Counting the Stars

The number of general officers has stayed relatively stable despite a 2011 directive to limit the total number of top officers, while the overall size of the military has consistently decreased, according to a new congressional report. The Congressional Research Service on Feb. 18 released a review of the total size of the general officer corps in the military, stating that as of December 2015, there were 896 total Active Duty general flag officers, 66 less than the maximum allowed after then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates passed an efficiency initiative in 2011 to limit the total number of general officers. The Air Force maintains a high amount of general officers related to its size with 12 four-star generals. That’s the same number as the Army, but the Army’s proposed Fiscal 2017 endstrength of about 460,000 soldiers is larger than the Air Force’s 317,000. The Air Force currently has 43 lieutenant generals, 91 major generals, and 131 brigadier generals. While the total number of four-star officers has been relatively stable since the Cold War era—36 in 1965 versus 38 in 2015—the Total Force has dropped in half from 2.66 million in 1965 to 1.31 million. The CRS report does not provide any recommendations for congressional action, but it does give options for lawmakers to consider, such as what is the best way to determine the number of general officers needed for the military, and how does advances in information technology impact the need for general officers.