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An Army at a Crossroads

We had a couple great pieces up yesterday at Military​.com on the Army’s accelerating manpower issues.

One of the perspectives comes from that CSBA seminar I’ve been talking about here for the last couple of days. Basically, Andrew Krepinevich — a former Army colonel and 10-pound brain on strategic issues — made the case that the Army should curtail its plans to expand by 65,000 Soldiers over the next few years.

His justification is labor pool one: the Army’s having too hard a time getting good recruits and the drain of senior NCOs and junior officers creates a leadership vacuum.

Here’s part of Greg Grant’s story on the issue and you can read the rest of it HERE:

His central message is alarming: the quality of the Armys soldiers is in sharp decline, from enlisted personnel to NCOs to officers. Its a particularly discouraging trend for the Army as it is happening despite the services increasingly aggressive use of financial incentives including bonuses and a salary increase of 33 percent between 1999 and 2005.

The Army has lowered standards to fill recruitment quotas, including weight and body fat restrictions, number of high school graduates and is allowing in more recruits with moral waivers. Krepinevich sees troubling signs of a repeat of the Vietnam era shake-and-bake sergeants, with the widespread promotion of inexperienced enlisted soldiers ill suited to the challenge of leading small units in combat.

The officer corps is also dropping in quality. Of the nearly 1,000 cadets from the West Point class of 2002, 58 percent are no longer on active duty. The Army is forced to pull soldiers from the ranks who have not graduated college and send them to OCS. Today, over 98 percent of eligible captains are promoted to major. The number of involuntary stop loss extensions has increased, by 43 percent between 2007 and 2008. Nearly half of those affected are NCOs.

This, at a time when the ongoing counterinsurgency wars demand much more intellectual horsepower in its soldiers. As the Armys new doctrine manual FM 3–0, states: current and future conflicts will be waged in an environment that is complex, multidimensional, and rooted in the human dimension.

He goes on to recommend that the Army should specialize by creating Security Cooperation BCTs that are trained in the hard work of nation building, foreign internal defense in a permissive environment and mil-to-mil relations. This idea has been tossed around a lot in Washington and has been summarily rejected by the Army at every turn. Krep argues that it takes too long to refocus a line unit to stability ops and risks losing the “Golden Hour” before insurgencies take root.

That’s true, but my experience has been that aside from the numbers and stats and “big think,” the Army has learned a heck of a lot in a very short time during the post 9/11 conflict environment. I tend to agree that a broadly trained force is a stronger one: “Jack of all Trades, Master of None” so to speak, so that when that third block of the “three block war” erupts, we’ve got guys who can close with and destroy when needed.

One thing that Krep does say that I think bears some thinking is that the Army needs to recognize that it can’t do everything and shouldn’t be postured thereto. I thought to myself that that’s easy to say until you have Capitol Hill screaming about “why can’t we solve this NOW!” It’s one thing for the Army to say “sorry, not in our lane” and quite another to tell Congress and the President to call someone else.

We also ran a great story from our friends at Aviation Week looking at the flip side of the force sized coin. Bettina Chevanne wrote up a dispatch on Army Sec Pete Geren’s justification for the continued Army buildup.

“We’re growing the U.S. Army, but is it enough? If demand stays the same, the answer is no,” Geren said. Determining the right end strength for the Army begins with a “realistic” Quadrennial Defense Review and a national security strategy, he added.

So to Krep’s point…‘if the demand stays the same…’ I’ve never understood the justification for the demand and the Army has never really been publicly explicit about it. If the Iraq commitment shrinks by, say, 100,000 troops and the other 40,000 goes to Afghanistan (which would be a bad idea in my view given the Afghans fiercely anti-occupation streak) that leaves a 100,000 buffer. Now, don’t come down on my too quickly there, dear readers, that’s just back of the envelope math. But it seems to me the Army is arguing for a force increase during a time when the demand for a large occupying force is going to shrink.

And that doesn’t even take into account budgetary pressure and rumblings from Congress that saving jobs on the F-22 production line might be more important to them than adding more personnel at Fort Hood.

Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see how reality collides with the shrinking momentum from an Iraq hangover over the next 12-to-18 months for the Army.

– Christian

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Total November 21, 2008 at 1:05 pm

The recession will take care of many of the recruiting problems. No jobs in the civilian world send people straight to the recruiting office.

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RPB November 21, 2008 at 2:03 pm

Agreed with above. Unfortunately its time to axe the FCS. Spin off the technology and start over with legacy platforms as a base. We’re going to need new equipment, but light armor is not the way to take the whole force. Air-Mech-Armor is a far off possibly. Almost a pipe dream. Deployment, even with the lighter stuff, still will not be fast enough. 1-3 light armor BCT should be enough to satisfy most any “quick-reaction” requirement. You’ll always need a follow on that can fight armor or withstand assaults. If it aint broken . . .

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Max November 21, 2008 at 8:50 pm

Exactly, Total. You took the words right out of my mouth. The military never has a problem with recruitment during a recession, and I guarantee you that if there is any right now, there won’t be pretty soon, because the job market is horrendously bad and getting worse.

