The Army Needs a Better Argument

December 17, 2013

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Admiral Gary Roughead and I wrote an alternative defense budget last year, arguing that our nation could be well defended within the Budget Control Act top line if the DoD was given the latitude to manage its money better.  We believed that initiating reforms in procurement practices and personnel costs, as well as aligning spending to the DoD strategy would produce a radically different force—one that is both strategically sound and more affordable—because current costs are making our all-volunteer force unsustainable.

Most of the reaction to our proposals focused on cuts to active duty Army end strength.  We did take a huge whack at it, cutting from the fiscal year 2013 proposal of 490,000 soldiers down to 290,000.  To get to that number, we shifted 100,000 soldiers from the active to reserve component and disaggregated the land force roles and missions of the Army and Marine Corps.  In our proposed force structure, the Army would concentrate on sustained land warfare.  We required the Marine Corps (which we also cut, from 182,000 to 172,000) to accept significantly more risk in being the initial entry force in most contingencies.

In defending its force structure proposals, Army leadership has taken a dramatically different approach.  It has argued that the dangers of the current international order require faster closing times for deploying land forces.  To pick up on Robert Killabrew’s terrific analysis, the Army has made a strategic choice to optimize to deployment speed rather than sustainability.  In short, after a decade of complaining about the Marine Corps trying to become the Army, the Army is now trying to become the Marine Corps.

There are lots of legitimate reasons to object to the end strength numbers Gary Roughead and I proposed, but the Army hasn’t offered many.  What they have offered, through General Bill Hix and Colonel Bob Simpson, is ad hominem criticism (“This is a proposal that should raise the hair on the neck of any defense expert with a modicum of historical perspective and an understanding of the emerging 21st-century security environment”) followed by a straw man as they accuse anyone who would cut the Army of not believing in land wars.

What Army leaders have not provided is an adequate argument for retaining active duty end strength of 490,000.  The rebuttal to the Army’s argument is: we believe our country will be fighting land wars, but the experience of the past decade has made our political leadership unwilling to fight them in the way you are planning and envisioning.  The advocates of counterinsurgency won the war and lost the argument; we will fight small wars by sub-optimal standoff strikes and small training and operational engagements (and improving our homeland defenses).

What is the big war that necessitates such a large Army?  According to press reports, The United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) envisions a requirement to deploy 530,000 soldiers to North Korea after that government collapses, with a closing time of six months.  Imagine if you will, the Obama cabinet debating that proposal.  No doubt, the administration would conclude that a better option would be to have the South Koreans oversee the occupation while we focus on trying to get teams in fast to control the nuclear weapons.  Controlling the territory just won’t be a strategic objective that politicians are willing to adopt again for a very long time.  The Army needs to take some ownership for the fact that the way we have fought these most recent wars is what is casting that long shadow.

Both of those considerations come even before the affordability question.  General Odierno recently testified that the cost of a soldier has doubled since 2001 and is set to double again by 2025And he says that with an Army of 450,000 he cannot win one war, much less meet the demands for forces in the strategy.   How exactly does the Army envision supporting so expensive a soldiery?  Where are the trade-offs that any economist would say such a distribution of capital and labor should drive?

The Army seems actually to be cutting in a different direction than the President’s National Security Strategy and the Secretary of Defense’s Strategic Guidance, both of which explicitly state that ground forces will not be sized to fight a sustained (e.g., Iraq and Afghanistan) war going forward.  Inattention from the senior civilian leadership so far to that divergence isn’t a reliable means of preserving end-strength.

Until the Army can come up with more innovative answers, it won’t be able to establish a floor under its end strength.  And prioritizing rapid deployment capability isn’t sufficient justification for the Army’s end strength proposal.  Even if they could flow 530,000 soldiers to North Korea in three weeks, no political leader is going to make the choice in favor of that option anytime soon.  What is needed is greater intellectual ferment in TRADOC, and the Army more broadly, to fashion force structure and intervention options that can meet the policy guidelines properly established by the political leadership.

In particular, the Army ought to make a clear case for what is needed in the active component and what can be shifted to the reserve component. Guardsmen and reservists folded into the regular rotation and fought admirably these past ten years, why can they not now be entrusted with mobilizing quickly as large land war threats materialize?  The timelines for such an eventuality make it possible.  The economics of it make it tempting.  It will be the default solution unless the Army innovates its way out of the problem.

The Army is fighting a budget battle by pretending it’s fighting a strategy battle.  It’s not.


Kori Schake, Ph.D. is a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.  She formerly worked in the Departments of Defense and State, was the director of defense strategy and requirements on the NSC, and held the distinguished chair in international security studies at West Point.


