Saturday, January 29, 2005

I Couldn't Sign

An open letter to leaders of Congress by a number of people--some of whom I respect a great deal--urging an increase in Army and Marine end strength is motivated by a desire to win the War on Terror, I believe. But I could not sign it (well sure, it was never terribly likely that I would actually be asked. But if I had ...) as written.

The heart of it states:
So we write to ask you and your colleagues in the legislative branch to take the steps necessary to increase substantially the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps. While estimates vary about just how large an increase is required, and Congress will make its own determination as to size and structure, it is our
judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years.

The authors want more troops to ease the strain on the Army and Marines, on the assumption that a lengthy fight will break our current ground forces. They are probably right in theory but in practice, our need to fight at current levels and strength in Iraq will likely recede as the Iraqi military gets larger, stronger, and more experienced. But their point that we shouldn't assume this fight will end in time to end the strain is indeed correct.

But I think the military is taking steps to ease the stress. The key is increasing the number of combat brigades so that rotation of combat units can be spread out over a longer period of time. It isn't good to fight a war with units either in Iraq or preparing to go to Iraq.

But is adding end strength the best course? I don't think so given that options within the current force structure have not been exhausted. We are adding an additional brigade to each of our ten Army divisions. We have another parachute brigade. We are retraining units suited for the Fulda Gap to Military Police units and other units in short supply. We may add another five brigades to our ten divisions. We are working to turn our 8 National Guard divisions and 15 enhanced separate brigades into 34 deployable Guard brigades. The divisions have not been viewed as usable except in extreme emergency and this will change.

So over three years we will have added 11 Army brigades and say 2 Army MP brigades. And for the future, 19 deployable National Guard brigades and perhaps 5 more active Army brigades. We will do this by retraining existing units and freeing up military slots by transfering some jobs to civilian contractors. I don't know the timeframe for this additional force of 37 brigades, but it is a lot. And I don't even know what the Marines are doing, but if they aren't forming more battalions from their force I'd be shocked. Sure, since they rely on Army supply units for much of their tail they have less room to add troops, but there will be additional manuever units created I am sure. If you assume that the 25,000 called for in the letter is equivalent to 5 brigades (5,000 each), we already have nearly 8 years worth of increases in sight. Or just looking at the active forces, nearly four years of increases.

If the letter had called for an increase in 5 brigades of infantry in any of its forms (mechanized, light, parachute, airmobile, motorized) or Military Police, regardless of how it was done, then I would have signed. Let the Pentagon add strength without saying exactly how. If the Pentagon can't add 4-5 brigades per year, then add end strength to do it. But focus on the result and not the means.

And note that Victor Hanson did not sign this open letter. I would like to read his views on this letter and subject.