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In the steampunk era of my world there is a military academy that trains officers for the United Anglicynn Kingdoms' military. To be a little different I decided that cadets all train together with specialty classes depending on if they will serve on ships, in the air force, on the ground piloting mechanized infantry, or if they are magic users. The forces are not separated into different hierarchies though it would be hard to transfer horizontally from the infantry to become a sailor.

Does not having separation of forces make reasonable sense for a military to do or would it make things more complicated and troublesome? Or, would this degree of combined forces make them even more effective?

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  • $\begingroup$ The question in the title is not the same question as the focus of the body. I came originally, based on the title, to say "That is entirely story based and only you can answer it," but then I read the question body. $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk May 3 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by different branches? Do you mean why wouldn’t the military have many different ranks? What you’ve described in your question is essentially separating the soliders into groups, or branches, such as the Navy, the Spellcasters, the Mechanised infantry etc. $\endgroup$ – Liam Morris May 3 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ Please consider waiting for other people to get a chance to chime in with their knowledge before accepting an answer. We usually consider about 24-48 hours a good timeframe to give people all over the world a chance to help you out. Also consider waiting somewhat longer as there's usually less activity on the weekends.. $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T May 3 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ I think that you are confusing specialization with separate hierarchies. Having separate hierarchies has the purpose of fragmenting power and creating more space at the top (which is a significant problem in any serious military -- you want to be able to retain experienced officers). But separate hierarchies do not necessarily correspond to specializations; for example, as far as I know, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marines, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Air Force all have aircraft; there is little difference between marines and other carried light infantry; etc. $\endgroup$ – AlexP May 3 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ This is like asking, "why can't a university combine all the colleges into one unified thing with separate classes?" Answer: because the equipment and educators needed to teach nuclear physics is very different from the equipment and educators needed to teach art. Worse, you can't just plunk the equipment for nuclear physics down anywhere. In fact, it's natural to plunk all the equipment in one place for easy access and maintenance (same goes for the educators). Ta-da! Colleges are born. As your military grows, separation is pretty much inevitable. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 3 at 22:34
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To be a little different I decided that cadets all train together with specialty classes depending on if they will serve on ships, in the air force, on the ground piloting mechanized infantry, or if they are magic users.

Aside from no magic users, welcome to the Canadian Forces.

These days, all enlisted Regular force (ie, not the Reserves/militia) personnel attend the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. After they complete Basic Military Qualification, which is common to everyone regardless of what branch they end up in, they go off to their separate training facilities and bases across the country.

For officers, officer-cadets attend one of the Canadian Military Colleges. There were three when I was in in the late 80s/early 90s: College Militaire Royale de Saint-Jean, also in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Québec, which I attended; Royal Roads Military College (RRMC) just outside Victoria, British Columbia; and the original, the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Ontario.

(Aside: in 1995 RRMC was closed as a military college and is now a civilian one; CMR was also closed in 1995 and became a civilian college, but in 2007 was re-opened as a military college using part of the now-civvie campus.)

Okay, so the way the colleges worked is that all officer-cadets, regardless of where they planned to go (Maritime Command, once again the Royal Canadian Navy; Mobile Command, now again the Canadian Army; or Air Command, it also now bearing its former name of the Royal Canadian Air Force) attended the same classes--depending on what degree they were working toward--were in the same squadrons, and we wore the same college uniform. We also had branch-specific uniforms that we wore when we did our specialized training over the summers: tan/green for us superior army types, black/white for the naval wogs, and blue for those who wanted to fly planes. The only time we wore them at the college were the specific days dedicated to a particular branch, so on naval day, for instance, all the naval types wore their blacks or whites while the rest of us stayed in the normal college uniform.

Additionally, the first summer in, all officer-cadets (and all future officers who would skip the colleges because they were, say, doctors and thus would directly get commissions) attended CFOCS ("see-fox", the Canadian Forces Officer Candidate School) at Canadian Forces Base Chilliwack. Again, regardless of future service. If you failed CFOCS, you were out. After that, summers were off to whatever base providing the specialized training for your branch; military engineers, for instance, did the course at Chilliwack, infantry went to CFB Gagetown, and so on.