Image: U.S. Army

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23 thoughts on “The Army Needs a Better Argument

  1. Dr. Schake argues that the Army “seems actually to be cutting in a different direction than the President’s National Security Strategy and the Secretary of Defense’s Strategic Guidance, both of which explicitly state that ground forces will not be sized to fight a sustained (e.g., Iraq or Afghanistan) war going forward.” This is simply false.

    The Defense Strategic Guidance, issued in January 2012, states that “U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged STABILITY OPERATIONS.” (Emphasis in caps is mine.)

    The NSS – last published in March 2010, let’s remember – says precisely nothing of the sort. “The United States remains the only nation able to project and sustain large-scale military operations over extended distances,” the document asserts at one point. “We maintain superior capabilities to deter and defeat adaptive enemies and to ensure the credibility of security partnerships that are fundamental to regional and global security. In this way, our military continues to underpin our national security and global leadership…”

    Elsewhere in the document, the NSS says that “military force, at times, may be necessary to defend our country and allies or to preserve broader peace and security,” and that this requires “ensuring the U.S. military continues to have the necessary capabilities across all domains…”

    There’s a significant difference between the requirement to “conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations” and to “fight a sustained war.” Five- to ten-year counterinsurgencies will no longer be used as a force-sizing construct, this is true; but nowhere does any strategic document state that the requirement to win land wars has ceased to exist for planning purposes. And so Dr. Schake and ADM Roughead’s argument is laid bare: either the U.S. can (or will) opt out of all land wars, or a 462,000-strong active component land force – supported by strike assets and special operations forces – is capable of winning such land wars as we may fight (or at least delaying defeat until reserve forces can be mobilized and decisively engaged). Neither of these alternatives seems plausible to me.

    For Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, 340,000 U.S. Army and Marine Corps personnel (to include about 27,000 reservists and Guardsmen) were deployed to the CENTCOM area of responsibility. Note that this force level was not calculated with a view to conducting large-scale, sustained stability operations, but rather to conduct, support, and/or enable a ground invasion with a view to regime change. Is the U.S. military prepared in 2013 to deploy such a force, whether for the purpose of destroying an enemy army or to eject enemy forces from friendly territory?

    Raw numbers are meaningless without a consideration of training and readiness, and Dr. Schake should recognize that an Army of 290,000 doesn’t translate into 290,000 trained and ready land forces at all times. In preparing for cuts already projected, the Army has had to take significant readiness risks: the portion of the force that is trained up to the highest rating possible (and thus can achieve the highest overall capability/readiness level) – what the Army calls “decisive-action capable” – will be disturbingly small over the next several years.

    Yes, the Army may need to make changes to the way it generates readiness in order to adapt to the future: reconsidering the ARFORGEN rotational readiness model, for example. But we need to recognize that force sizing and readiness are related.

    One thing I agree with Dr. Schake about is that the Army has done a poor job of explaining itself. “Strategic Landpower” is not the answer. Neither is the argument that we’ll end up fighting COIN wars regardless of what policymakers may prefer. But avoiding land war altogether – or limiting our national options to only sharp, short, shock action by Marines – is not a viable alternative.

    ADM Roughead and Dr. Schake should be honest about what they’re arguing: that decisive action by land forces is no longer necessary, that our national security objectives can be attained without the capability to destroy enemy land forces or eject them from friendly territory by fire and maneuver—which in nearly all cases must involve effective ground forces.

    This is not the first time analysts have asserted the universal war-winning power of unsupported strike. Until now, they’ve always been wrong.

    1. What you fail to mention is that the strategic guidance you site was from 2012, developed before Sequestration. Dr. Schake’s article presents a logical approach to the post sequestration challanges faced by the services.

  2. I love it when an analyst decides how the Army should be structured based on what the current flavor of the month is in DC. What is always forgotten is that enemy gets a vote. Just because WE don’t want to do land wars doesn’t mean we won’t. It just means we don’t like them, sort of like the end of World War II (and the start of Korea). Plenty of analyst designed that force structure, and lo and behold, plenty of infantrymen bled because of it. And to say that the National Guard or Reserves could pick up the rapid deployment mission is an oxymoron. By definition, they require extensive mobilization prior to deployment. It sounds good on paper, but is ridiculous.

  3. I am reminded of T.R. Fehrenbach’s comment in “This Kind Of War”, that “the lesson of Korea is that it happened”. I think we need to ensure our powder is dry in this world of turmoil before we begin to reduce the capacity of our legions. Only then should we proceed on that downward azimuth recalling Plato’s words that “only the dead have seen the end of war”.

  4. What do we see looking forward for the US Military? What systemic changes are on the horizon? There are several high probability events that must be taken into consideration when formulating the future direction of the US military.