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ArmyWonk November 22, 2008 at 1:50 pm

RPB,
Re: your comment - “We’re going to need new equipment, but light armor is not the way to take the whole force.” Simply because FCS MGVs are lighter DOES NOT mean they are not as survivable as current force platorms. Consider body armor - over the last ten years, the Army has introduced several versions of body armor that are lighter in weight than previous versions but offer superior ballistic protection. Everybody thinks that is great because Soldiers have greater mobility due to the reduced weight of their armor. The same applies to FCS manned ground vehicles. FCS breaks the paradigm that weight alone equals survivability.
Additionally, current force platforms are vulnerable now. What’s the solution - make them heavier? Put another 10 tons of steel on them? Fantastic - then you need a new engine, etc. The Army needs to pursue FCS now.

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Cole November 23, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Here’s one of many problems with Dr. K’s argument.
He proposes going from the plan below on the left, to his plan on the right:
Modular Full Spectrum…Modular Dual Surge
Active/Reserve………..Active/Reserve
19/7………Heavy BCT………13/9
6/1……….Stryker BCT……..6/1
23/20…….Infantry BCT……..8/0
0/0..Security Cooperation BCT..15/15
If you look at his numbers, note a voluntary depletion of 6 active component heavy BCTs, which in and of itself is problematic insofar as it does not allow a needed mix of heavy and FCS BCTs. The 6/1 Stryker BCTs are identical in both plans. That leaves the Infantry BCTs picking up nearly the total bill for his proposed 30 active and reserve component SC BCTs.
There goes the ability to deploy substantial combat forces for urban or complex terrain warfare, not to mention that he would eliminate our most rapidly air deployable forces!
Now consider the normal ARFORGEN cycle for Army forces. In it, only 1/3 of available active BCTs being ready to deploy at any given time. This gives the remaining 2/3 of BCTs a break and time to train. Therefore, under Dr. K’s plan, the total combat BCTs available/trained to deploy at any given time would be just 27…leaving 9 total active BCTs ready to go to war. In contrast, the current Army plan would have 48 active BCTs, so 1/3 of those BCTs would be 16 ready to deploy.
9 vs. 16 warfighting BCTs!!!! Dr. K’s plan nearly cuts in half the ready-to-fight active BCTs. This would spell a complete disaster if facing another situation like our current one, with significant forces fighting in two areas in large numbers. Nine BCTs only represents 28,000-45,000 Soldiers.
He might actually have a point about the Security Cooperation BCTs, but we certainly would not want so many of them. In addition, a greater number of reserve component BCTs would be more appropriate. I personally could see adopting aspects of his plan while retaining the Army’s proposed active BCT numbers. More appropriate numbers might be:
Heavy BCT 10 active/5 reserve component
FCS BCT…9/2
Stryker BCT 6/1
Infantry BCT 17/10
SC BCT 6/10
The above would retain 42 active warfighting BCTs and 6 Security Cooperation BCTs, which would mean a typical Soldier would only spend 1/7th of his 20 year career performing dedicated stability operations.
One major advantage of Dr. K’s SC BCT idea is that it could become the home of all the MRAPs and MRAP-Lights. The high ride height of these vehicles could prove ideal for National Guard forces supporting conditions with flooded roads. They also would provide survivable vehicles for conducting future stability operations against IEDs/small arms/RPGs.
I would also submit that your typical National Guard Soldier will have more experience dealing with the civil sector and better diplomatic skills, particularly if he/she is a police officer, is involved in business, or is in the medical profession.
A final, difficult-to-speak-of but true aspect of giving SC BCTs the MRAPs would be that they could withstand the blast and radiation of small terrorist or rogue nation nuclear explosion. Their height off the ground would reduce radiation/chemical exposure when fallout ash or liquid chemicals were on the ground.

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Roy Smith November 24, 2008 at 3:41 am

We need to redistribute defense dollars to raise Barky’s “Obama Youth” Praetorian Guard force. that’s where all of the money will be going,for barky’s new pseudo/neo/para military force. I’m going to show my dissent against Barky by wearing “Thor Steiner” & “Lonsdale of London(I hope I spelled that right)” fashion wear. I’m also going to start wearing Minnesota Viking jerseys & other apparel(which if anybody cares to look up “Thor Steiner,” they’ll understand where THAT is coming from),even though I’m in Atlanta Falcon/Carolina Panther territory.

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Vstress November 24, 2008 at 5:37 am

Whoever in the world figured that giving more money will convince the good soldiers to stay?
If people are in it for the money… they will go into contract military stuff!
There must be other reasons for people wishing to join - if it is an education that was the reason - then we should maybe give them a job for life where they can truly apply their wished education - maybe a restructure of the allocation program?
I don’t work in the military, but purely financial incentives don’t work here either. Money is only an incentive when you can convince yourself that it is only a temporary solution!
Anything long-term and personal wishes will take over. I’m saying this because I’m an engineer in aerospace - even though I could earn double my wage in the oil business. I however wouldn’t trade my job for 4x the wage… unless I knew it was only for an extremely brief period of time.

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