Other than the summer training periods where you'd go off to do branch training, all cadets received the same military education and training at the colleges and CFOCS. This also meant that people could shift branches; we used to joke that the majority of Canadian warship drivers were wannabe-pilots who couldn't make flight school due to poor reflexes or bad eyesight. If someone wanted to be a military engineer but didn't have the academic wherewithal to get the required engineering degree, it was theoretically possible for them to switch to, say, infantry or armour, or some other job where a BA would be enough. It was rare; usually if you flunked the academics you were out, but I did see it happen.

So there's nothing particularly odd about your suggestion; it's been successfully done in real life.

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    $\begingroup$ Worth adding that for a while Canadian Forces were literally not divided into services. There literally was no Army, Navy or Air Force. (Were separated out a few years back though). $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth May 4 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ Happened in 1968. Then everyone was switched to the godawful bland green uniforms, which were kept until the 1980s when the traditional distinctive uniforms were restored. One thing that was maintained was the insignia: everyone had the same stripes on their sleeves/epaulettes. In 2011 the original names were restored to the commands (RCAF, RCN, Canadian Army), but the Canadian Forces, legally, are still unified. Among other things, the insignia were changed back, so now they're all different again. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison May 4 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ But it does have a practical aspect; we don't have service-specific bases or facilities. At any given base you could find a mix of personnel; obviously a naval base will have more naval personnel, but the shore-based firefighters will often be Army combat engineers, and all the pilots will be RCAF, even if they fly a chopper off a ship. Similarly, walk into one of the major infantry training bases and you could see RCN and RCAF uniforms worn by administrative staff. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison May 4 at 2:11
  • $\begingroup$ Although I didn't mention it in my own answer, I feel it deserves mention that not all Officers in the Canadian Forces go through RMC. A significant portion come in with their own degree or enter through the civilian ROTP program (as well as the various commissioning plans for NCMs). Most of them do still take the common basic military courses, of course. $\endgroup$ – Wolfgang May 4 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ Aside for magic users Wait, you don't have those in the Canadian forces? $\endgroup$ – Eth May 6 at 9:23
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I mean, it's not an unreasonable idea, if you're starting from scratch. It eliminates confusion about rank (US Navy Captain is O-6, Army Captain is O-3), it means that you can more easily transfer command between different COs depending on the situation, and it emphasizes that the military should be working together for combined arms operations.

The forces are not separated into different hierarchies though it would be hard to transfer horizontally from the infantry to become a sailor.

This is already a thing in today's military, even within branches. You can't take a weapons operator on a ship and make them run the engines, you can't have a jet pilot become pararescue, tankers would need to be retrained to be infantry, etc. The UAK's military would have this to a much broader degree, but it wouldn't be insurmountable.

The main caveat is what I said before: "If you're starting from scratch."

Trying to integrate existing branches of a military is like pulling teeth... from every member of the military at the same time. If the UAK's military is essentially a previous military under a new flag, then the previous Lord Admiral of the Navy and the previous Magus of War (or whatever their titles were) are not going to see eye to eye and the integration will be like trying to operate a stick-shift gearbox with no idea how it works: a lot of grinding of teeth, a lot of sparks, and you could just wreck the whole thing.

If something is shaking up the military enough, for example most of the military used to be revolutionaries a few important documents ago, or you've got something like the 1871 unification of Germany from the Germanic states, then you could possibly get a unified military out of that easily.

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    $\begingroup$ Confusion between ranks isn't really an issue. Everyone in the military in Canada and other countries that have inherited British ranks knows an Acting Sublieutenant is a Second Lieutenant, a Sublieutenant is a Lieutenant, Lt(N) is the same as a Captain, a Captain(N) is equivalent to a Colonel, and Admirals are the same as Generals. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison May 3 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ Speaking from ten years plus in the U.S. Navy, I insist that those who know that are far from”everyone.” $\endgroup$ – WGroleau May 3 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ Speaking as a former member of the Canadian Forces, I am shocked at the concept of members of the American military being ignorant of something that basic. But seriously, that was my point. We knew that because all three of the services were trained together. The commandant of the college was usually ranked O-6, and O-7, so you learned pretty quick a Captain(N) outranked an army or air force captain, and squadron commanders were O-3. When I was there, my squadron CO was a captain, and Sq 6's was a Lt(N). So we were exposed to it all the time. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison May 3 at 22:38
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A response to a past coup

I’m choosing here to respond to the title. Other answers have gone through the military viability of this idea pretty well, but fundamentally, the thing you need to happen doesn’t have to be due to military reasons, or at least military efficacy reasons.