    Computing power. This one area probably is the most important ongoing change that the military needs to cope with. COTS products are doubling their computational capacity every 18 months. This has implications from base logistics to drones to robots to cyber warfare. How does the military make best use of this continued advancement?

    Drones. The era of the manned intelligence gathering aerial platform is dead. The era of the manned air force/naval fighter and bomber should be drawing to a close. The weight savings by not including human occupants on military combat aircraft is enormous. Human reaction to combat situations is counted in seconds. Computer reaction is near to microseconds. With advances to control and propulsion systems, aircraft performance is currently limited by the frailty of their “meat” component. Computers do not suffer from the effects of gravity. Nor lack of oxygen.

    Robotics. The next great battlefield advancement will be the incorporation of robots. From being dumb difficult terrain equipment carriers, to actually being autonomous super soldiers is only a decade or so away. Google just bought a military robot research firm. That corporation has designed and implemented a self driving automobile in about 4 years. Could they develop a fully functional infantry soldier within the next decade? I would not bet against them.

    I could go on. Wasp sized drones. Lasers. Stealth (I cannot believe that the F-35 has a larger radar cross section than the F-22. What a complete and total waste). Active camouflage. Carriers that can raise and lower their draft to reduce radar cross section. How cool would it be if a carrier could launch a sizable sortie and drop its flight deck to 18 inches above the wave crests? And so many other areas. IMHO DAPRA’s budget should be tripled. The US military needs to think outside of the box.

  5. @ChrisMewett:

    I would be careful citing the 2010 NSS for force structure guidance — that’s effectively OBE even by the 2012 docs, and soon enough by the NSS/QDR/SCMR. Given the trend over time it’s not unreasonable to see guidance as reducing the priority to large scale land wars — I bet the 2014 docs move more towards the Schake-Greenert view than back towards the Gates-era guidance.

    The bigger point that Mewett doesn’t address is, what would he give up instead? This is a zero sum resource game. Period. If you don’t accept that reality then you’re not relevant to the current strategy debate.

    So, we have to choose what capabilities to cut, which means we need to choose which potential missions we will be less ready for than we are today. Can we be fully “ready” for every mission the NSS/etc say we should be ready for? No. We never have been that prepared, but it’s more painful to reduce the set than to accept the implicit limits that have always been there.

    What I don’t see in the comment — thoughtful as it is — or in the Army’s arguments is a clear explanation of what risks we should run instead in order to be more prepared for large scale land wars, and why that’s the right tradeoff. The threshold isn’t, “would it potentially be useful to have the capability”, but, “is it more likely to be needed than X, Y, Z”.

    side note: that TRADOC NORK scenario is frightening. Half a million American troops on the Yalu, and presumably the PRC is peachy with that?!?!? I’d like to not believe it but that’s been typical of our planners’ thinking towards that scenario for at least 20 years. Doesn’t anyone think the United States would be a factor if Russia placed hundreds of thousands of troops on the Rio Grande to stabilize a failed Mexico…?

    1. milprof — My point in referencing the NSS was to contest Dr. Schake’s assertion that it says anything at all on the subject of ground force structure. I’m not using it to justify anything.

      You’re right that I don’t address the question of “what [I] would give up instead,” because the topic at hand isn’t how to squeeze the defense topline down below $X. Countless alternative proposals exist, and I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of all of them. My point is rather that there IS a perfectly good rationale that would serve to establish a floor under Army end-strength—though I agree with Dr. Schake that the Army hasn’t done a terribly effective job of communicating that to the public.

      At a certain point – I haven’t done (and likely am not capable of doing) the detailed analysis to know what this end-strength is, but it exists – the Army loses the capacity not only to accomplish “every mission the NSS/etc say we should be ready for,” but to accomplish even those most basic tasks for which an Army exists. I would posit that when you work out how much combat power is available at various end-strength totals, numbers below 400K begin to foreclose many policy options that very few Presidents would be willing to give up.

  6. In Eat People, Andy Kessler talks about game changing views. We have seen the same nonsense promoted under Clinton.

    With real reform, we could significantly cut the federal civil service of DOD and move toward a 20 division army. Quite a while ago, Dr. Demings noted the dysfunction in federal procurement.

    During the Vietnam War, McNamara’s Whiz Kids claimed they could run the war. After the failures became apparent they offered excuses. Where will Ms. Shake be when the bill comes due.

    Counter insurgency depends on a ratio of troops to population to be successful.

    1. I agree with Screaming Eagles, what we are seeing is a replay of the horrible decisions made by the “whiz-kids” of the early 60s and the nuclear era armed forces, for all the technology that was introduced virtually none of it mattered in the jungles of Southeast Asia and the Dominican Republic. Instead of wasting officers through schools and fellowships, make them spend their time on the line where leaders should be.

