How can a civilian understand military organization and why is it such a mess?

A question was asked on the website Quora about why the military makes no sense by a person who has never  been in the military. Interesting.

For instance, I am always wondering about things like:

– why do helicopters belong to army, but not to air force?
– why marines are a department of navy, even though they are kind of infantry?
– etc

I thought that the question itself wasn’t bad. It isn’t very intuitive why the military does makes some of the budget allocations it does. Why not just make one fly, one drive tanks, and one drive boats. For that matter, why do we even need the Marines? That said, I wanted to share a bit for those who have ever wondered why the Nave has infantry, the Army has helicopters, and why the Marines (another word for ocean) are in the desert.

Civilians would need to understand the tactics and strategies of the military as well as the different roles of each branch and how different technologies play to each branch’s strengths.

The reason that the Navy has infantry and the Air Force does have helicopters, but only a few, is because they aren’t the best choice for them to complete their mission. You shouldn’t classify that the guys with guns should be in the Army, and the stuff that flies should be in the Air Force. To do so would be a logistical nightmare and wash away all tactical advantages of these units training together and being part of the same command structure with specific specialities.

The Amphibious Warrior

Since my specialty is the Marines, I will explain why the Navy needs them. The Marines currently exist to provide a foothold into any territory. The Army can do this by land, but the Marines are specialized to do this by sea. Wars like Iraq and Afghanistan hide this, since they are sort of either desert or landlocked mountain countries, but the specialty of the Marines, as one of their motos state, is to be the “First to the Fight”. If you want an example, look at the history of World War II. The Army owned Europe, but the Island hopping campaigns of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, to name a few, were the historic battles of Marine Corps legend. While Army was specialized to control a territory as large as Europe, the Marines are specialized to control a span as large as the Pacific. Marines are the smaller, lighter, faster infantry while the Army travels heavy. The Marines aren’t able to do what the Army did the way they did it, but the Army couldn’t take the beaches in the same way, either. Now that we do understand that there are soldiers who specialized in amphibious warfare, you have to put them under the branch that would use them most efficiently… the one who carted them to fight, which is the Navy.

How Exactly Does One Get Behind Enemy Lines?

So why does the Army need helicopters, but the Air Force doesn’t? Because the Air Force doesn’t need them and the Army does, along with the Marines. What does a helicopter really do? It is great for getting troops and supplies behind enemy lines, into extreme conditions, and are generally very versatile platforms for infantry. They can get anyone where they need to be and get them out quickly. Infantry, like Marines and Army need these abilities. Their drawbacks are that they are slow, relative to a plane,  and have short range. The Air Force, however, has no actual infantry. They also specialize in a completely different form of warfare. The Air Force focuses on long range fighting with missiles, jets, bombers and satellites. Yes, they do have helicopters for some purposes, but in general, they most famous for their fixed wing assets and missile capabilities. They want to go far and strike from a distance. Where do helicopters fit into that? So you see, someone actually did think this one through. Infantry needs quick support, drop off, and recovery. The Air Force isn’t made to do that.

F-35: Specialized for Your Destructive Pleasure.

For another example, let’s look at something else. Let’s take a look at how the different branches must be specialized in manners that don’t lend themselves immediately to common sense. This is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It may not be clear how a comparison of the F-35 explains why the Navy has an entire branch dedicated to land warfare, but as you said, you’re a civilian and don’t know better. So let’s look a bit closer.

See how there are three of them? That is because it is a single plane that has three different variants. It is intended to be able to be only slightly modified to replace three separate planes each performing three different, but similar roles.

The F-35A will be going to the Air Force. This variant is intended to fly farther while moving faster and maintaining its maneuverability. It will be a great fighter aircraft and will likely be the sword in any defensive fight we have in the foreseeable future.

The F-35B Focuses more on speed and power. It sacrifices range and top speed for the ability to land and take off virtually anywhere. The plane is equipped with short takeoff and vertical landing which means that it can land and take off from many more places across the world and extends the reach of Marines on the ground with fighter and strike capabilities. The Marines plan to be launching the aircraft from “unimproved surfaces at austere bases”. I used to be in the Marines and that is better read as “field in the middle of nowhere.”

The F-35C focuses on providing a craft suited to land on a ship. This variant will be good for combat at sea. Where the Air Force’s variant will no longer be able to reach, the C will be able to launch strikes and fighter missions from anywhere within reach of the water.

Why did we need to create all these different versions of the same plane? Because we need one plane to do the job of many, but the different branches of the military each have very different needs. There is no true cookie cutter solutions because we need specialization. Each branch needs their own version so that they can fit into their capabilities and tactics, and it works. To people who don’t really understand the intricate ways that the military fits together, though, it seems like they just spent a lot of money to make three planes into one, then back into three.

Summary: I Swear This Stuff Makes Sense

The reason that the Navy has infantry and the Air Force doesn’t need helicopters (they do by the way) because that isn’t the best choice for them to complete their mission. We specialize with the very well organized use of the right technology in the hands of the right people for full spectrum coverage. Call it force multipliers, or tactical deployments or whatever, but to organize them in the way that most people think makes sense would be inefficient. What one would consider common sense, another would consider, “uninformed”. Common sense, such as a world where all flying stuff was part of the Air Force and ground fighting would be done by the Army would, in reality, put the wrong people in the wrong type of fight and create unnecessary middlemen where simply giving the Marines the damned helicopter would make a lot more sense.



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