Is it Time to Dump Most 3- and 4-Star Generals?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis

While serving in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel L. Davis made waves by criticizing U.S. Army commanders for their leadership failures. Now, Davis has set his sights on the Army’s entire leadership, saying it’s time to “purge the generals.”


In an article published by The Armed Forces Journal, Davis says the Army’s top brass needs to go because of their costly decision-making, especially with new weapons systems.


“Over that past 20 years, our senior leaders have amassed a record of failure in major organizational, acquisition and strategic efforts,” Davis wrote. “These failures have been accompanied by the hallmarks of an organization unable and unwilling to fix itself: aggressive resistance to the reporting of problems, suppression of failed test results, public declaration of success where none was justified, and the absence of accountability.”


He adds that the Army keeps rewarding underperforming leaders who receive “prestigious medals, promotions to higher ranks, and plum follow-on jobs,” while still others retire and go to work for defense contractors, “often with companies that had profited from the failed acquisition effort.”


By Davis’ estimation, the Army has wasted nearly $35 billion dollars in expensive failures, such as the RAH-66 Comanche armed reconnaissance helicopter ($6.9 billion), the XM2001 Crusader mobile cannon ($7 billion) and Future Combat Systems ($20 billion).


Davis proposes replacing “a substantial chunk of today’s generals, starting with the three- and four-star ranks….It is unlikely that today’s top leaders—who are products and benefactors of the existing system—have the appropriate motivation or buy-in for substantive change.”


He also suggests changing the promotion system so that it is “based on demonstrated superior performance, holding leaders accountable for what they do or fail to do, and fostering a new culture that encourages prudent risk-taking and nonconformist thinking.


Finally he recommends shrinking the general officer corps. He notes that in 1945, at the end of World War II, 2,000 general and flag officers led a force of about 12 million. Today, although there are only 1.4 million U.S. troops, there are 900 generals and admirals.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

How to Fix the Army: Sack All the Generals (by Allen McDuffee, Wired)

Purge the Generals (by Daniel Davis, Armed Forces Journal)

Pentagon to Study Whether Generals and Admirals Need More Ethics Training (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Does the U.S. Have Too Many Generals and Admirals? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Does the Air Force Have Too Many Generals? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Is Being a General Just a Resume-Builder on the Road to Wealth? (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Leave a comment