I'm on board the new Army chief's focus on readiness:
The Army is forced to cut its size because limited funds make it impossible to balance force size with modernization needs and combat readiness, Gen. Mark A. Milley said Tuesday as the Senate considered his nomination to be the next Army chief of staff. ...
“Readiness is our number one priority,” Milley said. “No one should ever go into harm’s way who is not ready.” He described the risk of a smaller force as taking more time to mobilize and in possibly higher rates of casualties but not of the U.S. losing a war.
If you don't train your troops and don't maintain your equipment and have sufficient ammunition, you have a shell of an army that looks good to outsiders but is actually just people who dress alike.
If you downgrade readiness to keep more troops in uniform, the major problem is that leaders will wrongly believe they have a military tool to use. But when committed it will suffer heavy casualties and perhaps not achieve its objective.
If you downgrade readiness to provide more advanced weapons to those troops, the shiny high-tech stuff will just be so much wrecked junk on a battlefield if an enemy with effective troops oppose us. Again, new weapons can give leaders the wrong impression that we have an effective army.
China is experiencing the problem of having a sizable military with lots of new and shiny equipment that may not be able to fight effectively against anything but a clearly inferior enemy.
While we don't have the problem with corruption that China has in their military, I do worry that a zero-tolerance environment that punishes mistakes by ending careers will cripple our military leadership by making our Army (and other services) so cautious about avoiding mistakes that we will be unable to readily defeat anything but a clearly inferior enemy. So troop readiness is only one aspect of making sure our Army is ready to fight.
Not that numbers and new equipment are unimportant. But they enhance well-trained and led troops rather than replace the need for them. Yes, this is an old topic for me.
But I strongly disagree with General Milley that committing a smaller force does not risk losing a war, as I reflected in that 1997 paper on lessons that Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980 could teach us:
America needs an army with enough soldiers to overcome setbacks and still emerge victorious. The Army needs the equipment, numbers and training to overwhelm an enemy force with such speed and decisiveness that we will win the war and not just the battle. Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which has given America so much grief this decade, can teach the United States to avoid paying a high cost in its nest war if we heed the lessons of the First Gulf War. His five-division invasion force was too small and too poorly trained and equipped to smash Iran; and by the end of the war, nearly eight years later, Iraq needed an army of nearly a million troops to hold the line.
I suppose you could say that Iraq won that war on points and that Saddam merely suffered higher casualty rates to achieve it.
But the repercussions of that war led directly to Saddam being pulled from a spider hole by American troops in 2003 and later tried and executed by the Iraqi government.
We can lose a war. Victory is not our birthright. Let's build our Army so it is capable of smashing a resolute and effective enemy.