Branches of the military are famous for their infighting and resistance to cooperation, so take that one step forward: at one point in your nation’s history, the head of a single branch of your choice unilaterally began a military coup against the government, with many of their subordinates willingly following along due to being more loyal to their branch than to the country.

Thanks to an uncharacteristic cooperation between the other branches, the coup was stopped, but the event triggered a massive reworking of the military system. Old rank systems were eliminated and replaced with a standardized approach, formal command structure was interwoven, military academies were combined, and the importance of joint operations was emphasized.

In your case, I’d probably have the rebel faction be the magic users: their branch wouldn’t just be integrated, it would be dissolved, and magic users would be distributed among other units.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sort of ironic since later in the story, the military is supposed to take part of a coup by a populist general and princess. $\endgroup$ – GiruŠatuku May 3 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, but this one will be effective because it’s a combined arms coup! $\endgroup$ – Daniel B May 3 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ Would't this work the other way though? Initially, you have a single combined military led by one very powerful general. This general, who has all the military power, decides to make himself king and starts a coup. Some loyalists band together and stop the coup. Later, the military is restructured and split into different branches with each branch having its own general. This way 3/4 general all keep each other in check. No general has too much power in his hands. $\endgroup$ – Paresh May 4 at 5:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Paresh Could go either way! $\endgroup$ – Daniel B May 4 at 7:30
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Separation of the military into branches occurs because the strategies, tactics, and indeed espirit de corps changes depending on what sorts of operations you do. Historically, we have had a Navy because the sorts of things you have to do while living for months on a small wooden plank in the middle of a Mother Nature's seas are very different from what you need to do with, say, an Army who has to be able to dig in on land. The Air Forces exist because the 3rd dimension and speeds of combat change astonishingly, and everything has to cope.

You never want to have a commander issuing orders that are not consistent with the realities the soldiers were trained in. Soldiers are trained to be able to sacrifice to accomplish orders, and sacrifice dearly, and ideally without hesitation. If a commander is not well aware of how their soldiers will have to act to accomplish their orders, those soldiers will sacrifice without a good enough return on investment.

Over hundreds of years, we have found that the branches we see in modern militaries are effective ones. They are good at ensuring that commanders issue orders which spend precious resources (such as soldiers) correctly.

Of course, we are also seeing a huge push towards joint operations. The big disadvantage of such branched approaches is that the branches don't interact very well. If you have an operation that needs to start at sea, and then move onto land with air superiority protecting it, it's really hard to accomplish. Modern militaries are finding this to be an important class of operations, so they're spending more and more effort finding ways to operate in a joint way to make up for the fact that they are not a combined force.

So if you want to have a combined military like this, I'd recommend having a world which supports it. Develop a world where it is difficult to accomplish any meaningful military task in just one domain. Make it so that most operations call for some combined operations. Make it so there is a strong advantage to being able to think in combined terms which outweighs the penalties that occur from ordering soldiers to do less than ideal things.

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    $\begingroup$ As a comment, I also recommend looking into the Marines. My understanding of that branch is less than the others, but it appears to be unique in that it does not directly correlate to a combat domain. They, instead, appear to be more focused on the attack from any domain to any domain (and from the Marines I have talked to, defending that territory is then left to the other branches) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 3 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ Separation of the military into branches comes from its history, not by design. The medieval army was feudal levies called up by their lords, while the navy was merchant vessels pressed into military service. $\endgroup$ – Mark May 3 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ This is the most practical answer. The only way to unify the military is to have no specializations. The moment specializations occur, it quickly begins to make sense to segregate. The OP has already done so by segregating classes. As the military grows, it's an obvious next-step to separate completely so that facilities can be built that reflect the needs of the specializations. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 3 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ As @CortAmmon mentions, Marines are an interesting case in joint operations... But it turns out that they aren't a separate branch, they're a corps of the Navy (at least in the US). Just as there's an Infantry Corps in armies, Quartermaster Corps in every branch, MI Corps in every branch, Cav, Arty,...etc... (It's more appropriate to compare Marines to the Ranger Corps than it is to compare them to Infantry.) They also each have different definitions of the word "secure": USMC: Attack to capture. Army: Post guards around. Navy: Turn off lights. Air Force: Seek a lease with a buy option. $\endgroup$ – Ghedipunk May 3 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH there are countries that demonstrate your assertion is simply wrong. I live in one of them. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison May 4 at 2:14
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As a real life example, in 1967, the three branches of the Canadian Forces were unified:

