Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Will the Army Be Too Small?

I'm not willing to automatically condemn the Army reduction to pre-World War II personnel levels. I'm waiting to see force structure.

One, I'd rather shrink the Army than pretend we have an army by maintaining troop strength at the expense of training, readiness, and equipping them with modern weapons and gear.

Two, I'm not sure if going as low as the budget projects is too few troops for the 32 brigades we plan for the active component force. Odierno says he needs 450,000 to carry out functions and the budget calls for 440,000 to 450,000 active duty Army troops.

From a distance, the situation is complicated and not just a matter of having fewer troops than we had in 2001.

In 2001, we had 33 maneuver brigades or equivalents on active duty manned with 480,000 troops, which was 40,000 short of fully manning the force structure, if I recall.

During the Iraq War, while temporarily filling out the active force to make up for the earlier shortage, we reorganized the active Army to go to 42 smaller but self-contained brigade combat teams without adding troops on top of what we needed to man 33. We had hoped to add 10-15, but managed 9 more.

We added brigades by making them smaller, moving to self-contained brigade combat teams rather than relying on the division to supply all arms and support functions; by deactivating Cold War era units (like a bunch of separate artillery brigades) deemed unnecessary for the current wars; and shifted some support tasks (and even some security tasks) to civilian workers or contractors so these functions wouldn't fall under the end strength cap.

Then Congress made the temporary increase "permanent" and added end strength (30,000 more?) with the intention of reaching 48 brigade combat teams with a planned 550,000 (approximately) on active duty. But we ended that expansion at 45 for our maximum maneuver brigade strength.

Now we will reduce end strength to man 32 larger brigades with up to 450,000 troops. I think that this is enough to fully man 32 maneuver brigades. Remember, we shifted troops from obsolete jobs and shifted some jobs to civilian employees.

So let's see. Let me do my back-of-the-envelope calculations again. While actual brigades were 5,000 or so, with supporting troops included you can give a total Army figure to support one brigade.

In 2001, we needed 520,000 troops to fully man 33 brigades. Or about 15,750 troops per brigade "slice."

After shifting troops away from the 2001 model, when we got to 42 smaller (say 3,500 or so) brigade combat teams, we did this with 520,000 troops. Or about 12,400 troops per division slice.

After expanding the Army to close to 550,000, we planned to go to 48 brigade combat teams of the new (smaller) type. Or about 11,500 per brigade.

But since we just went to 45 brigade combat teams, that put us in practice at about 12,200 per brigade combat team.

The plan is to go to 32 larger brigade combat teams (size unknown to me) with 440,000 to 450,000 troops. That's 13,750 to 14,050 per brigade, approximately.

Either number seems to be sufficient to support larger brigades, depending on how much larger they are.

But we've also added drone units and expanded special forces. So that cuts into the end strength that could go to fully manning the maneuver brigades.

So until I see what the force structure is, I can't say with full confidence that the planned budget funds too few or enough troops for the Army's force structure. I think it is okay.

But is this adequately manned (if I'm right) Army enough for potential missions? That's another question altogether.

What I can say is that it is ridiculous to assert we can choose to decline a major land war. If our enemies launch a major land war, do we really say we'll get with them in a couple years? Or compromise on a smaller and shorter land war for all the marbles?

Some day, when a Defense Secretary notes that we have to go to war with the Army we have and not the Army we wish we had, rather than get all outraged over the statement of the bloody obvious, remember that today we wish to have that future Army we have.