This is a reality check about the organization of a specific branch of an armed forces, the army. As the parts interrelate, I didn't feel it was fitting to separate this into separate questions beyond separating the branch by itself.

This is a science fiction setting. Warfare is loosely inspired by that found during the second world war.

If you wish me to expand on any section, just request in a comment. I tried to carve it down as much as possible, so some details have been omited.

Important Technology Facts

Normally you're is limited to the speed of light, including communications. There is a faster-than-light alternative, but it's a logistical process to ship forces through it. Certainly not insurmountable, but it is a process. Getting a large force of troops from system A to B is measured in span of weeks to months due to the logistics. Communications can be prioritized (at clear, but not massive cost) to be transported between systems in days, but not hours.

The military's weapons are still physical in nature (bullets, torpedoes, artillery shells), but their enemies have advanced to more exotic weapons. Generally this allows this military to build up forces and supplies faster.

Large-scale warfare is driven largely by industrialization; technology level, strategy and tactics, etc, certainly still play their own roles, but he who masses the most troops to the location, most troops engaged (intelligently) and keeps the best supply lines holds the distinct advantage.

Biological Facts

The force described are human on almost every front except:

They biologically stop aging between their late 20s and early 30s (but continue to have lifespans similar to humans, as described in this question). This allows someone to be a 'career soldier.'

They have slightly hampered creativity, and have slight difficulty readjusting their mindset/plan when faced with different facts. This isn't drastic (nor universal; there's exceptions to every rule), but it's enough that they do make use of alien contractors to act as military advisors on all levels.

They are driven to be loyal and protective of their species on a biological level. A 'wolf pack' mentality that extends to their entire species. Things like spies or traitors are significantly less likely to be experienced by their collective culture. This doesn't stamp out individual views or political factions, however, but individuals will be far less emotionally polarized.

Cultural Facts

The society has what we would consider "traditional views on men and women's roles in society" however some women do serve. Often this is support roles (administrative, etc), but some serve in combat roles.

The society has a focus of self accomplishments, but also on contributing to the whole. They are a practically minded, salt-of-the-Earth people. Military service is held in very high regard. They do not think fondly of tyrants and warlords, but are very supportive of what they consider "justified warfare." (They're neither Genghis Khan nor American during the Vietnam War).

The government often, effectively, uses their military as a mercenary force; they maintain command of the troops, but wage war on behalf of smaller nations for a (enforced) monetary or political (such as a trade agreement) debt. Their citizens are supportive of this. Because of this the military is near constantly engaged in warfare; the nation hasn't seen a full year of peace for several centuries.

Army Description

The army is by far the largest branch of the military. It provides cavalry, infantry, planet-side air force, artillery, intelligence, and a variety of support functions.

The army in size peaks (during periods of intense warfare) at 125 million (including support personnel), making it a logistical nightmare to keep organized.

Army Officers


The Administrative level of the Army is focused primarily on logistics; getting troops and supplies where they need to go. This is everything from negotiating the manufacturing deals to training the troops to working with the other branches to ferry troops. Ultimately warfare needs overarching strategic decisions to be made, and the Administrative level deals with this.

Each administrative officer (full or lt.) has a small army of administrative staff reporting to them outside of the traditional command structure. These are tasked to organize information, make the appropriate connections, establish communication, and execute the officer's requests.

  • Administrative General - Collectively the Administrative Generals form the Council of the Army. They're overseen by the military's commander-in-chief, which is outside of the army. 1% - 20% of army reports to a given Administrative General. 5 - 15 Lt. Administrative Generals report to an Administrative General.

  • Lt. Administrative General - The Lt. Administrative Generals each command 5-15 High Generals each, and are the transition point between galactic-wide command and planet or continent engagement.


Command enters into what is considered a more traditional army structure.

All command officers have and 1-2 "Vice..." of their rank reporting to them. The Vices are something of apprentices, and are placed there to learn from their superior officer. They also act as the officer's right (or left) hand, and have defacto equivalent authority as their direct superior himself. This is done because the army places extreme importance on the quality of Command officers due to Command officers typically being isolated from Administration and because, honestly, due to their biology career officers are assumed.

A unique aspect the army are High Generals. Administration put an unprecedented amount of authority to High Generals. Administration will cut out the basic task or theater of operations that a High General is tasked with, and after that the Administration almost reports to the High General, aiming to get the High General the supplies and troops he needs to accomplish his goals.

Not only do High Generals go through the normal training and then rise the ranks, but after their apprenticeship as a Lt. High General, they return to main operations to go through an additional 4 year training program/training simulation under the guidance of retired High Generals. Becoming a High General is typically seen as the peak of an officer's career.

The force (composition and size) that reports to a High General varies greatly, depending on his personal preference and the nature of his theater of engagement/war. Most High Generals have some troops that progress through the normal progression, but have smaller side groups (of a variety of sizes) serving directly under the High General.

  • High General (0.01% - 0.8% army; Typically range between 100,000 - 1,000,000 men, some special cases have fewer than 100,000
  • General (army assign)
  • Lt. General (corp)
  • Major General (division)
  • Colonel (brigade)
  • Major (battalion)


The final division of officers, Enlisted do not have vices that report to them. Enlisted officers are similar in nature to the enlisted officers of modern militaries.

