Small Wars Journal

Input to the 3 Questions the Army Needs to Answer

Mon, 07/22/2013 - 7:14am

On 19 July, 2013, an article in “Real Clear Politics” written by Kori Schake discusses three questions the Army Chief of Staff GEN Odierno needs to address in justifying the reduction of the Army from its current 570,000 personnel to pre-war number of 490,000.  According to the author, the Army brass is struggling to justify its numbers and programs and she is correct.  In response I offer the following to argue in favor of greater reductions:

The first question, “Why so similar to the 1990s?”:  While a convincing argument could be made for sizing the post-GWOT Army at 1990s levels (roughly 490,000) based on similarities in the global strategic environment (we’re the only superpower left standing, numerous regional state and non-state actors, need to support allied interests, etc), a stronger argument could be made for further reducing the size of the active Army based on improvements in communications and drone technology, lack of near-peer threat (despite the appearance of a Chinese threat, they are more interested in making money and stabilizing their economy VS fighting the US or anyone else), and greater interest in assisting other states to address regional threats before they become international ones as stated in the 2012 National Defense Strategic guidance: “Whenever possible, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives, relying on exercises, rotational presence, and advisory capabilities”, pp. 3, para 2, NDS Jan 2012.  Furthermore, the 490,000 number was based on the strategy of being able to fight two major wars at the same, or fighting WW2 again.  Given our current economic state, the global security environment in which regional instability and non-state actors tend to reign (neither of which are existential threats to the US), and the significant improvements in technology we’ve experienced as stated above, the active Army can probably afford to downsize to levels well below 490,000 (400,000?) and still effectively support our national strategic objectives (though I am aware of the report by the Center for a New American Security, “Hard Choices: Responsible Defense in the Age of Austerity” that says otherwise).  This can be done by reinforcing the importance of, perhaps giving preeminence to, regionally aligned elements in order to do more, and have a greater impact with fewer, but better trained, forces that leverage host-nation capability as well as US technological assets, vs throwing US ground troops into the mix.

This takes us to the second question, “Why not more in the reserve component?”:  The Reserve Component has demonstrated that they are an effective and capable element of the Army.  They can maintain that effectiveness as long as the Army maintains its emphasis on AC/RC assignments and pre-mobilization training, as well as tapping into the extensive combat experience now resident in the Reserve forces.  The active component can shed some of it more expensive formations (like armored units) and personnel and place these capabilities in the reserve side. The active component can focus on lighter, more rapidly deployable forces, that are tailored to operate in small teams designed to advise and assist those who request such assistance (refer to NDS guidance).  The effectiveness of such a force isn’t dependant on size but training, experience, and professional aptitude. 

How can the Army do this?  A 490,000-man active Army would leave 10-divisions, which was what the Army had in the 1990s in order to simultaneously fight two major regional conflicts.  Since this is no longer a defining characteristic of the Army, does it need to maintain a force of 490, 000 on the active roles?  I think not.  Reducing the size to seven active divisions (with the Marine Corps making up the other three, giving DoD ten active combat divisions), moving the heavy armored force into the reserve component and replacing them with the Stryker mobile gun platform in order to retain mobile firepower, and investing more in cyber and drone systems should allow the active Army to reduce size and spending while retaining the ability to meet strategic goals and still have a sizeable reserve force, full of combat-tested personnel, to draw from. 

The third question, “Should Army and Marine Corps roles and missions be further disaggregated?”…..yes.  We do not need two land armies.  This leads to discussions about what purpose the Marine Corps serves and how large they need to be but that is for another day (and no, I don’t think we need 182, 000 Marines).  The Army is our primary land combat force, retaining the bulk of its combat power in the National Guard forces and much of the support capabilities in the Army Reserves.  Let the Army remain as our war-fighting force and let the Marines be our quick-strike “911” force.

Given the current economic problems DoD faces, the global strategic environment in which threats exist but are, for the most part, not as acute or severe as some might claim, as well as the shift  towards smaller foot-print approaches that emphasize assisting others in securing their regions, an Army sized for the pre-9/11 two-war strategy makes little sense.  No wonder the Army brass has problems making a strong case for it.  Reduce the Army (military and civilian force) and size it for what we currently face, not what we faced 10 years ago or 50 years ago.  Prepare for the upcoming “war”, not the last one.


