Small Wars Journal
Join Date: Sep 2005
Bulk the Army or Review the Policy: The Defense Dilemma
4 Feb. on Democracy Arsenal - Bulk the Army or Review the Policy
The Quadrennial Defense Review appears today, the fourth since the Bottom Up Review of 1993. Newspaper columns are going to be filled with discussions of “irregular” conflicts and “catastrophic” threats, and the “long war” Secretary Rumsfeld announced this week at the National Press Club. The underlying debate, though, is going to focus on the Army – is it overstretched and near the breaking point, or is it a “Goldilocks” force – just right for what it is being asked to do. The answer to this question, however, is not “how much should we add to the Army,” but what is the Army for.
From the narrow point of view, there is no doubt the Army is overstretched. Maintaining 160,000 troops in Iraq, plus another roughly 30,000 at sea or in neighboring Kuwait, preparing a next wave of forces to go there, and resetting the forces that came home not only costs a lot (see that $70 b. Iraq supplemental coming this month) but goes well beyond the algorithm the Army likes to use for deploying its forces. Minimally, the Army likes three units for every rotation: one in the field, one getting ready to go, and one coming back to rest, retrain and reequip. In Iraq, it is more like one coming back and one going out, period. Can’t do that without calling up the reserves, so we have done that, with more than 600,000 men and women now on active duty in the Army.
There is a price. New troops in the field haven’t had much down time; everybody has done one tour, most have done two, and some are on their third tour in the war. Because we are using most of the combat Army, and a substantial portion of the National Guard and Reserves for Iraq, our “strategic reserve” for other contingencies has shrunk.
This high tempo also carries a price in terms of keeping the force its current size. The active duty Army fell nearly 6,700 short of its 80,000 recruitment goal in the 2005 fiscal year and only got there by exhausting the pipeline of recruits it was holding in reserve. This year, it has lowered its goals so if there is a shortfall, we won’t see it. The Army reserves fell 16% behind their recruiting goal for 2005, with the National Guard 20% behind. And the rate at which new soldiers reenlist is also falling.
The Army, think tanks and task forces, even Members of Congress from both parties, have concluded that the Army is too small, and are making proposals to increase its size by at least 30,000 and as much as 86,000, just to keep up. But the new QDR argues that the size of the force is just right; we only need to restructure the force to squeeze more effective and focused combat capabilities out of it.
It’s worth thinking about this problem. Is it the size of the Army? Or is it the ambitions of the policy? If it is just a question of more troops, getting them is going to be hard. Men and women enlist and re-enlist because of the financial incentives, benefits, the challenge of service, the excitement, or their patriotism. On the other hand, they decide not to join or re-enlist because of the casualty rate in a “hot war,” the returning wounded, the general unpopularity of the cause, or the availability of better jobs at home. The deployment in Iraq is clearly stressing the force, many are leaving because of this stress and general unhappiness about the war, and the Army is falling short.
Last year, reenlistment bonuses reportedly cost the Army $500 m. The price tag for convincing another 30,000, let along 86,000 is unknown, but probably way beyond the Army’s current budget. To be blunt, even if expanding the Army were the answer to the overstress problem, the Army couldn’t get there from here.
What if the problem is the policy? Interestingly, the QDR says very little about Iraq; it focuses on longer-term challenges. It may be avoiding Iraq, but it reflects the reality that Iraq will end. The question both for the QDR and for the critics is whether we will do another Iraq any time soon...