Last week, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld traveled to Texas to brief President Bush on military transformation and discuss whether the nation needs a bigger military. Much of the conversation focused on the Army, which is so heavily committed to policing Iraq that missions elsewhere may suffer. According to Thom Shanker of The New York Times, only 3 of the Army’s 33 active-duty combat brigades are available for deployment. The remaining 30 are already deployed overseas, getting ready to go, recovering from a recent deployment, or on emergency standby for action in Korea. That doesn’t leave much slack in the system for surprises.
Secretary Rumsfeld thus finds himself forced to consider increasing the size of the Army only two years after advisors were urging him to cut two of the service’s ten active-duty divisions (divisions typically consist of three 5,000-person brigades). So far, he doesn’t find the arguments for an increase convincing. In his meeting with the President, he probably laid out three generic options for coping with the current shortage of troops: grow the force, cut commitments, or make the existing force more productive. His preference is to pursue a combination of the latter two options, rather than grow the force.
Concerning commitments, Rumsfeld feels that too many U.S. troops are tied down in missions like Balkan peacekeeping that should be transferred to local forces. Bush made the same point in a campaign speech at the Citadel four years ago, so he presumably is sympathetic to such reasoning. In fact, one of the lesser reasons for toppling Saddam was to free U.S. forces from the seemingly endless enforcement of no-fly zones in Iraq.
Concerning productivity, Rumsfeld believes over 300,000 uniform personnel are performing jobs that could be done by civilians — either civil servants or contractors. He also feels the active-duty force is too dependent on reserve units for skills such as logistics. By realigning responsibilities between civilians and soldiers, and between active and reserve components, more warfighting strength can be generated within the existing force.
Rumsfeld also contends that the technology investments he has initiated under the rubric of “transformation” will greatly enhance the effectiveness of troops. Systems like the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle and Stryker light armored vehicle are force multipliers that enable warriors to be more agile, aware and precise. Rumsfeld is concerned that the cost of fielding additional troops will derail parts of his transformation plan.
Rumsfeld is right to be skeptical about the need for increasing the force. It’s a little hard to see why a defense budget of over a billion dollars per day can’t cope with the modest dangers America is facing. But his alternatives will take a long time to implement, and the civilians who free up soldiers for warfighting will have to be paid. The real question isn’t whether the Army can meet its current obligations. It can. The question is what happens if war in Korea or Iran or Colombia adds new burdens to an already stretched force.
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