Bill C.

Tue, 07/23/2013 - 11:35am

Let's look at this (what size should the US Army be and how should it be shaped) from the standpoint of the political objective of the United States:

a. During the Cold War, the US Army would appear to have had a defensive role -- the political objective then was to defend the status quo -- to contain the attempted expansion of the political, economic and social order of rival countries.

b. Post-the Cold War, the US Army would appear to have an offensive role -- the political objective today is to alter the status quo and on a grand scale -- by helping to expand and install our political, economic and social order in numerous other countries.

The concept of an "end of history" -- and of the universal appeal of our way of life and our way of governance not withstanding -- many native populations today would seem to be rejecting our warm transformational embrace, much as they rejected the similar overtures of the communists/communism in the recent past. (Afghanistan being a case in point?)

Regarding the difficulty (or the folly) associated with the idea of changing the status quo (in our case: the way of life and way of governance of others), should we consider this from Bernard Fall:

The status quo: "Since the fifteenth century, the power of the emperor had stopped at the bamboo hedge of the village."

The decision to alter the status quo: "When the system was abolished by Diem, it was the greatest stupidity conducted in Vietnam in 500 years."

Given that it is the United States today, like Diem then, that seeks to alter the status quo -- and on a grand scale -- and to, specifically, abolish such obstructions and barriers as the ancient systems which cause the central government's power to stop at the village gate door, how then should our Army be sized and shaped to:

a. Deal with those native populations who would naturally resist these radical and often forced changes to their status quo way of life and way of governance and to

b. Achieve, in spite of this resistance, the significant transformational changes that we desire/require in various regions and locales?

Move Forward

Mon, 07/22/2013 - 9:34pm

The article Morgan Smiley referenced has three questions:

<strong>Why so similar to the 1990s?</strong>

In the 90s, the Army was stressed similarly to this decade in Balkan peacekeeping operations. Nothing in the current world situation indicates that peace is breaking out all over. There is no “peace dividend” to be harvested, and if anything the world is more dangerous now than in the 90s.

The author of the linked piece states “In the mid-1990s, the National Guard and Reserve were generally not considered the peer of their active-duty counterparts; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have proved them capable of being a regular part of the combat rotation.” That assumes there is a combat rotation and a war lasting long enough to train up reservists to fit into it…yet we simultaneously claim we will avoid long wars. If we are smart, we will enter any war with “Surge” levels of force upfront to preclude extended war. That only can occur with the active Army because only it and Marines are immediately ready to deploy and fight in the required numbers.

The second question the linked article asks is: <strong>Why not more in the reserve component?</strong>

Again, the author of the linked piece said “Since the 9/11 attacks, 877,000 reservists have been mobilized.” What he neglects to mention is that quantity of reservists were mobilized because insufficient active forces were available and the ones that were had to deploy to austere dangerous environments for 3 to 5 years of combat operations away from their families over a decade of two wars.

The linked piece also said: “The Reserve Forces Policy Board (not a disinterested source, but it at least produced its analysis for review) concluded that even with train-up costs, a reservist costs a third of what it costs to keep an active-duty service member.”

We also repeatedly deployed the active Soldier more than the reservist and for longer tours than the Sailor, Airman, or Marine. Thus we owe current active Soldiers more than a boot in the rear out the door as we strive to cut costs due to sequestration.

But that raises the question of why not more reserve component Sailors, Airmen, and Marines? Why couldn’t individual Navy and Marine reservist augmentees fly to ships in port to fill in the crew/squads? More fixed wing pilots of all three services easily could be reserve component while retaining key flying skills as civilian airline pilots. An article I read today stated we plan to offer fighter pilots up to $225,000 to sign on to fly fighters another 9 years. Is that a cost-effective solution in the face of sequestration while also paying those pilots $100,000-150,000 a year in regular pay?

As for the Army, perhaps a compromise could be to make one the three future battalions of an armored or infantry BCT a National Guard unit that is in an enhanced training and readiness mode when its parent BCT is first up in the ARFORGEN rotation.