  • Captain (company)
  • Second Captain
  • Third Captain
  • Lieutenant (platoon)
  • Second Lieutenant
  • Third Lieutenant
  • Sergeant (squad)
  • Second Sergeant
  • Third Sergeant

Division of Forces

  • High General’s Command - Extremely varied, no set formula, no standard.
  • Army Assign - 2 - 5 corps; 42,000 - 225,000 men, typically ~100,000
  • Corp - 2 - 5 divisions; 12,000 - 60,000 soldiers, typically ~30,000
  • Division - 2 - 4 brigades; 4,000 - 16,000 soldiers, typically ~8,500
  • Brigade - 2 - 5 battalions; 1,300 - 5,000 soldiers, typically ~2,800
  • Battalion - 4 - 6 companies; 500 - 1200 soldiers, typically ~800
  • Company - 3 - 5 platoons; 90 - 250 soldiers, typically ~160
  • Platoon - 2 - 6 squads; 18 - 65 soldiers, typically ~40
  • Squad - 8 - 12 soldiers, typically 10

Are there any flaws or indicators of poor structure in this design?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "Are there any flaws or indicators of poor structure in this design?" No more than in any real-world Army. ;) $\endgroup$
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 17:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ can you say wall of text? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 17:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa Wall of text. $\endgroup$
    – Ranger
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 17:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your army is totally understaffed. A battalion has 800 soldiers running the actual function of the unit, plus 200 for kitchen, administration, transportation, communication, repair. And a division is not only 3 brigades of tanks, but also three artillery, three infantery, plus a dozen battalions doing medical, engineering, supplies, whatever. A division has all abilites, except air support, to fight the war in the area it is deployed to (it's usually specialised for a certain area type and purpose). Half a million men for an army. $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 8:40
  • $\begingroup$ Where are your Privates? All armies need lots of Privates. And... Captains and Lieutenants are not enlisted men. defense.gov/About/Insignias/Officers defense.gov/About/Insignias/Enlisted $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 19:59

3 Answers 3


You cultural description reminded me mostly of the old Prussian military of WWI. Infact, I re-read your description and was surprised to not see any mention of nobility or aristocracy. Your described culture seems ideally situated to be a monarchy, elective or constitutional. Your generals and general staff would then be staffed by the hereditary Vons of your world.

Whether or not you want aristocrats, the comparison that seems most apt for your description and army size is that of the General Staff of Germany of WWI. These guys were pretty much the best of the best of their time, so you might read up about them. In particular, you might want to read into some history to get a picture of how the high command worked in action. I strongly recommend The Guns of August.

Too many direct reports?

I am going to disagree with John Dallman about the organization of the Administrative Generals. I think the Admin Generals should be the equivalent of the combatant commanders in the US forces. Each Admin General should have a large staff to whom the High Generals report. Your organizational scheme should be, the High General is the senior person tasked with any conflict/mercenary hiring. For any one war, or one system, you have one High General. Your Admin Generals can have sectors or something, and command the staff that provides support for each of the 20 or so high generals. An equivalent on earth would be the fleets in the US Navy. Each fleet is responsible for providing maintenance, logistics, and training support for a few dozen ships and subs, several aircraft squadrons, etc. Likewise, each Admin General's staff would be responsible for a whole slew of High Generals.

Variable size commands

Supporting this idea, each High General will have his own staff and be responsible for prosecuting a mercenary war, conquering/defending a system, etc. The size of his force for this should be variable. This could be done by having some High Generals in charge of 'training' armies, which are responsible for housing soldiers on the homeworld and keeping them combat ready. When a conflict arises, an 'operational' High General and his staff will have some number of 'Armies' assigned to them. These armies can have different compositions or specialties, and the assigned armies will be tailored to the task at hand (type of enemy, assaul vs. defense, multi-planet system vs. one planet, inside vs. outside a gravity well, etc). This is the way that Marine units (MAGTF) are put together.

Civilian Direction?

How is your army directed? Is there civilian direction? Some sort of senate? Or do the regional governors now have direct control of their territories? This is relevant because there are not really any good examples of a General Staff or high command on earth that did any 'deciding'. Armies only got to massive sizes on earth when there was a World War afoot, and in that case the generals didn't have to decide who to kill because it was obviously time to kill the Russians/French/German/Japs/Americans/Brits/etc.

I think you should have a layer of civilian direction. These guys will sign the mercenary contracts and declare the wars. The General Staff will then plan on what forces to assign to each conflict. They will pick a High General and put him in charge, instruct one or more Administrative generals to give him the troops/transports he needs, and then that General is responsible for moving to the objective and accomplishing it. One of the Admin Generals is selected to provide the 'back home' support of reinforcements and supply. The High General/Admin General work together to get the task done. Now, if the war is very large, like a multi-system war, the General Staff will select one of the most senior High Generals, and make him a higher general. Then they will get multiple high generals and assign them before. The Higher General will be responsible solely for coordinating between High Generals, he will have no responsibilities for logistics which is already accomplished on a High General to Admin General basis. Here John Dallman's rule of 6 is good to follow. I would say that if more than 6 High Generals are needed, then you are in the equivalent of a 'World War'. At this point, the General Staff itself would assume responsibility for directing the various High Generals as needed, through one or more Higher Generals as needed. Higher general would not be a permanent rank, but a special billet as needed.


