Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Army Expansion

The Army is now willing to get bigger. Long worried about the long-term impact of having more troops than Congress will adequately fund after the need for those troops goes away, the continuing war in Iraq has changed some minds:

This means the army is now willing to accept an increase in size. It might take an increase of 100,000 troops to get enough additional brigades to provide that two year break between combat tours. The problem here is that, eventually Iraq won't need as large a force of U.S. troops to help with security, and the army will want to get back to its current size of half a million personnel. That's because the basic army philosophy is to have fewer, but better paid and equipped, troops. The army knows that Congress won't provide enough money to equip troops in a 600,000 soldier army, as it does for the current 500,000 soldier army.

The article notes that the Army has already grown the operational Army by 40,000 troops by opening slots in combat units. This was done by moving Army personnel slots from less used Army jobs to combat jobs or by outsourcing some jobs to civilian contractors and using the saved slots for combat units. This process is already getting us to 43 active brigades from 33 before 9/11.

The Army thinks it can get these 100,000 recruits. The Army will have to reduce standards but even these standards will be better than the 1980s standards which were good enough for the Army of Desert Storm. Let's not even discuss the 1970s standards.

I assume the Army will phase in such an increase if approved. Maybe 20,000 per year above the current recruiting to allow for a gradual increase in the training capacity, to provide equipment and facilities, and to avoid a big bang contract expiration of this class four years down the line even if we could recruit them all at once.

I also have to assume that I am incorrect in assuming our current 43 brigades (or close to that since some of our ten divisions may not have grown to 4 brigades each from 3--I forget when this increase is scheduled to be completed) is at least close to supporting 1 year in and two years out. I thought that 1-2 brigades in Afghanistan and 12-14 brigades in Iraq (remember the Marines keep a couple regiments there in addition to the Army troops) meant that we'd need 42 brigades to be darned close to this rotation concept. If you include a few National Guard combat brigades per year, then the strain on our active forces is even less and you might only need to think about 10 to 13 brigades of active Army forces in action and so only need 40 active brigades maximum to support rotation.

I've also noticed on occasion that sometimes additional battalions seem to be present in brigades in Iraq, so perhaps these detached battalions from active component brigades not in Iraq or Afghanistan increase our brigade-equivalents to more than 15-16 deployed. If we are really talking about the equivalent of even four more brigade-equivalents of battalions deployed because this is more common than I'm aware of, then we certainly would need perhaps 60 brigades on active duty to support this deployment if we wish to do so without using any Guard combat brigades at all.

If we add 100,000 troops, I'm assuming this would lead to 3-4 new combat brigades per year for five years, giving us perhaps 60 combat brigades in six years. Or some new units might be other types of support units. We might need more "divisional" headquarters above our current ten. And much depends on how much the institutional Army must be grown to support more combat brigades. They need to be trained and supplied and otherwise supported by other soldiers, and housed on bases that may not exist.

I must also assume that this new thinking means the Army is reaching the end of its current strategy of opening up combat slots within the existing end strength ceiling. If this rebalancing measure is exhausting its potential and the Army still sees shortfalls in creating a rotation base, then adding end strength is surely appropriate.

But Congress must be prepared to fund these new troops for many years even after we are not fighting in Iraq. The post-Cold War drawdown was managed pretty well. But the Vietnam drawdown left a hollow military. I'd hate to see us fail the next drawdown.

UPDATE: The Army assumes it could handle the annual figure I assumed would be used if we really are going to increase the Army by 100,000 slots: "Army officials believed they could recruit at least an extra 20,000 soldiers a year. "

ANOTHER UPDATE: Army Chief of Staff General Schoomaker testified that the Army could add 6,000 to 7,000 troops per year. I'm not sure what the difference is between the two estimates. Perhaps the low estimate assumes current capacity and the higher estimate assumes expanded training capacity and reflects a different measure of how fast troops could be added--perhaps equipping them. The general also wants greater ability to mobilize reserves--currently limited to 24 months in a six-year term, I believe. What with training, this is only enough for one tour in combat of one year.