ERRATA: The quote below mistakenly lists the Admiral ranks. The correct order of rank is:
Vice Admiral = 3 stars
Rear Adm (upper half) = 2 stars
Rear Adm (lower half) = 1 star
This is a companion piece to If You Think The United States Is Ready For A Conventional War With Russia or China, Think Again.
The United States Navy continues to boast that it is a powerhouse, “with the largest navy in the world, with over 300,000 personnel”
So, how many admirals are currently in the US Navy? The answer is: a lot. As of June 2017, there are 944 active duty admirals in the US Navy. This includes the Vice Admiral (2-star), Rear Admiral (Upper Half) (1-star), and Rear Admiral (Lower Half) (1-star) ranks. The majority of these admirals are in the upper ranks, with only a handful in the lower ranks. The reason for this is simple: the higher ranks come with more responsibility. There are more flag officers (admirals and generals) in the Navy than any other service, and they are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the fleet.
Another data source, STATISTA, reports that there are only 229 Admirals. Let us go with the 229 figure.
So, how does “229 active duty admirals in the US Navy” today stack up with the number of flag officers in the US Navy in World War II? The answer is shocking — there were 256!
Consider the difference. By December 31, 1944, the United States Navy was conducting global combat operations in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas with 6,084 ships and only 256 flag officers. That US Navy defeated the Imperial Fleet of Japan and helped the Brits end the threat of U-boats. How in the name of all that is Holy was the US able to achieve victory with only 256 flag officers?
Let us continue to bang on the numbers. Those 256 flag officers commanded a total of 1,923,910 enlisted personnel as of June 30, 1945. In other words, there was one flag officer for every 7,515 enlisted personnel. Compare that with today (again, using the 229 number) — 229 active duty admirals command 286,434 enlisted personnel. I will do the math for you. That means one admiral for every 1250 sailors. If we use the 944 active duty Admirals reported from an official US Navy site, the number is even more dramatic — one admiral for every 303 sailors.
Now do you begin to understand why the US Defense budget is approaching $800 billion dollars. It is basically a Lamborghini welfare program. These officers draw high salaries while on active duty and lucrative pensions after retirement.
I am not the first one to note the Top Heavy nature of the US Navy. James L. McClane and Kevin Eyer, writing for the National Interest, published an important piece on this subject in October 2019:
At least in the Surface Force, the growth of flag/SES numbers has been matched by a demonstrable and steady decline in readiness. This decline seems to have been relatively unnoticed and unremarked upon by leaders until very recently when many appeared to be taken by surprise that ships were poorly maintained, trained, and sailed without required certifications. . . .
It seems that “The Navy” has less and less to do with the active fleet and more to do with something else. A part of the problem of ineffectual leadership may lie in what criteria are being used for flag selection. Increasingly, and over many years, flag activities have less to do with actual fleet operations and more to do with extra-Navy relationships. The entering argument for flag-selection has moved (at least in the case of surface warfare) away from, “sustained, superior performance at sea” and toward the question of, “what can you do for us in Washington if we make you an admiral?”
Their key take away — the growth of flag/SES numbers has been matched by a demonstrable and steady decline in readiness. To paraphrase myself, if you that having a bloated general officer corps makes your military better, think again! In fact, this problem is not confined to the Navy. I think you will find that the Army, the Air Force and the Marine Corps are guilty of gilding the Lilly for General Officers. It is a case of too many doing too little for so few.
This problem is at the heart of the criticism and analysis you will find if you pick up one of Andrei Martyanov’s excellent books. He has been like the Prophet Jeremiah trying to awaken the American politicians, officers and public to the rot at the heart of the so-called greatest military in the world.
God forbid we get into a shooting war with the Russians or the Chinese. We will learn the hard way that we have too many Chiefs, too few Indians and unreliable arrows.
I would suggest that the pundits and politicians that are doing their grift on television and social media by disparaging the Russians and the Chinese in terms of military competence while insisting that the United States is still the biggest, baddest dude on the block, take a look in the mirror. They ain’t going to see Sleeping Beauty. Just ask the Taliban.