March 1, 2007  

More infantry

With the chief of staff of the Army and the commandant of the Marine Corps publicly calling for more troops, here is a solution that sources those troops from within current Defense Department numbers. In essence, personnel manning numbers can be reduced in the services having the least contribution to the war on terrorism — the Navy and the Air Force — and transferred to the Army and Marines.

If we are serious about the war on terrorism, then the new secretary of defense needs to break the current Cold War model of our armed forces to put more infantrymen in the ranks.

It is time we adopt a “ship-to-shore program” in which the defense secretary directs the Department of the Navy to:

• Cancel the double manning of submarines, the blue-gold manning scheme they’ve had for 50 years, and have just gold crews or blue crews. The remaining personnel slots are then deleted from authorized Navy manning tables and assigned to the Marine Corps’ authorized manning for rifle company-level infantrymen.

• Reduce the manning on one-quarter of the destroyer- and cruiser-class ships and adopt functional manning of flotillas of these ships tied up side-by-side, nested at anchor or pier to keep the propulsion, weapons and electronics in operational status. About 200 sailors can keep 30 ships maintained at the suggested “four-week run-up level to operational” status for at least three years without a negative effect on the ships. The positions that are abolished are assigned to the Marine Corps.

• Transfer logistics functions above Marine division level to the Navy or the Defense Logistics Agency. The enlisted Marines serving in the eliminated logistics functions are retrained for infantry fields. Career logistics field-grade officers are assigned to Navy commands assuming these functions, or to joint commands to relieve Marine field-grade infantry officers for assignment to division-level assignments. The Marine Corps should also transfer all force-level or higher assets to the Navy or to DLA for subcontracting of their operations and maintenance. That will free more enlisted Marines for retraining to allow the Marine Corps to create an additional rifle company in each infantry battalion.

• Deactivate four aircraft carriers. These ships are then tied up side-by-side, nested at anchor or placed in dry dock to keep the ships’ propulsion, weapons and electronics in an operational status. The air wings’ aircraft are parked in the desert at China Lake. About 40 civilian technicians can keep 80 F/A-18 aircraft maintained. Or we can lease the four carriers to the U.K., Japan, Australia and France for $1 per year if they agree to man the ships, and equip them with F/A-18 or F-35 aircraft. The 24,000-person manpower level from the carriers is reduced from the Navy’s authorized manning and assigned to Army infantry units to create an additional company at each battalion.

• Direct the Marine Corps to reduce the manning of four F/A-18 squadrons and transfer their positions to Marine Corps infantry units. As with the Navy aircraft, the F/A-18s are parked in the desert and maintained by civilians.

The Air Force should be directed to:

• Reduce manning on one-tenth of its fighter and bomber squadrons/wings, and adopt functional manning for the aircraft in the desert. About 100 civilian technicians’ skills can keep 300 aircraft maintained. The eliminated Air Force positions are assigned to the Army.

Transfer logistics functions above wing level to the DLA, which subcontracts these to the aircraft manufacturers. All officer and enlisted personnel serving in echelons above wing level are discharged within 60 days. An exception would be made for those eligible for retirement within three years or those accepting infantry retraining and reassignment to Army.

Of course, these are heart-stopping changes, but perhaps our new Defense Department leader will develop the guts to consider them.

Col. Jim Magee (ret.), Marine Corps

Johns Creek, Ga.