17 January 2014

Establishing a Floor Under the Army’s End Strength

Journal Article | January 14, 2014

How much Army is enough and too much? The essence of the argument, the size of the active Army, puts the cart before the horse. The challenge for the Army and indeed the Department of Defense: there is no longer a broad consensus on the threat (s) to the security of the Republic. The burden of educating national decision-makers on the need for the Army is on the Army itself. Our Army must determine what the Army needs to do to ensure national security, how to accomplish those tasks, the range of the size of the force required to accomplish the tasks, and articulate the risk to national security which accompanies the range of forces vis-à-vis the threat.

The Army must find a better argument. The number 490,000 is not yet the floor as indicated in news reports on the new Army budget wherein the number is now 420,000. 490,000 may well be the ceiling. Our Army’s case requires a public, visible post-war strategic review, similar to the effort that produced the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine. The Army must frame the problem and develop a broad consensus on how to address it.

Here is how I would put this together.

First, I would task the Commanding General of Fort Leavenworth to host a conference. I would put the Army Concepts Integration Center, ARCIC, the School of Advanced Military Studies, SAMS, and the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies, UFMCS (the red team school) in direct support. The conference should be held at Fort Leavenworth because Leavenworth is far enough from Washington to ensure people who attend cannot rush back to their offices in the afternoon to “work“on the merely urgent vice what is important. A conference such as this demands the full attention of the participants.

Second, I’d invite scholars from think tanks across the political spectrum; defense beat reporters; active and retired officers, and House and Senate Armed Services Committee staffers. I’d ask them to tackle defining the correct problem; what the Army must do for the Republic and what else might be required of the Army. Next, given the “correct” problem, answer what is the floor and ceiling for the size of the Army needed to address the “correct” problem. For the ceiling and floor numbers I’d also require the group to articulate the risk associated with each. Dealing with the “correct” problem also demands a clear understanding of anticipated risks, recognizing we will never divine ALL potential risks. The other main agenda point is ensuring there is broad understanding and support for the floor on Army numbers as well as convincing thought leaders just what the threat or range of threats consists of and the risk which accompanies “too small.”

My guidance would be thus:

1] Take a cold, hard look at what the range of threats, human and natural, are to the security and defense of the Republic and our national interests.

2] Determine the Army’s role by answering what the Army MUST do in defense of the Republic. This means the total Army, regulars, reserves and National Guard.

3] Based on what the Army must DO determine the range of numbers of Army forces which can accomplish those tasks, yes determine the floor and the ceiling.

4] Using the accepted list of what the Army must do and the range of the size of the Army, balance this against the range of threats and articulate the risk to the defense of the Republic and our interests associated with the ceiling, floor and other numbers in between.

5] Based on the number of people invited to attend and those who actually show up break into four sub-groups each of which determine answers and each supported by a designated red team.

What are other points for the conference to bear in mind?

War is an extension of policy and policy is affected by budget. Budgetary policy will influence security policy as hard choices must be made in light of spending cuts; mandated and impending.

The U.S. Army is the only substantial land force in the Western world. Our European allies are reducing the size of their ground forces to the point where they could become irrelevant. A powerful regular army supported by reserves enables U.S. diplomacy and is the true deterrent to adventurism by forces inimical to the U.S. and our interests. If the Army becomes too small, U.S. diplomacy loses powerful backing.

The dark art of force design, planning and anticipating where the next war will happen is not precise. The object is really to be not too badly wrong and have enough resilience in the active force to buy time for reserves to activate and to allow doctrine, tactics and techniques to adapt to the demands of the ongoing fight. 490,000 soldiers represented the Army’s opening position to find the best, affordable structure dealing with a world that is uncertain, where the challenges to U.S. vital national interests are multiple, complex, and dynamic. Now the Army must figure what 420,000 means. 

Not being too badly wrong demands that the general-purpose forces in the active component of the Army be balanced forces: armored, infantry and motorized brigades, led by division headquarters in combined arms teams. The proposed floor and ceiling numbers of the standing Army must afford the nation the ability to respond to a range of crises from hurricane relief to firefighting, raids to war in a distant theater. 

I assert the best guarantor of deterrence is a balanced and capable team of land forces with both general purpose and special operations units. The challenge to this statement is the unstated assumption which has been around for a number of years, the U.S. technological edge will continue to enable the U.S. military to conduct swift, nearly bloodless, and tactically decisive campaigns. Reliance on improved technologies will enable “frictionless war.”

The trouble with this thinking is without links to strategic and policy objectives tactical success is squandered. We choose to forget that reason without passion is impotent, that our adversaries are rational actors from their frame of reference and they want to win just as much as we do. Small numbers of special operating forces and precision guided munitions will not guarantee the attainment of policy objectives under all conditions.

At the end of the conference the Army will have a better argument for its role in the defense of the Republic and the size of the Total Army needed to do what the Republic requires. The Republic will have an Army that can fight.

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