The public explanation for the reorganization was that unification would achieve cost savings and provide improved command, control, and integration of the military forces. Hellyer stated on 4 November 1966 that "the amalgamation... will provide the flexibility to enable Canada to meet in the most effective manner the military requirements of the future. It will also establish Canada as an unquestionable leader in the field of military organization."

The biggest reasons were cost savings and the reduction in size of the Canadian Forces. Unification allows for a (somewhat) integrated command structure and improved control over joint operations.

And as in your example, officers from all three elements are trained at the Royal Military College of Canada. They undergo specialty training at various training centres across the country.

In fact, there is an entire group of trades that are described as "purple" (not fitting into blue, green, or black of the individual elements). These include clerks, drivers, cooks, supply techs, military police, chaplains, and so on where the nature of the trade isn't specific to a particular environment. While uncommon, it is not unheard of to have a cook in an army uniform serving aboard a frigate, or a finance clerk in a naval uniform working at Base HQ on what is primarily an Army base.

Of course, people still argue to this day as to whether this was a good idea, and the transition was far from a seamless one.

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Pro:

  • It encourages a spirit of joint operations. Especially in a small colonial war, you might find a battalion of regulars, a few hundred sailors under the command of the first lieutenant, and an artillery battery marching up the river together.
  • It clarifies seniority in those situations.
  • If you are steampunk, they will be class conscious, right? So three Army officers, two Navy officers, and a Medical Corps officer in a tiny garrison at the end of nowhere can at least mess together without begin socially awkward.
  • Keeping the accounts and personnel rolls of a battalion is not much different from doing the same on a ship. Why not train the officer cadets together?

Con:

  • There is a world of difference between commanding half a gun deck on an ironclad and commanding an elephant artillery battery. So why give the same basic training? The naval cadet needs emergency shiphandling and astronavigation, not map reading and cross-country riding.
  • Having a distinct service identity could help with esprit de corps and unit cohesion. "Let's show those Dogfaces how a Leatherneck storms a hill!"
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    $\begingroup$ Esprit de corps and unit cohesion doesn't have to come from different branches. Even being on different ships can do that. Look up how many times US Navy personnel from different ships have gotten into brawls. It's a lot. $\endgroup$ – ltmauve May 3 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ @ltmauve, it is certainly one factor among many, and perhaps not the most important one. There are both pros and cons for an unified service. $\endgroup$ – o.m. May 3 at 17:14
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For a real-life analogue, look at Japan's Self-Defense Forces. Prospective officers may attend the National Defense Academy of Japan, followed by Officer Candidate School for the ground, air, or naval force.

The SDF are United under a common organization, but have separate command structures. For unified air and land command, look to the start of ww1. The British Air Force gained Independence quickly. However, the US marines, for example, still employ their own planes and pilots.

The factors that shape your command structures will be varied, including tactics, strategy, production rates, roles, etc. For a unified force, create a situation where two branches exist largely to support the third. They are without large independent forces and have limited strategic or tactical importance. Alternatively, they have independent versions that operate separately and leave the more-limited support roles to the combined force.

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There are several possible reasons:

  • Not enough of a military for meaningful separation of branches
  • Cost savings
  • Feeling secure from military take-overs or living under military rule
  • Finding cooperation more valuable than specialisation
  • Being pushed together by outside pressure
  • One branch completely dominating the others, so they get subordinated
  • A very successful non-separated foreign military
  • Being land-locked and seeing planes as support
  • Having a more or less ceremonial military
  • Having a genius-level top general who works wonders in any branch
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