  7. The author makes a dangerous assumption regarding the policy debate the President and his National Security Staff may have regarding the use of force and the current desire to limit the size of the Army to create cost savings for other elements of the Department of Defense. While no President desires to send the nation to war unless it absolutely has to, changing strategic conditions may force him/her to alter her strategic calculus and therefore commit the nation, and in particular, the Army to defend our interests. Prior to the North Korean invasion in 1950, President Truman would have never envisioned having to commit the Army to a major ground conflict. President Eisenhower’s plan to utilize the Army more as a post-nuclear conflict force didn’t pan out either and the Army found itself once again engaged in ground conflict in Vietnam with over 500K soldiers all while maintaining a ground presence in Korea and Europe. Just because the author doesn’t like the idea of a large standing force or doesn’t see a conflict on the horizon doesn’t mean the nation can afford to be unprepared for the unexpected.

  8. Mr. Mewett beat me to the punch.

    Your “quotation” of the NSS is completely false. The DSG does not, as you assert,”state that ground forces will not be sized to fight a sustained war going forward.” It states “no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.” Stability operations and sustained wars are two different things. Did you read these documents?

    Moreover, your proposal is “the Army would concentrate on sustained land warfare.” Seeing as you (falsely) assert the NSS and DSG tells us not to size for it, your proposal is in effect for the Army to concentrate on something it is explicitly told not to size for. Your words, not mine.

  9. In my limited opinion the author is right that the Army does not explain why it needs what it needs. I believe that is because we approach the problem the wrong way. Therefore, I will make three suggestions.
    1) Address the Most Probable Course of Action as well as the Most Dangerous Course of Action. The United States has not had a serious threat that has required a large standing Army since the end of the Cold War. We can argue the best say to address Al Qaeda elsewhere, but in the age of drones and the SOF embracing Surgical Strike as a core mission, to say that a large standing Army was required to defeat a terrorist network stretches credulity. However, the American public does show an interest in supporting fledgling democracies and providing support to humanitarian disasters (including destabilized states). We need to look to those situations where armed forces are required that are both realistic and politically supportable.
    2) Fix our Doctrine. Our COIN and Stability doctrine is a jumbled combination of security operations, fighting insurgents, Foreign Internal Defense (FID), and forced democratization. These tasks need to be clearly delineated. Forced democratization needs to be separated out and established as support to fledgling democracies. Stability needs to return to implementing a Transitional Military Government first to actually stabilize the situation and only then turning it over to State for the whole government approach. Once these tasks are separated, conduct the DOTMLPF analysis for each mission and resource it. Then you can explain why you need what you need.
    3) Seriously look at restructuring the Reserves. Over the last twelve years Army Reserve and National Guard units were used extensively. Based on that history it becomes hard to argue to American people that they are not the answer to the force structure problem. Therefore we need to seriously look at what the Reserves can and cannot do and then be able to articulate that clearly. Perhaps a Time/Phased analysis – what is needed within the first 90 days of crisis (not conflict, but from the time POTUS has determined that intervention may be necessary) and what can be called up from the Reserves. What is required to make bringing a Reserve unit up to speed in 90 days. I will leave my thoughts on this to another day, but being able to clearly articulate why you need active forces should be based on more than simply arguments that bad things can happen and we must be prepared to have everything available right now.
    It would seem that our argument should be easy. The world’s population lives on land. The vast majority of manufacturing, energy including refinery capacity, key resources (like fresh water), and food production can be found on land. It should be a no brainer that you need land forces since these are the types of things people fight over. We need to create a viable narrative. We need to be able to explain why we need a fair share of a dwindling pool of resources. Simply claiming that the sky may be falling at some unknown point in the future may not be enough to convince a war weary public that we should maintain an Army and not return to being an Army that is only raised when needed.

  10. The author has two major oversights in her argument.
    First, the US military cannot afford to grow the size of the reserve component. She argues for moving 100,000 Soldiers from the active to the reserves. Even the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Grass, said last month “It’s very difficult for me to support a plan that grows (the reserve components).” Bottom line, which Ms. Schake ignores, in the rotational cycle of forces, you need nearly three reserve units to meet the operational tempo capacity of one active unit. One for one a reserve unit is cheaper but that is counting apples and oranges.
    Secondly, she claims the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command “envisions a requirement to deploy 530,000 soldiers to North Korea after that government collapses, with a closing time of six months.” Ignoring the fact that she fails to cite any source, since when does the Training and Doctrine Command place force structure requirements on the Department of Defense. A requirement for force structure comes from the war plans generated by combatant commanders, or in the case of the Korean Peninsula, a sub-unified commander.
    When the Chief of the NGB does not support the author’s premise of growing the reserves coupled with a lack of understanding of how force structure requirements are generated tells me it is Ms. Schake who “needs a better argument.”

