Presentation at the Heritage Foundation
This is the second in a series of seminars organized by the Heritage Foundation to address a very important and deceptively simple question: does the U.S. military have adequate resources to maintain a trained and combat-ready force?
The simple answer is no. The evidence is staring us in the face. The force has been shrinking for more than 20 years. The secular trend is for costs to rise faster than increases in defense spending. Efforts to reduce costs have, by in large, failed. One of the few areas where it is bearing fruit is logistics and support. This is because of increased reliance on the private sector; on companies such as UPS, Maersk, Honeywell and Caterpillar.
Yes, the effectiveness of U.S. forces has increased over this same period, measured in conventional terms. This increase in effectiveness has supported decisions by Administrations, past and present, to reduce the overall size of the military.
What this process has obscured is a defense “death spiral.” Not only have the Armed Forces been getting smaller, they have also been getting older. Even as the military deploys powerful new capabilities such as the F-22, V-22, Virginia-class SSN and the Stryker Combat Vehicle, it has been forced to tolerate the aging of its overall fleets of fighters, bombers, tankers, submarines, armored fighting vehicles and helicopters.
It is increasingly clear that the Armed Forces are not only too old but also too small. The overall size of the Armed Forces was a less important metric of capability during the Cold War because of the existence of nuclear weapons and the deft construction of an escalation mechanism that made it all but certain that a conventional war between east and west would result in nuclear devastation to both.
Present circumstances dictate the need for a larger and different military. Larger, simply because the demands are on the rise, the distances are increasing and the complexity of contingencies continue to grow. One lesson from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) is that there is the danger of breaking the all- volunteer military if it is overextended in campaigns of choice rather than necessity. This means forces must be rotated relatively frequently with all the attendant costs and disruptions.
The military must be larger also because at its present size, even the loss of a relatively small number of units could have catastrophic consequences for overall U.S. military power. This is particularly significant if the future is one marked by proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The military will also have to be different because it must address a new range of threats. It will have to be more modular. It will have to develop a different intelligence paradigm. It will need to involve the private sector more. It will need to create new classes of part-time Service personnel. It will need to make much greater use of unmanned systems. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles such as the Global Hawk served so well over Iraq and Afghanistan. More of them are needed, as well as an array of air, sea and land-based unmanned systems.
Everyone likes improved training just as they all approve of better education for children. In the aftermath of OEF and OIF there is pressure for the military to do more training in “soft” subjects such as languages and cultures. The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) proposes enhanced language training for all officers. Training is expensive not only in terms of facilities, materials and equipment, but also people and time. So, before we embark on an “orgy” of new training requirements and activities, we should ask a couple of very basic questions: Training for what contingencies and training to do what activities?
Training for what?
The military are the last great generalists in a world of increasing specialization. Not that there are not specialists within the military. Anyone confronting the MOS system could well conclude that they had entered an Orwellian world of ant-like specialization. Yet, the nature of the subject, that is the employment of armed force, tends to create demands for new skills in response to unforeseen conditions. This fact has been driven home to the military and to all Americans over the past decade.
Future deployments inevitably will be to places about which the Armed Forces have less familiarity than they acquired over the fifty years of garrisoning in Western Europe and Korea. The trouble is we don’t know where those places will be. The future is so uncertain that the Intelligence Community refused to provide a 20-year threat projection for DoD on which to develop the 2005 QDR.
The Armed Forces are faced with an enormous challenge in training and equipping itself to meet potential contingencies. Simply figuring out where they may have to operate can be a difficult task. Mountains, deserts or jungles? Islands or continents? Hot or cold? Urban or rural?
Beyond geography and climate, there are the issues of whom will the military meet when they deploy both as adversaries and allies? What languages will they speak? What cultures will be represented? What forms of governance and association will they possess?
Since it is difficult to know where the military will deploy, it is equally challenging to figure out what specific skills and capabilities to provide. What fraction of the Armed Forces will need to know Arabic, Farsi, Pushto, Lao, Swahili, Tagalog, Chinese (which dialect) or Quechua? No one knows.
Which cultures to study? Again, we cannot say. But even if the prospective destination of a deployment can be anticipated and the relevant cultures identified, what should the military know about a foreign culture? How deep does the knowledge need to be? An understanding of basic history, cultural symbols and social structures seems to be valuable. But, for example, do privates manning checkpoints in Baghdad need to be conversant with the Koran? Must they be able to differentiate between the various religious and ethnic factions by sight?
DoD is trying to address the increasing demand for language and regional knowledge, in part, by expanding SOCOM (Special Operations Command). It is adding a battalion to each of the regionally-oriented Special Forces Groups. This is only a small step forward. The real question is how much effort should be placed by the regular military on preparing to go to strange and interesting places?
Training to do what?
Not only will the military go to new places but we must expect that it will have new requirements levied on it. In fact, the military does not even have to go overseas to confront this reality. The QDR and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina makes it clear that the military will have a growing, even central, role in homeland security.
Overseas, the situation is equally challenging. It is taken as an article of faith that the military will be required to perform more, so-called, Phase IV tasks. These are the stability, security and reconstruction efforts that figure prominently in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have watched as young captains and majors went from being soldiers to civil administrators, educators and negotiators. One of the principal critiques of U.S. performance in Iraq was the failure to adequately prepare the military for its role.
The military likes to speak of someone it calls the “strategic private.” This is the individual who by the way he or she responds to a situation on the street in a foreign land can create a positive impression or a negative one. Sensitivity to local customs and morés can be very important in dealing with a restive local population.
At the same time, cultural “awareness” can be carried to an extreme. This was the case in Fallujah in late 2003. The decision was taken to take a sensitive approach to the insurgency in that city, putting an Iraqi face on local security. A pseudo-security force was created, commanded by one of Saddam Hussein’s former generals. The attempt was an utter failure.
What is the military’s job in the aftermath of a conflict? Maintaining public order and preventing looting, yes. Creating a functioning government, restoring oil production, fixing the broken energy and water sectors, no. It is true that the military took on the responsibility for managing much of the post-war stabilization of Germany and Japan. But that was decades ago, in the aftermath of a world war and with the benefits of national mobilization. The military embodied civil functions that since that time have migrated to other agencies and organizations.
While there is some thought in the direction of getting other agencies to play a bigger role in future contingencies, progress is slow and the resources are generally insufficient. Until such time as a new structure for international stability and security operations is created, the military will be stuck with the burden.
The military, with its customary “can do” attitude, is busily looking at ways of changing its education and training systems to accommodate the demands of an uncertain future and an expanded mission space.
How to respond to the demand? Create more capable generalists? Or develop new category of specialists? War and conflict are becoming more complicated, forces more interdependent. This means that in addition to learning what is required by the Service and the individual specialty, future officers and even enlisted personnel will need to know about the other Services.
To the already expanded education and training curricula we need to add languages, cultures, history, civil affairs, good governance, law and sociology.
There is a risk that the military will lose core competencies. This is the phenomenon that devastated public education. More and more requirements were levied on the educational system – sex education, diversity training, multiculturalism, Ebonics, etc. – to the point that there was insufficient time to teach critical skills. Before DoD embarks on a similar experiment, it should consider what might be lost.
One way to address some of the new demands is to rely more on the private sector. L3, for example, provides linguists, translators and regional expertise to the U.S. Government. This company staffs the training centers for units heading to Iraq and Afghanistan, providing a very true to life environment.
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