other missions, and that “no clear savings would result from removing the CAS function from one or more of the services unless inventories of multimission aircraft were reduced.”

Besides, the commission said, it is not in the nation’s interest to eliminate every last vestige of duplication. In fact, “it is necessary to place a high value on broad service competition. To some, this is a counterintuitive finding. But competition among the services produces innovation in weapon systems, forces, doctrine, and concepts of operations that yield the dramatically superior military capabilities that we need.”

Aerospace Issues

Whether it is regarded as an issue or a “nonissue,” airpower is always high on the agenda when roles and missions are discussed. The White Commission repeated the conclusion of the Powell review in 1993 that “America has only one Air Force” but that “the other services have aviation arms essential to their specific roles and functions.”

Inefficiencies in military aviation “are found mostly in the infrastructure, not on the battlefield.” Both to save money and to encourage cooperation, the commission proposes that all of the services station their program managers responsible for the development of aircraft in the same location. The collocated program managers would retain the regular ties to their own services, but draw their technical and procurement support from a common pool of experts in engineering, contracting, cost estimating, and other disciplines. An added benefit of having the same set of experts supporting the aircraft programs of all services would be the “increased interoperability and lower support costs among the services through increased commonality in the many subsystems that require parts and service in the field.”

Three other commission recommendations would broaden the Air Force’s functional charter:

• The Air Force provides most of the people and most of the money for the military space program, but its bid for the space mission outright ran into bitter opposition from the Army and the Navy. The commission would add to USAF’s de facto leadership by assigning it “primary (not sole) responsibility for acquisition and operation of multiuser spacebased systems.” This would appear to give the Air Force the job of launching even more of the military space shots than it does now, as well as making USAF responsible for operating some systems previously controlled by the National Reconnaissance Office on behalf of the intelligence community.

• Based on consideration of core capabilities, DoD should “expand the Air Force’s executive agent responsibilities for escape and evasion to include responsibility for combat search and rescue.”

• Like the Powell review in 1993, the White Commission sought to reduce the size of the “operational support” fleets-currently 551 aircraft used for “day-to-day support and executive travel”-and consolidate support for those that remain. The proposal is to transfer all of these aircraft, except for the Navy’s C-9s, to the Air Force for management by US Transportation Command. (Aircraft of the 89th Airlift Wing, which supports Congress and the White House, would not be affected by this action.)

The B-2 Stutter Step

In one of the few instances when the commissioners expressed an opinion of a specific programmatic issue, they endorsed the position of top DoD officials that the B-2 bomber program should remain capped at twenty aircraft. The report said that “production of additional B-2s would be less cost-effective than buying additional precision weapons for existing bombers and other strike aircraft, or otherwise improving the conventional warfighting capabilities of existing bombers.” The commission did advise, however, that a final decision on the bomber force wait until the industrial base considerations have been evaluated more fully.

According to the report, the commission staff reviewed more than twenty studies about bombers, and the panel made its judgment “from these studies, briefings, and our own assessments.” The commissioners were said to be unanimous in this view, but a curiosity is that the staff review-a thirty-five-page paper entitled “Future Bomber Force,” obtained and circulated by members of Congress-points toward a different conclusion.

“The studies generally conclude that bombers, and the B-2 in particular, are cost-effective, and in some cases the only, means of rapidly projecting survivable power,” the staff paper said. “Most of the bomber studies reviewed conclude that more than twenty B-2s would be useful in a two-MRC [major regional conflict] strategy, and several recommend more B-2s.” While the staff paper did not urge the commissioners to adopt any specific position, it did say that “stopping production of the B-2 limits America’s future ability to project influence around the world.”

Toward a Central Vision

To the White Commission, joint operations and concepts are the central considerations around which all else must revolve. It stated, “Today, it is clear that the emphasis must be on molding DoD into a cohesive set of institutions that work toward a common purpose–effective unified military operations–with the efforts of all organizations, processes, and systems focused on that goal from the beginning.”

In the commission’s assessment, “the services are individually superb,” but “they do not work well enough together.” There is a pressing need for a clear “central vision.” Otherwise, each of the services will develop a perspective in which its own operation constitutes the main effort that the other services ought to support.

Each of the services has developed a statement of how it views its own role. The first of these was the Air Force’s “Global Reach, Global Power.” The Navy’s vision statement is “Forward . . . From the Sea,” and the Army’s is “Force XXI.” The commission said that these are “valuable statements” and that they “help form a joint vision, but collectively they cannot replace it.” Without a strong central concept in force, “the services can only work to develop the capabilities they need to fulfill their own particular visions.”