    1. The Chief of the National Guard Bureau said he did not think that the Pentagon could afford it. That argument does not apply if you reduce the active numbers by 200K. Further you don’t need nearly three Guard units to one Active duty unit. That assumes that every unit is going to deploy. If you are running on a one-year dwell for active duty, then the active can only field 50% while the guard can field 33%. That is not a huge difference. If you take active duty dwell to 18 months you are on near parity.

      Even active duties will receive theater specific training which means that, if properly managed, the time from notification to departure into theater for heavy units would only differ by a matter of a week or two. If you are talking about full mobilization then the issue will not be how long it takes to get the Guard trained and deployed, it will be through-put at places like NTC for validation.

      There are real problems to shift 100K of active combat forces from the active duty to the Gurad that are more than power-point deep. We need to make those arguments and not simply say that the Guard is apples and the active duty are oranges.

      1. Their apples and oranges.
        It takes an active component Armor Brigade Combat Team a month to get through Tank and Bradley Table VIII. Want a unit to do tables XI and XII, tack on more time. Platoon and Company maneuver is a couple of weeks. Throw in the month long CTC rotation and you have another month. This does not count mandatory annual training requirement, OPD/NCOPD, PME. How does a National Guard Armored Brigade from Mississippi do this with only 39 training days a year?
        It does not matter if a M1 tank is part of the 1st Armor Division or the Indiana National Guard, when the crew blows an engine or breaks track, it cost the same. The only reason the RC will not have the same O&M cost of an AC unit is because there not using the equipment as much. Moreover, since they are not using it as much, they are not maintaining the same level of proficiency and training as the AC unit on that equipment. So besides showing up in theater two or three weeks after an AC unit can, they not at the highest state of readiness.
        Combined, this results in needless casualties because a bean counter wants to save a buck and a Politian does not want to upset the ‘good old boys’ that got him elected.
        How can the members of the Guard even maintain a dwell of 1 to 5? Active Soldiers sign up for a full time job/career/commitment so a 1 to 3 or worse a 1 to 2 year dwell can be expected. Guard and Reserve Soldiers have normal jobs Monday to Friday. How do they progress, achieve career and education goals with less than a 1 to 5 dwell. And when their mobilized, pre and post mob takes up to three of their twelve months so you only get nine months deployed in that 5 year span. How does a citizen Soldier who is a battalion XO in the Illinois Guard and a small town lawyer or schoolteacher Monday through Friday keep his/her job?
        And those 200k you move to the AC. Their only cheaper if you do not mobilize them. Base pay for an AC E5 is the same as the base pay for a mobilized E5.

        1. If you did a little research you might find that National Guard units score better on Table VIII than their active duty counterparts. The reason? They stay together as a crew longer. Active duty personnel are coming and going. Crews may get 18 months at best before one of the members leaves. National Guard crews can stay together for years.

          You are right about one thing, when it comes to proficiency, the active crews and the National Guard crews are like apples and oranges.

  11. What is not discussed and the Army has not even attempted to quantify is the Army mission to set the theater. No other service is required to do this and win our nations wars. Who manages the ports, who transports the fuel and food overland, who handles veterinary medicine, who manages rail? These are just a few of the missions that only fall to the Army in war. Oh by the way they have to act as the JFLCC in many instances as well and provide combat and SOF forces…..Why do we need force structure? I have no earthly idea…..

  12. Dr. Schake asserts “Controlling the territory just won’t be a strategic objective that politicians are willing to adopt again for a very long time.” Really? Does she know who the commander in chief will be in 2017 and has Dr. Schake informed him or her of this restriction? Does she not recall candidate George W. Bush saying, “Are we going to have some kind of nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not,” This was followed by the largest nation building effort since the post WWII era.

    She also asks us to imagine the Obama cabinet debating a proposal to occupy North Korea. If the debate is anything like those on Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, or Syria, it will result in an ever changing and incoherent “strategy” which leaves military planners scratching their heads. As Milprof said, we must have a clear, realistic risk analysis and a clear articulation of how we will protect ourselves from threats, and what policy options we want the military to provide for our elected leadership. There are very few existential threats to the US at the moment. Most of our military capability is geared towards preventing future threats (i.e. containment of failed states, nuclear non-proliferation, and deterrence of aggression) and enabling “diplomacy through other means,” such as our half hearted support of the Arab Spring, countering China’s territorial claims, and guaranteeing the defense of allied nations. The effectiveness of any military transformation proposal cannot be accurately assessed until the President can Congress can clearly say what they do and don’t want the military to do and we’re obviously a long way off from any type consensus.

