Streetwise Professor

September 6, 2007

Military Organization, Revisited

Filed under: Military — The Professor @ 8:13 am

Soon after finishing this post on the economics of military organization do I read this letter to the Marine Corps Times discussing the debate between the Air Force and Army over the control of attack helos in the 1970s, and the current debate over the control of UAVs. Not surprisingly, since the writer is a retired Zoomie, the letter comes down foursquare in favor of the proposition that the USAF have control over UAVs that can carry out attack and interdiction missions. Why? ‘Cuz Congress sez so, that’s why; you see, Congress specifically gives the Air Force control over ground support and interdiction. QED.

Sorry to disagree, but what Congress decided at the time the Air Force was created in the late-1940s is hardly dispositive on the issue of whether the Army should have control over some UAV assets today–and tomorrow. The decision was, no doubt, partially based on military realities of the time, and partially based on politics. Military realities have changed in the 60 odd years since the law was written, and the politics no doubt distorted the decision.

The relevant question is whether it is appropriate to perpetuate the legacy of the P-51 era, or to craft an organizational solution that reflects the current and foreseeable technological and battlefield realities. The question seems to answer itself.

My last post focused on the implications of transactions cost considerations for military organization. Upon further reflection, I also conjecture that real options theory might shed some light on the issue. Military assets have optionality (e.g., an F-15 can be used in air superiority, strategic, or tactical support roles). Moreover, there is considerable uncertainty on the battlefield. Thus, there is a non-trivial decision on how to exercise the options inherent in military assets. The question is: who is best positioned to determine the exercise decision? Who has the best information? Hard questions . . . but thinking about the issue in this way may shed some light on the subject.

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