Rank inflation or "Chieftains without indians"

Rank inflation pops up as a side topic in some posts on Defence and Freedom and I'm not motivated to write an encompassing post about it yet, but I'd like to redirect some attention at the casualties lists from recent conflicts with involvement of Western armies; Iraq and Afghanistan.

One such casualty list is here.

What's striking about these lists is that almost all KIA (and WIA) are either officers or non-commissioned officers. This applies to the casualties lists of several involved countries.

Deployments into distant dirtholes are somewhat special and may end up having a lower share of enlisted personnel than the deploying force has overall, but this effect cannot explain the ratio of officer - NCO - enlisted casualties.

Germany had this rank inflation issue for a long time, and it accelerated during the 90's when the force had to shrink without the system having the ability to shed the long-serving troops (8 years for NCOs, 12 for officers, two decades for officers who turned professional) as easily as enlisted personnel.

Tasks which were done by conscripts for decades were increasingly assigned to junior NCOs.

New personnel had to be recruited to keep the force young enough, and gifting NCO ranks to 8-year volunteer recruits ("Neckermann Stuffz") became a regular embarrassing fact of life instead of a rare occurrence.
NCO courses were watered down and senior leadership lost the Cold War's zeal to fire up training. This in turn resulted in junior NCOs being about as much trusted as were Cold War non-conscript enlisted personnel. Our Feldwebel (lowest rank of senior NCO, requiring a special course and traditionally a mainstay of German armies) became as trusted as were our junior NCOs during the Cold War. I recall some big brass guy bragging about how Feldwebel (previously platoon leader rank) shall lead all of our squads in the future (=now). It didn't cross his mind that this required watering down the same.

So basically today's Western armies use junior NCOs as enlisted personnel.

Just in case anybody doubted that our military bureaucracies need a major shake-up and it would be a good idea to do this during this magnificiently low threat era: This doubt should be gone.


edit - related (hat tip to Eric Palmer blog):



  1. Nice topic! Some thoughts (unsorted) as I am not longer sober enough. :-)

    1) Platoon leaders were HFw or at least OFw in Panzer or PzGrenadier units around 1985. Do not know the situation in Jäger or Sicherungs bats.
    I do not know if a rank structure as in 1914 would be possible in mechanised units.

    2) The lack of long serving enlisted men was the reason that after 1990 many tasks had to be done by the lowest long serving rank, so we saw a dumbed down Uffz (little bit of an oxymeron :-))

    3) Some administrative jobs of senior NCO were done if necessary by enlisted men (draftees) during cold war. I had to play Rechnungführer for half a year when our Fw was in hospital/recreation. In other units the same picture.

    4) The relatively slim structure, i.e. low percentage of officers and senior NCOs, of the German army in WWII was a result of the the relatively low prodution rate of officers 1034-1939. This led to more civilian in adminitrative staff positions and jobs were done by NCOs and enlisted men for which officers were used in the US army.

    BTW: Happy New Year!


  2. If leaders tend to keep their heads outside vehicles to look out they are more likely to die in IED attacks than their subordinates.

    1. Look at the embedded document.
      Technically NCOs are E-5 to E-9, with E-4 being a pay grade which can be either NCO (corporal) or not (specialist).

      The U.S.Army has about half of its personnel in officer or NCO ranks.
      This would be unbearably top-heavy unless they employ junior NCOs in what used to be non-NCO jobs.

    2. 22 per cent of army personnel seems to be officers. Fire team organization makes the number of NCOs look more reasonable.

  3. Last time I looked at this for the UK the ratios between officers and other ranks was pretty static over the last decade but I didn't look further back than that.

    Within that decade the percentage of Warrant Officers and Majors had risen a bit though

    Would add, this is a very complex subject with many less obvious underlying drivers that aren't universal across countries

    Happy New Year by the way, looking forward to lots of good things to read on Defense and Freedom in 2013, hope the book is going well also

  4. "hope the book is going well also"

    I'm struggling with incorporating logistics and civilians in the operational level concept at proportionate length (word count).