Such was the case with the bomber gap, which was the unfounded belief back in the late 1950s that the Soviet Union had gained an advantage over the United States in deploying jet‐powered strategic bombers. Widely accepted for several years, the gap was used as a political talking point in order to justify greatly increased defense spending. Subsequently surveillance flights by U-2 aircraft indicated that the bomber gap did not exist.
A few years later there was the missile gap, which was used by John Kennedy as a campaign issue when he ran for president. This was the belief in the United States that there was a disparity between the number and power of the weapons in the Soviet Union and U.S. ballistic missile arsenals during the Cold War. The gap only existed in exaggerated estimates made by the Gaither Committee in 1957 and U.S. Air Force in the early 1960s. Eventually the CIA provided figures that were much lower and gave the United States a clear advantage.
Fast forward 50 years and now we have the pay gap. This is the belief that private security contractors are being paid vastly more than regular military forces. This supposedly creates low morale and jealousy in the ranks of the regular armed forces and causes friction between them. It also supposedly is a contributing factor in retaining people in the military, as many of them reportedly leave at the end of their enlistment to take up jobs in the PSC sector.
This is most distressing, if true. Soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors make tremendous sacrifices on behalf of the country. They deserve to be well compensated, both in direct terms and relative to the civilian population.
And, as it turns out, notwithstanding scandals about veterans care, they are. Consider a study on military compensation released by the Congressional Budget Office in June 2007. It looked at all the factors, such as basic pay, housing and subsistence allowances, and associated tax advantages to which each service member is entitled. The Pentagon has used that regular military compensation as a fundamental measure of military pay since at least 1962.
Another more complete, measure includes non‐cash and deferred cash benefits, such as healthcare for current service members and their families, the healthcare and other veterans’ benefits that members can receive once they leave the military, and retirement pay and health benefits for members who serve for at least 20 years or become seriously disabled. Military personnel and their families are also eligible for subsidized child care and groceries, the use of physical fitness and recreational facilities, free legal and financial counseling, and other family‐support programs.
Finally, even within the confines of purely cash compensation, service members can receive special pays, bonuses and allowances that are not counted in RMC. Special and incentive pays are usually awarded for particular skills or for hazardous duty, including deployment and combat. Members may also earn bonus payments when they re‐enlist for several more years, especially if they have occupational skills that are in short supply.
But because all of those types of pay are either earned by relatively few specialists or are earned irregularly, they are not generally included in the RMC measure.
Admittedly, it is hard to make exact comparisons, given the inherent differences between military and civilian life, but it appears that regular military forces do not do that badly.