So as I was writing this, the names started getting annoying. The High Generals could be called Marshall. The Admin Generals could be called Quartermaster or Quartermaster Marshall. A temporary Higher General could be Grand Marshall, or some such. There are lots of alternative names that you could use, like Constable or Strategos.


Your fan-out factor is too high at the top levels.

The Commander-in-Chief has many Administrative Generals reporting to him: he needs a Chief of Army Operations to save the C-in-C from having to juggle too many direct reports.

Each Administrative General has too many Lt Administrative Generals reporting to him, and each Lt Administrative General has too many High Generals reporting to him.

About six underlings whose complex work has little to do with each other is as much as any normal human should be asked to cope with. This applies very strongly for these people, due to:

They have slightly hampered creativity, and have slight difficulty readjusting their mindset/plan when faced with different facts.

The Vice- officers are an interesting idea, but are not a full substitute for a proper military staff structure. This is too complex and varied to describe here, but there's an outline here.

  • $\begingroup$ "About 6 underlings" is probably the mean value for how big span of control can be. +1. $\endgroup$
    – John Feltz
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ Ah yes, the old "7 things, plus or minus 2" rule of thumb at work again. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 20:13

Three things immediately come to mind.

1) Lack of definition regarding communications. The vast, vast majority of how a command structure evolves for field operations revolves around communications, but the details of communication are hardly mentioned at all. How, when, and how often a commander communicates their intent to their troops is often a measure of how much power an army can produce at any given point. If your point of reference is WWII, note that at that time better communication would often have averted many of the disasters created by poor planning; conversely, poor communication was often a cause for defeat, even when a commander had superior assets available to them. Note also that communication issues are social as much as technological; blatant classism caused many WWII commanders to lose battles that they might otherwise have won, had they only listened to the reports of their rank and file.

2) The structure doesn't fit the culture. Another very significant driver for command structures both on and off the battlefield is loyalty. Historically, where most commanders feel as if their intent will not be properly acted on, a deep, rigid hierarchy like the one detailed above will be mandated. Trust will be low, and field commanders and NCO's alike will be discouraged from acting independently. However, the above description of a "wolf pack mentality", and associated lessening of traitorous thought, should increase trust and loosen the command structure. If this trait is so prevalent as to merit special mention, one would expect a certain amount of peer-based command relationships, and a more shallow structure. Again, the WWII era pioneered modern use of special forces, composed of expert, highly trusted front line troops that reported directly to senior command via only one or two layers of senior officer(s). This should be a direct consequence of the culture you impose.

3) Top-heavy administration. A separate administrative hierarchy is nothing new. Most forces have explicitly had this system since military thinking emerged from the feudal era. Forces in WWII typically had a "home" organization that conducted procurement, manufacturing, transportation, and training, and a "operations" expeditionary force with a separate command structure in the field. However, these two elements were connected by placing low-level supply elements under the command of the expeditionary force, roughly at the battalion level. Demands could therefore be made of logistics and supply units horizontally, from a mid-level commander in the field, instead of having to resort to sending requests all the way up the chain to national HQ. The organization you describe, where "admin" (which seems to revolve around logistics more than administration) is connected at the very highest levels, would make logistic support unreasonably hard.

  • $\begingroup$ I really like some points you bring up, but on one point you conflict with John's answer. #2 with a more shallow structure would imply more direct reports to reduce the 'height' of the organization. Both Johns suggest a smaller number, John Feltz saying to stop at 6. Any thoughts on this? Do you disagree with this number for this species in particular? $\endgroup$
    – Ranger
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ On another note, since on some level somebody needs to make the calls on how the army moves and works together, how would you address replacing the gap left by removing the "administration" portion of the hierarchy? As is the High Generals number 1000 - 2000, which would be too much for a direct report to the commander-in-chief, or even 'secretary of the army' or some such. $\endgroup$
    – Ranger
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ @NexTerren, Indeed, I disagree with the application of the 7+/-2 rule in this case. In units where mutual trust is very high, leaders are generally capable of exceeding the usual cognitive limits regarding subordinates; so such expanded awareness is well within the reach of the average human mind. If this species has a superior sense of cohesiveness, it's not a stretch to posit that a conerstone of our self-organization would no longer apply. I'm sure there are a large number of such differences in behaviour, but this one really stands out with respect to the question asked. $\endgroup$
    – Lord Dust
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ With regard to admin, I don't propose removing it at all. Perhaps I wasn't sufficiently clear: having a monolithic support hierarchy that interfaces with operations only at the very highest level (a High General) is grossly inefficient. The present-day solution is to detach support units from their own chain of command, and place them under the command of the officers of the combat unit they are supporting. For this species to exist in a constant state of interplanetary warfare and not have developed a logistic system at least as efficient as ours seems questionable. $\endgroup$
    – Lord Dust
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 15:39

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