The third question asked in the linked article is: <strong>Should Army and Marine Corps roles and missions be further disaggregated? </strong>

What makes the Marine Corps the sole “Nation’s 9/11 force?” The 82nd Airborne and rest of the XVIII Airborne Corps is certainly capable of responding quite rapidly. West coast, Hawaii, and Alaska Strykers can be flown to the Pacific very quickly by C-17/C-5B. If we prepositioned heavier armor on Australia or the Philippines, couldn’t we hold the air bases and ports required for our air and seapower indefinitely and move some rapidly to allied shores that need stronger responses than a medium Marine force? Won’t heavier armor prepositioned already in Korea, Europe, and Kuwait make a critical deterrent or warfighting difference?

Also from the linked article: <blockquote>“The current defense program envisions retaining a Marine Corps of 182,000 and refocusing its mission toward amphibious operations”</blockquote> Yet that is a cut of about 25,000 while the active Army already will lose far more declining from 570,000 to 480-490,000.

Why is a Marine rapid amphibious response more critical than an Army airborne, air assault, and airlanding approach? Do we also not have maritime prepositioning capabilities, fast sealift, and joint high speed vessels? Does it make more sense to descend on hostile or allied shores via multiple air and sea means? Can the 101st air assault over the water hopping from island to island or ship to ship in far greater numbers than the Marines? Doesn’t the Army and Air Force team provide more overall combat power response and deterrent than a few Harriers and fewer Cobras? You can’t sink an allied airfield and can repair missile-damaged runways rapidly. Yet we seldom hear how the DF-21D is a threat to amphibious ships and their crews/Marines. Nor does the A2/AD conversation often cover how Marines will get to shore rapidly from 100 miles off shore.

The linked article also asks: “Does the U.S. need an Army with one-fifth of its force optimized to what the Marine Corps does?” Does the Marine Corps have any airborne forces or a combat aviation brigade the size and strength of the Army’s? Does it have true logistics, engineer, signal, MP, intelligence, mobile artillery, and MEDEVAC capabilities or does it rely on the Army for much of that assistance? Does it have an Air Assault Division? How about mechanized infantry division with assets always at the ready? Does it have anything approaching the size/strength of an armored BCT or with the air mobility and technology of a Stryker BCT with double-V hulls?

There is a reason why we have a large active Army and Marine Corps. Their respective capabilities are complementary, and neither can substitute for the other if we wish to maintain the deterrent and warfighting capabilities that served us so well over the past decade. Say what you will about the cost in treasure of recent wars. The blood lost was a fraction of that suffered in past conflicts where we squandered far too many lives because we did not spend sufficient treasure building the kind of forces that could end major combat operations in a matter of days.

That’s something the Joint force accomplished together in two recent wars. Centers of Gravity in future wars are not addressed by airpower alone as exemplified by a decade of an Iraq no-fly zone. Neither did naval cruise missiles bust up al Qaeda training camps in the 90s, nor would a few special operations forces have kept al Qaeda and the Taliban from coming back had we not stuck it out with regular forces and trained the ANSF CoG and ALP while securing Texas-sized areas and populations.


Mon, 07/22/2013 - 11:08pm

In reply to by macengr

Small wars force...I believe that was their role prior to WW2.....Haiti, DomRep, Nicaragua....what some have termed "State Department troops".

Isn't another use of the Marines as shock troops?

If not, perhaps the Marines could be the Small Wars (I hesitate to say Counterinsurgency due to the baggage associated with the term) force.

I must ask Dave Schepp, if the Marine Corps and the Army do so overlap in function, then why have an Army? Why not simply have a Marine Corps and the National Guard? The choice is not obvious.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 07/22/2013 - 7:52pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Bob: your last paragraph and especially the last sentence is a keeper. I will be quoting you often. Thanks.

Quote: As CvC said, only last battles are decisive. So arguments about lost first battles are moot. It is time to heal our nation, and sustaining excessive military power in peace is counterproductive to that end. The military has a duty, and in peace that duty is to get lean and hard. End quote.

Bill C.

Mon, 07/22/2013 - 3:17pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Is the goal, mission, political objective of the United States today similar to that of the United States pre-the Cold War?

Stated another way and considering CvC, should the Army -- yesterday and today -- be sized, shaped and deployed so as to do its part to achieve the political objective(s) of the nation?