    It’s not surprising that the Army has not presented a more thorough case for larger force structure than Dr. Schake proposes. I don’t think most people appreciate the level of turmoil in the military headquarters right now. The services have been scrambling to find billions of dollars of savings in fiscal years 13 and 14 due to the sequester when they had been repeatedly told by the President and member of Congress that the sequester would not occur. Military planners have to worry about being forced into early retirement (now at reduced pay) due to cuts, and civilian planners spent much of 2013 on furlough. The Army has been handed the task of planning to respond to determined, adaptive adversaries well into the future, with unclear strategic objectives, little reason to think that elected leaders will act upon stated objectives (i.e. the “red line” in Syria), and no idea until now what the budget might be.

    While I agree with Dr. Schake that the reserve component is critical to retaining capability in an affordable manner, we should not forget the fact the even with the unprecedented use of reserve forces, our Regular Army, scaled to fight and win two simultaneous wars, was not big enough for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It took years to ramp up recruiting, especially for officers, and growth was constrained by training capacity. The Army had to live for 20 years with the effects of accessing too few officers in the 1990s. You simply can’t grow experienced Captains, Chief Warrant Officers, and Sergeants First Class overnight.

    It bothers me greatly when people use terms like “the Army’s problem.” It is not the Army’s problem if it shrinks or grows, or can or can’t recruit enough Soldiers, or can or can’t articulate its position well. It is the nation’s problem. The Army is controlled by the people through our elected government, composed (for the most part) of the nation’s citizens, and exists for no other purpose than to serve the nation. If the Army fails, the nation pays a price, but not as steep a price as the citizen Soldiers who make up its ranks. If Dr. Schake had ever served her country, she’d know that questions of “distribution of capital and labor” become irrelevant when it is your flesh and bones at stake and not simply an academic discussion of budget and policy.

    It is fatal to take a bean counter approach to warfare and downplay the human factor. And we should not ignore the economic value of deterrence. Compare the billions spent on the Cold War with the human and financial costs of a nuclear exchange, or a hot war in Europe. We do need to find an effective and affordable solution to future threats, but assuming away problems and letting the budget determine requirements is not going to keep the nation secure.

  13. The debate over the size of a future Army is of course going to be seen differently by the civillian population who has to pay for the cost of the army and those in the Army who will have to pay in blood if the wrong decisions are made.

    The majority of the population now see Iraq as having been a mistake, absent that disaster you have the much smaller operation in Afghanistan, which for for 2001-2007 was in the range of 40-50,000. Before that apart from the operations in the Balkans or Panama or Grenada which could all be performed by much smaller force, you are left with Operation Desert Storm, a force designed to fight World War 3 against the Red Army after 8 years of the Reagan build up in spending is given a target in Iraq within weeks of the real threat self destructing.

    The operation was 100% successful but remember the land war phase was over in 100 hours and with negligible casualties. The result with a much smaller force would be the same, it would have taken longer and seen more US casualties. The idea of an Iraq surrounded by enemies on every side and cut off from supplies of anything other than oil would have survived is simply nonsense.

    The perception in DC is that with the fracking revoloution and the likelihood of US self sufficiency in oil supplies coming soon the need to intervene in the Mid East is coming to an end.

    Europe is united and rich enough to meet its own immediate needs but shows no interest in supporting worldwide intervention.

    Which leaves Asia, Korea is no longer 2 barely functioning states just recovering from Japanese colonial rule. The south has twice the population and 10 times the ecconomy, the assumption should be it should defend itself with support from air and sea. A collapse of the Northern regieme potentially would need a large force for years to manage the transition but if the assumption is that should be a 100% US force then most of the US population would ask why? There are 2 UNSC members on the Korean border and the assumption is both would be happy to simply allow 500,000 US force on the Yalu river!

    You are then looking to plan for land war in Asia against the monsters of China or India, if that is seriously contemplated a force needs to be much bigger than 500,000

    The US civillian population wants to plan for a much smaller force, partly as it can no longer see the threat and partly because they want to stop arrogant politicians from using the force just because it exists. They know they are taking a risk with some future unidentified threat but are willing to take that risk.

    The arrival of a fully Proffesional force means that the risk does not fall evenly across the children of the entire population but falls on a much smaller fraction who are members of that force.