In the commission’s concept of the future, there will be a strong emphasis on joint training and joint doctrine, and theater commanders in chief will have “greater influence over the processes and priorities used to acquire the weapons, equipment, and forces they need to accomplish their warfighting and other missions.”

The report also recommends the creation of a new functional unified command without geographic responsibility to concentrate on the training, integration, and joint readiness of all general purpose forces, including Guard and Reserve components, based in the continental US. Such a command would seem to overlap considerably with some elements of the present unified force structure, especially the new US Atlantic Command, which opened for business in October 1993. The commission did not offer any suggestions on how to resolve the conflict.

Forces of the Future

“Rapid changes in technology may work in the nation’s favor by advancing DoD’s capabilities, but adversaries may also benefit–either by achieving technical advances that nullify US capabilities or by developing a new capability before it is available to DoD,” the report says.

The commissioners gave considerable attention to the point that future challenges to national security and the capabilities required to meet them may be enormously different from those experienced in the past. They quote a National Research Council report, “Computers in Crisis,” which said that “tomorrow’s terrorist may be able to do more damage with a keyboard than with a bomb.”

The report identifies six attributes-responsiveness, reliability, cooperation and trust, innovation, competition, and efficiency–that will be particularly important for forces of the future and counsels the armed forces to prepare for four “emerging missions”:

Combating proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The commission mostly repeated conventional wisdom here. It had little fresh advice to offer except for a recommendation to put the Vice President in charge of an integrated national counterproliferation effort.

Information warfare. “In the past, victory in war hinged on the ability to dominate airspace, land, and the oceans,” the commission said. “Today and in the future, major strategic and tactical advantages can be gained by controlling an adversary’s access to information while protecting one’s own information–and capitalizing on the difference.” A number of federal agencies are working on this problem, but there is no national concept for the use of information to promote and protect US national interests. The report warns that “an adversary could cripple major civil and military support functions-financial, transportation, and communications–without even entering the country. America’s clear conventional military superiority may cause opponents to see [information warfare] and other nontraditional forms of power as available means to achieve their goals.”

Peace operations. In apparent recognition that many military traditionalists do not regard so-called “peace operations” as a valid military mission, the commissioners said that “the question for DoD and the government is not whether the armed forces will conduct these operations–each case will depend on choices made by policymakers-but how they can be planned and carried out with a minimum of disruption to DoD’s core mission of preparing and fighting the nation’s wars.”

Operations other than war. “We expect DoD will be called upon to carry out law enforcement operations in the future. Our recent experience in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa shows that there are no civilian agencies capable of short-notice law enforcement operations and training in hostile, demanding environments. By default these missions-like other [operations other than war] missions, such as large-scale delivery of food, water, or medicine to hostile areas-fall to the military.” The commission’s recommendation is that the Department of Defense should integrate “operations other than war” capabilities into overall mission planning and assign proper priorities to them.

The US Coast Guard is an instructive model in planning for operations other than war, the commission said. “Its military characteristics, e.g., chain of command, discipline, and twenty-four-hour-response capability, enable the Coast Guard to perform maritime safety, law enforcement, and marine environmental protection roles-and still meet its national security mission,” the report said.

Medical Care and Other Issues

The report says that the armed forces presently have 12,500 physicians on active duty, about twice the number needed for wartime medical requirements. The commission said the Pentagon should choose a sizing standard, based on either wartime or peacetime needs, as a basis for the military health-care system. The standard should reemphasize the primacy of medical support to military operations, the commissioners said, but “peacetime operational missions” could figure into the decision.

“In the long term, we expect more medical care to be provided by civilian sources with the DoD medical establishment being reduced accordingly,” the commissioners said. According to surveys studied in preparation of the report, most retirees and family beneficiaries would prefer, if given a choice, to rely more on private health-care providers.

Among the proposals generating a hot reaction was the commission’s call to align service reserve components with actual requirements. “Some reserve forces are not organized, trained, or equipped appropriately for the types of operations they are likely to face in the future,” the commission said. This section of the report concentrated on the Army and homed in on eight National Guard combat divisions with 110,000 personnel, organized as reinforcements for global conflict during the Cold War. No requirement presently exists for these units, the commission said, whereas the Army is currently short 60,000 combat support and combat service troops.