The Ever-Shrinking Fighting Force

 The Ever-Shrinking Fighting Force by Major General Arnold L. Punaro, USMC (Ret.) (Punaro Press, 2021, 501 pages)

Its capabilities unrivaled and its global reach unmatched, America’s military is the envy of the world.  Yet to those in the know, like retired Marine Major General Arnold Punaro, a former staff Director of the Senate Armed Services Committee, there is compelling need for improvement in its support elements.  From the glacial pace of acquisitions to the spiraling growth of the defense agencies to the fully burdened costs of the All-Volunteer Force, the Department of Defense’s non-warfighting elements are not getting enough bang for the buck. Drawing on his half-century of experience in national security, General Punaro offers a no-nonsense look at the inefficiencies that have plagued the Pentagon’s creeping bureaucracy for decades.

The Ever-Shrinking Fighting Force by Major General Arnold L. Punaro, is a comprehensive and informative primer on the structure, function, and process of the US Government’s provision for the common defense. This book is a well-researched and extensive discussion of the ways and means by which the relevant entities of government interact to design, develop, procure, authorize, and appropriate, resulting in America’s modern military. Major General Punaro’s effort provides a holistic overview of the relationships between the key decision-making bodies in Congress, the centers of power within the Department of Defense (DOD), as well as the key players across the US defense industry. The cogent explanation exposes how these myriad factors combine (and sometimes collude) to result in a military, that while more lethal and effective than any other, is increasingly burdened by bureaucratic bloat and why that must change in order to preserve American prosperity. 


The Ever-Shrinking Fighting Force is Major General Punaro’s second book. He is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the consulting firm, The Punaro Group. His career includes two terms as the chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association, thirteen years as Executive Vice President at Science Applications International Corporation, twenty-four years on staff in the US Senate, and thirty-five years of service in the United States Marine Corps. His broad and varied experience in the defense sector gives him unquestioned insight into the present challenges faced by the nation and its defense sector leadership. Particularly, his understanding of the structural changes required to meet the needs of the emerging threats to US national security, make The Ever-Shrinking Fighting Force an excellent starting point for those seeking to absorb the full scope of America’s current geo-strategic dilemma.    

Highlighting the spiraling expense of the DOD as the central threat to the preservation of US military supremacy, the author methodically expresses the pressing need for defense reform within the US government, proffering pragmatic and actionable adjustments. His eight “ticking time bombs” of out-of-control personnel, acquisition and overhead costs form the basis of risk, which is mitigated by fifteen guiding principles for reform. These principles drive more agile and affordable defense policy, ensuring the enduring strength of American security. The book captures the problem in a sweeping breakdown of the organization and development of the Department of Defense, including descriptions of little-known constituencies such as the DOD Field Activities. He articulates all in the segments of government which wield an influence over the defense budget. The simple explanation of the processes in use by and the relationship between decision-making authorities within the Congress, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the uniformed Services make The Ever-Shrinking Fighting Force a tremendous asset for students of national security and defense policy.       


A compilation of speeches, briefs, and white papers prepared for key government leaders, The Ever-Shrinking Fighting Force, seamlessly woven into a coherent and eminently readable whole. The opening of each chapter enriches the reader’s understanding, explaining the history and context of each segment, when and why it was crafted, and for whom they produced it. The writing is terse and informative; thorough without being burdensome. It provides digestible bites for consuming the complexities within the DOD: a perfect orientation for those serving in the Pentagon. A concise expression of over four decades of deep, daily study by a true professional and patriot, the result provides readers with the richly layered understanding leaders need to reform in response to extant technical, procedural, and structural problems.  

The work’s value comports to the reader’s perspective. A trove of useful charts and data, along with key historical accounts (e.g. Goldwater-Nichols reform), make it a tremendous resource for political science and history researchers. This book provides information critical to leaders in a new administration coming from outside of the defense sector to begin the important work of their new office. For the staff officer inside the Pentagon, it is essential reading, connecting the disparate and distilling the complex into a comprehensible defense ecosystem. For the defense reformer, it suggests a clear path to preserve American security through reform. The Ever-Shrinking Fighting Force would benefit from including an outline for draft legislation as an appendix. This minor addition might make Punaro’s aspirations for change the more accessible to the policy practitioners that are the book’s most important audience. That said, in its current form, this book already serves as an important guide for meaningful defense reform and is an important addition to a defense professional’s library. 

Lt. Col. Matthew R. Crouch is a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, he holds master’s degrees in Political Science and International Business Administration and is an Olmsted Scholar. He has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the US government or other organization.
Additional information about Matthew Crouch can be found at: 

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