The British Approach

Article excerpt

As a Naval Academy graduate, I have a great fondness for the institution and my four-year academy experience. But during the 40-plus years since I attended, many changes have occurred at the academies, many new programs for obtaining officers have emerged, and civilian colleges have changed significantly. In addition, an altered climate of opinion and reductions in defense spending increasingly threaten the present academy system. It may, therefore, be time for us to consider an alternative to the programs now offered at West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs.

Before World War II, the academies were America's principal source of new officers. A fledging Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program also existed, and land-grant colleges were required to offer military training. Often the number of graduates from these sources greatly exceeded the military's needs, and excess graduates were either discharged or given a reserve commission.

Then, during World War II, the need for officers greatly exceeded what the academies and other sources were providing. Some academy classes were graduated early, and a multitude of new officer education and commissioning programs were established. Programs at civilian colleges were vastly expanded. Some emergency officer programs turned out "90-day wonders."

By the end of World War II, ROTC programs had become rooted at many colleges, and rapid training via officer candidate schools (OCS) was also well established within the military services. At the same time, the numbers of American youth attending college increased dramatically.

Today the academies are no longer the main source for military officers. They currently provide less than 17 percent of each year's newly commissioned officers. ROTC units now exist at 470 host colleges, and thousands of new officers come from the OCS and enlisted commissioning programs. As time goes on, more and more non-academy graduates rise to the general and flag officer ranks, even becoming the heads of their services and possibly Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

On average it costs more than $250,000 to educate each graduate from the three military academies--three times or more the cost of an ROTC graduate, and many more multiples of the bill for an OCS graduate. This disparity is occurring in a time of reduced military budgets and an increased need for funds to modernize our fighting forces and weaponry.

In recent years, the British military has experienced similar trends. So it's worth looking at how the British have adjusted their officer commissioning programs to meet changed conditions.

Historically, the British and the United States have used almost identical means to educate new officers for their armed forces. Officers for the British Army were educated at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, those for the British Navy at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and the Royal Engineering College at Manadon. Officers for the Air Force were educated at the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell. But with a decrease in military spending, the British Ministry of Defence has established new commissioning programs that depart from tradition. Now the principal source of new officer candidates is youth who have already been graduated from civilian colleges, either through their own efforts or on a military scholarship. Selected candidates then enter one of the military colleges listed above for a training program lasting at most one year, after which they are commissioned. These military colleges no longer offer regular four-year academic programs as in the past.

The one-year military training complements the academic education candidates have already received at a civilian college, and gives them the necessary skills and indoctrination to serve as active duty officers. This is not unlike America's current OCS programs--in which college graduates are admitted for a 6- to 13-week training period--except that Britain's one-year program provides much more military training (more perhaps than even graduates of our present military academies receive). …