Herein, I am thinking that the Army -- recently and today -- has been/is seen as a means of helping to achieve our nation's post-Cold War political objective, to wit: the favorably transformation and incorporation of "different" states and societies.


a. During the Cold War, an Army sized, shaped and deployed to achieve the political objective of containment (of a rival political, economic and social order). Thus, an Army configured for defensive work.

b. Since the Cold War, an Army sized, shaped and deployed to achieve the political objective of expansion (of our way of life and our way of governance). To wit: an Army designed and deployed in an offensive role.

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 07/22/2013 - 1:36pm

Any analysis of what the US peacetime requirement for land power is must be based on a pre-Cold War foundation, as that is the last time we had a peacetime army designed for the geostrategic conditions of the US. All Cold War and post-Cold war forces were designed for the geostrategic conditions of Western European nations facing a ground combat threat.

So, make that start point about 100,000. That is probably pretty generous as so much is done by contractors and machinery today that was done by military labor then. Extrapolate up or down from that number based upon a realistic analysis of any new missions that seriously demand ground forces. I can't think of any. The logic behind BPC/SFA, military development, etc., will someday be exposed as baseless. As will concepts of shifting capacity from the Middle East to employ in Africa to prop up regimes being reasonably challenged by their own populaces, or to Mexico and Latin America to senselessly employ some mix of CT and COIN tactics against profit-motivated criminal organizations. Historically the Army has always made specious arguments for similar missions and excessive force structure, and historically the Congress has always done their duty and cut the force. We will see if Congress retains moral courage to stand up to the Generals yet again.

The Army is a ground force for war, with some utility in peace. The Marines, however, are a ground force for peace with tremendous utility in war. The Marines are too large as well, but should take a fraction of the cuts the Army does. We can commit the Marines to a conflict without committing the nation to war. That is huge. We are a maritime nation, and a Navy and Marine force shaped for our peacetime mission is critical to securing our strategic interests in peace.

The odd cats out are the Air Force. They have only lived in the anomaly of the modern era. They are like the Navy in some regards, and like the Army in others. My instinct is to assume risk on tactical air, and to remain fairly well invested in strategic lift and airpower.

But to start an argument for force structure at any date subsequent to 1940 runs a high risk of some very fuzzy math. As CvC said, only last battles are decisive. So arguments about lost first battles are moot. It is time to heal our nation, and sustaining excessive military power in peace is counterproductive to that end. The military has a duty, and in peace that duty is to get lean and hard.


Mon, 07/22/2013 - 12:31pm

In reply to by Dave Schepp


I agree....weren't the Marines the original Naval special operations element? Why not roll the Navy SEAL capabilities into the Marine Corps and make them (again) the special ops element of the Navy....amphibious assaults, anti-piracy, maritime hostage rescue (ships/ oil rigs/ etc), yadda, yadda, yadda...

Not sure about consolidating the medical field, or other areas, under a unified service but perhaps unifying all such training under one service makes sense.....all medics/ corpsmen trained at FT Sam Houston, all air traffic controllers trained at Keesler AFB (I think the USAF still does that training there), all logisticians trained by the Navy, etc...

Dave Schepp

Mon, 07/22/2013 - 10:02am

"This leads to discussions about what purpose the Marine Corps serves and how large they need to be but that is for another day (and no, I don’t think we need 182,000 Marines)."

I don't think this should be a question for another day. I think we need to take a hard look at the composition of our two "land" forces (Army and Marines), their roles and missions, and eliminate overlap. The Marines were (are? should be?) a maritime force, shipborne naval infantry. Their mission has shifted so much during and since the Korean War. If the entire Marines is overlap (yes, the Army could do the hallowed beach landing mission --> see D-Day for proof) then eliminate the Marines and start rotating Soldiers onto ships and make "naval infantry" an additional skill or an MOS (11N?). If there is a stronger argument than "we've always had them" then someone needs to elucidate it; we need something more compelling than tradition to justify the continued existence of a parallel capability.

In the same way, we should take a look at other administrative, logistical, and medical overlap. Just as Navy corpsmen provide for the Navy and USMC, perhaps we should consider a unified medical service for all branches...

Sorry for so many thoughts crammed into one small post, it's just something I feel passionate about, and have thought about for a while now.