The National Security Act of 1947 began the process of bringing the armed services under a single roof, and it was characterized early on by extensive budget battles between the services. The services’ rivalry led them to develop competing programs, developed by competing companies, and the wide variance between services prevented a single military viewpoint from emerging. From a civil-military relations perspective, this competition was very beneficial, both because the services couldn’t close ranks against civilian leadership and because the services’ attempts to undermine one another provided better information to policymakers. The Goldwater-Nichols reforms did a lot to change that, in the name of effective joint operations, and recently developments make me wonder if that’s a good thing.
Last month, Secretary of Defense “Mad Dog” Mattis rolled out a Close Combat Lethality Task Force dedicated to ensuring that American close combat units won’t be getting into any more fair fights. The CCLTF consists of infantrymen from the Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Command, and they want close combat units to be considered major projects within the defense budget, just like the F-35. That would mean that funding could be “fenced” into supporting close combat readiness, or infantry units across the services.
Specifically dedicating funding to infantry units is only one aspect of the CCLTF’s ambitions, but it suggests that strategic function might be replacing service loyalty as a locus for rivalry. Could Goldwater Nichols have been too successful? By tying the services together, and developing more and more joint doctrine, have we incentivized aviators and infantrymen to consider themselves more closely tied to their colleagues in other services? Who’s next? Will the services’ ISR or logistics personnel demand their own major project status? God help us if the S-1s of the military unite.