  14. I agree with Dr. Schake that the Army needs a new argument. I see the same problems in the Air Force. Dr. Schake argues that the Army needs to restructure it’s personnel in order to meet budgetary needs as well as a slimmed down strategy based on current realities. As a few posters have mentioned, history has proven wrong many leaders who shrunk the military force. However, those are taking history out of context. Yes, a large force might have made a difference in Korea in 1950 if it was already in Korea, but a small rapid reaction force held off the North Koreans and the US pushed them back to the Chinese border before a preponderance of new conscripts for the war effort made it to the front line. A large force would have done little to affect Vietnam. In both cases, a large force was needed for sustainment and not at the onset of war. The US needs a change of strategy to meet the new world order and not one designed to fight WW3 in Europe. Few would argue that our current force could take on Russia or China within their own borders, but the US military could hurt them or supplement our allies enough to prevent a military confrontation. If that’s our goal, to maintain the geopolitical status quo, then we don’t need a massive active duty Army or Air Force to do it. Because of history, gutting our forces would be a mistake too. Replacing 200,000 soldiers with 100,000 reservists moves the total force numbers in the wrong direction. Personnel costs and not equipment costs are the limfac moving forward. Reservists take longer to mobilize but are far cheaper to maintain and are at least as good if not better than their active duty counterparts. Cutting the active numbers would allow for a larger reserve force which will help with long term sustainment until increased number of raw recruits can be trained. A larger reserve force also means more participation and awareness from the general population, which currently suffers from a lack of understanding of the military and its use in geopolitics. It also makes large military actions a less palatable option to future politicians if the burden of war is shared with civilian employers and not just their families. Large companies wouldn’t be so indifferent to or pro-war if 5-10% of their workforce has to mobilize.

    The US still needs a rapid response as well as a forward presence to deter would-be adversaries. So Dr. Schake is correct to suggest leaving the Marines that mission. To go one further, a large navy is also necessary for air and sea power. That doesn’t mean the AF and Army are out of the initial response game. They should maintain a large bomber, nuclear, and airborne mission, as well as a handful of active-duty only fighter squadrons and heavy combat brigades. Unfortunately, a culture resistant to real change in force structure (cold-war era generals) and a strategy based on large scale airland battle stand in the way.

