Ben Adams explains how inter-service rivalries doomed the galactic empire of Star Wars:
In fact, our very first glimpse of the Imperial High Command is an argument between the Army and the Navy about the strategic vulnerability of the Death Star. The stakes are high: For the Navy, the Death Star represents the ultimate in bureaucratic power-grabs, a guarantee of perpetual dominance on top of the Imperial pecking order. For the Army, the Death Star represents the potential death of their service as a viable political force.
Nowhere is inter-service rivalry more apparent than in the lead up to the Invasion of Hoth in Empire Strikes Back. After coming out of light speed, an Army General reports to Vader that the Navy fleet has come out of light speed — a clear attempt to cut Admiral Ozzel off at the knees. Vader’s view of the situation is completely colored by the Army’s spin on the situation. Instead of allowing the Navy to give a report (and a possible justification for the strategy), the Admiral gets killed, the Army gets the glory, and CAPT Piett moves up a slot after learning a valuable lesson about the utility of throwing his Army colleagues under the bus.
The decision making process in the Empire is “efficient” in the sense that decisions can be made quickly, but utterly inefficient in the sense that it relies solely on the Emperor and his cronies to make perfect decisions 100% of the time. Because of the high stakes, the only objective of an Imperial Admiral or General is remaining in the Emperor’s good graces — and the lack of independent oversight means that their own mistakes will be covered up and rival services will be undercut whenever possible.
The Death Star is the apotheosis of the Imperial Navy’s drive for dominance of the Imperial Military, and the Imperial Navy’s single-mindedness about their “Technological Terror” is evident throughout the series. With it, they guarantee that an Admiral will always be at the helm of the “ultimate power” in the universe. Despite the Army’s (accurate) objections that the station is vulnerable, the Navy convinces the Emperor to build not one but TWO different battle stations that can be destroyed by a small fighter shooting a single shot.
The Navy’s fixation is almost pathological — when Leia gives up the supposed location of the Rebels on Dantooine, the logical next step would be to go to Dantooine and blow up the Rebels. If Leia is lying, they can always come back to Alderaan and threaten to blow it up again. To Tarkin and the pro-Death Star faction, however, demonstrating the “full power of this station” is the most important objective of all. Dantooine is “too remote to make an effective demonstration,” so they blow up Alderaan and lose whatever leverage they might have over Leia.
Even a fully operational and non-vulnerable-to-proton-torpedo Death Star is not a sustainable plan for long-term governance. “Fear of this battle station” will not keep the systems in line — as Leia points out, “The harder you squeeze, the more systems will slip through your fingers.”
Not only is the Empire’s strategic thinking wrong, but as Bruce Schneier might say, they are doing the wrong things badly. The Death Star is so vulnerable that the Rebels discover a devastating vulnerability with literally only hours of analysis. It’s almost certain that any number of Imperial planners and Navy personnel recognized the weakness of the exhaust port but said nothing — “nobody likes a whistle blower, and besides, even a computer can’t hit a target THAT small.”
In the Empire, everything is handled from the top down—the military submits their plans, the Emperor approves it. If the Navy has a plan for a Death Star, they bring the plan to the Emperor, he approves the funds and construction starts. While this seems may seem efficient, centralized management has serious consequences for the Empire. Because of the incentive structure in place in the Empire, the focus will always be on reporting success and pleasing your bosses — without any independent oversight, there’s little hope of fielding a quality product.
Shoddy workmanship is evident throughout the Star Wars saga. The Death Star is an OSHA nightmare, lacking safety rails in high-energy weapons systems and emergency shut-off switches in man-sized trash compacters. Door locks can be opened with blaster fire, and the Super Star Destroyer is so lacking in redundancy that a single errant fighter can bring the whole ship crashing down.
It’s not surprising that Storm Troopers never hit anything — their blasters are made by whichever contractor has the most political clout with the Imperial Command. If that contractor turns out a lot of defective blasters, the General who selected him certainly isn’t going to be the one to report the news to the Emperor and it’s not like the Storm Troopers are going to complain to Darth Vader or ask 60 Parsecs to do an independent investigation.
The debilitating effect of the Imperial Military intra-service rivalries reaches all the way down to the ground level. When a contingent of Storm Troopers is dispatched to recover the stolen Death Star plans, an Army unit is sent to rescue a project that represents the Navy’s best efforts to make the Army obsolete. Vader’s presence means that the Army is required to make a perfunctory effort at recovery of the plans, but the Army is not particularly motivated to come to the rescue of the Navy’s pet project. Their effort is half-hearted to say the least. Presented with a house-by-house search for the plans, the squad leader adapts the somewhat questionable policy of “If the door is locked, move on to the next one.”
When Obi Wan’s uses the Jedi mind trick on the “weak minded” it would be more accurate to say that the Storm Troopers will to do this particular thing is weak. The Army troops in question are in blinding heat, chasing all over the desert, cleaning up the mess that some Navy desk jockey made. If they DO find the plans, it will mean mountains of paperwork, the death of the Army’s political clout and precisely zero chance of getting off duty and enjoying the cantina. Finding the droids you are looking for is hard. Screw that — it’s the Navy’s problem, let them handle it.
Additionally, the Imperial Military is consistently unable to coordinate operations between large groups of units. In Empire Strikes Back, two Star Destroyers chasing Han Solo nearly collide with one another in their zeal to make a “catch” — instead of coordinating their efforts to catch the escaping ship (and risk letting the other Captain get credit for the kill), they act like kids at a soccer game, rushing towards the ball for their own personal ends.
There’s much more.