  15. The Army has not been as small as the proposal ADM Roughead and Dr. Schake put forth since 1939, but the proposal fails to account for the changes that have occurred in terms of U.S. position and status. The United States has assumed numerous commitments that necessitate maintaining a sizeable Army to support U.S. foreign policy. Much of the support the Army provides resides solely in the Army, and reducing Army end-strength without reconsidering what policy makers may need (not what they want) for cost savings is myopic. Recommendations that seek to achieve cost savings through radical reductions in active component (AC) Army end-strength implicitly eliminates options for policy makers and increases risk to both the Joint force and U.S. strategic aims. Because the international environment today is fundamentally different, the notion of “raising an army” is anachronistic. Reducing the size of the Army along the lines of the Roughead-Schake proposal negates many of the strengths they mention in their alternative defense budget and would limit the ability of the Joint force to serve the country.
    Reducing the size of the Army to the level Dr. Schake and ADM Roughead recommend eliminates the policy maker’s strategic options in terms of military force. With a 290,000-Soldier Army, the option of compelling an adversary to change its behavior is off the table, and the option to coerce by denial or punishment is severely limited. Unless Aruba or a tiny island nation nearby is the target, only the Army can compel an enemy by seizing territory and occupying it for as long as policy makers desire. Similarly, options of assuring allies and deterring aggression will meet a similar limitation. The Army is unique in its universal utility in terms of military force as part of the Joint force. Any recommendation to reduce the size of the Army must come with the caveat that policy makers will have fewer options available when considering military force.
    The demand for Army forces speaks to a need for an Army larger than what Dr. Schake and ADM Roughead realize. Excluding operations in Afghanistan and garrisoned forces in Europe, the Army currently has over 80,000 Soldiers deployed or forward-stationed in over 100 countries. Those 80,000 Soldiers are supporting U.S. foreign policy aims at the request and direction of the Combatant Commands. Reducing the Army significantly below its pre-9/11 size would require a reconsideration of both national foreign policy goals and security strategy because the Army would no longer be able to support current requirements outside of combat operations in Afghanistan. Additionally, due to normal transitions, approximately 10 to 13 percent of the active force is constantly in a transient status due to training and education, moves, and induction. This is unavoidable yet the number still count towards the bottom line. A greater reliance on reserve forces translates into a slower strategic response to fast-moving events and a greater burden on the standing Joint force, especially the Marines that Dr. Schake and ADM Roughead expect to fight plans that extend reinforcement times, at a time when speed is becoming more important. Those forces would be unlikely to have the Army sustainment once ashore that is part of Joint doctrine today, which would then require the other services to increase their theater capabilities. This is nothing more than a shell game, and the reserve aspect of the proposal is a similar story. Shifting active forces into the reserve component appears to save money but in reality it only shifts costs.
    Reserve forces are cheaper until they’re not. Reserve forces seem cheaper, but a closer look reveals some significant tradeoffs in costs that may be cause for future regret. Once called to active duty and conducting Title 10 missions, reserve forces cost just as much as active forces. The cost in some cases may even be greater when considering the mobilization and demobilization requirements versus a similar active force in the same time frame. The cost savings many point to come at the expense of readiness, which in essence is a cost, and availability – another cost. Getting most reserve forces to acceptable readiness levels in times of crisis can be quite expensive and may delay the U.S. response. 39 days of annual training days is the contract Reservists and Guardsmen have. Increasing that number has an associated cost and may not change in today’s budget-focused climate. Imagine requiring a major call-up of reserve forces to conduct the initial phases of the Iraq War and to sustain operations in Afghanistan. Such a scenario is unlikely to have been acceptable to civilian policy makers at the time. Regardless of whether one agrees with the wars, requiring the Army to rely on a call-up of the reserve forces to initiate them would have been ugly.
    Beyond the operational problems of large-scale reserve call-ups, there are national and local political problems as well. Reserve forces are part of the communities from which they come and relying on them because of an active Army that is too small is detrimental to the communities and the individual reservists. The occasional call-up limits disruption while still building civil-military ties. A military that would require continued and prolonged reserve activations would disrupt local communities by taking away many of their citizens on a regular and prolonged basis. This may not be why many people joined the Army Reserve of National Guard. Also, it would place reservists at a disadvantage in their place of employment. While federal law requires that employers not discriminate against reservists, proving the loss of a promotion or similar advantage can be problematic in reality. On a larger scale, look at the challenges women face when returning to the work force after absences due to childbirth as an example.
    Beyond the problems the Army would have with the 290,000-Soldier Army, the Joint force would face challenges as well. ADM Roughead and Dr. Schake state that “we are the only military force in the world that can command and control, and persistently and robustly sustain itself on a global scale.” The command and control and sustainment of the Joint force comes from the Army they advocate cutting in half. Only the Army has the ability to set the theater to enable Joint operations, command and control the Joint force, protect the Joint force, and sustain the Joint force. The Army has unique requirements to support the other services, and that requirement is arguably increasing. Because of the focus on the almighty brigade combat team, the other capabilities the Army brings get lost in the discussion. The Army must provide fuel, ammunition, food, and services to maintain deployed land-based aircraft, airmen, and Marines ashore. The Army also has a requirement to support allied and coalition forces that are likely to lack capabilities. It’s easy to simply say that the United States should just shift the burden onto others, but the political reality of requiring military action to have a multinational aspect isn’t going away. The ability to command and control Joint forces resides in the Army. Establishing Joint Task Forces is part and parcel of Army general officer headquarters. This is a capability requirement that has fallen on the Army and one that the Army has embraced even if it has chosen not to highlight it. In considering the role the Army plays in theater, one cannot discount the role the Army plays in protecting Joint and Combined forces. From theater air and missile defense to horizontal construction, the Army does it all, and most of those capabilities do not reside outside of the Army.
    It is difficult to argue against the obvious trouble the Army is having in advocating its position, but the alternatives to that position are filled with risk to both soldiers and strategy. If I were making the argument for a return to the 2001 size of the Army, I would highlight what civilian policy makers lose with severe cuts to the Army in terms of options, time, and margin for error, as well as the higher costs when forces are eventually required. It may be very true that the President and policymakers may not choose to conduct another counterinsurgency in the next decade, but the missions of the 1990s kept a 480,000-Soldier quite busy. A reduction below that means there will be no Somalias, Haitis, Bosnias, Kosovos, Honduras, or numerous other operations without a lengthy delay and high costs before a sizeable U.S. ground presence arrives.

    1. The best argument for making the Army smaller is that it reduces the likelihood of unwinnable wars that accomplish nothing beyond wasting lives and blowing up our debt…anyone citing Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq as reasons why we need a large Army is missing the forest for the trees. The assorted stupidity of high ranking civilian and military officials in those conflicts is the very reason that we need an Army small enough that it can’t be used for expeditionary warfare with a Reserve Component that has high standards and a public that understands it’s military will be used for wars of national survival. The need for ground combat to win wars may never disappear, but the phenomenon of using it for anything other than a fight for national survival should.

      The current strategic calculus needs to be forward thinking, focused on cyber warfare and space warfare, and intent on preventing nuclear proliferation and keeping Russia and China boxed into their sphere of influence. Anything else is a waste of lives, money, and national credibility.