Numbers Racket

The parade of retired generals has finally been heard. General Abizaid, Commanding General of CENTCOM, has requested more manpower to garrison Iraq.  More than a few news outlets have reminded us about how seemingly prescient the now—retired Army leadership has been about this issue.  For example, Rowan Scarborough in the Washington Times devotes space at the end of an otherwise matter—of—fact piece about the new troop requirements, to remind us of the comments of then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Shinseki testifying before Congress about the need for more occupation troops in Iraq.  And, in the April 19th issue of Time Magazine , retired General Barry McCaffrey gets down to specifics and states that we need 80,000 more troops in the active Army component to bolster our strategic depth.

 

They are most certainly right, given the course of events in Iraq in the past few weeks.  Gen. McCaffrey points to important global considerations, such as the problem of fielding additional troops while leaving critical parts of the globe unprotected, or possibly moving towards conducting a greater mobilization of National Guard brigades. 

 

However, what many fail to recall is that many of these needed troops 'disappeared' during the 90s, when these retired generals were in positions of leadership to actually affect the future capabilities of the Army.  It's certainly legitimate to criticize Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and claim that he does not listen to the calls of what is best for the Nation and the Army. But if the critic has himself had a role in the degradation of the best military in the world, then gripes about inadequate force levels may raise a few eyebrows. Therefore, an examination of what actually happened on the watch of the retired General Officers is necessary.

 

The Army that was victorious in Gulf War I was already in the process of reducing its strength when the alert for Desert Shield was announced.  Initially, the force reduction was based on the realization that the funding available during the Reagan military build—up would almost certainly decline as the eighties came to a close.  Then, world events abruptly reinforced the justification of force reduction and realignment, with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the dissolution of the USSR.

 

The objective strength for each service was outlined in Colin Powell's Base Force Plan.  The plan stated that the Army was to reduce its strength from 765,000 active duty soldiers down to 580,000 by mid—1997.  What is frequently overlooked is that the Base Force structure and troop strength figures were an absolute floor, not a ceiling.  If these numbers were to change for whatever reason, they would go up, not down.  In reality, this reduction figure had already been exceeded by the Army while Gen. Powell was still Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  By 1993, active duty Army strength stood at approximately 572,000, which was 6000 fewer soldiers than the floor allowed.

 

The Clinton administration saw to it that this trend continued throughout the nineties.  By 1994, strength had further decreased to about 541,000. By 1995, the year the first US combat formations entered Bosnia, it was down to 513,000.  Even Stateside, battalion commanders realized that their individual units were ready to go, but their battalions had no depth due to an increased operations tempo, and also due to the practice of sending individual companies on temporary deployments overseas.  This 'penny packet' deployment strategy wreaked havoc on unit cohesion and battalion—level training and readiness.

 

The Army leadership answered these problems by issuing a series of meaningless slogans designed to placate commanders and soldiers who had to accomplish more missions with fewer and fewer troops.  Sayings such as 'No more Task Force Smiths'*, and 'Boots on the ground'** were outdated just as soon as they were uttered.  The Army already had plenty of Task Force Smiths and not very many boots on the ground.

 

The operation in Bosnia was also the first indication of where all this military talent was headed after it left the Army.  In a national TV appearance, Vice—President Al Gore proudly announced that the fledgling Army of the Federation of Bosnia—Herzegovina was going to be trained by US contractors.  The current situation in Iraq has made the world aware of contractors driving trucks, rebuilding infrastructure, and so forth.  But as far back as 1995, a foreign army was being trained, not by uniformed US military assistance personnel, but rather by private citizens via a contract through the US State Department.

 

In 1996, Army strength dropped below 500,000 with active duty soldiers numbering about 493,000.  Concurrently, the Army embarked upon the grand experiment of 'digitization' that it hoped would greatly increase the lethality of the force, while requiring fewer troops.  Eight years later, it's safe to say that some efforts of digitization simply led to viewing battlefield realities through rose—colored glasses.

 

Some new systems were very promising, and were worth their weight in gold on the battlefield.  For example, no one could argue the benefits from accurate, GPS—based land navigation systems in a trackless desert, or increased situational awareness from enhanced command and control systems.  But long—term manpower efficiencies were a pipe dream.  Sometimes, systems designed to support the soldier ended up doing the reverse.  The more electronic equipment that was piled on the units, the more communications specialists had to be taken 'out of hide' to maintain and repair the gear.

 

By 1998, Army strength dipped further, to approximately 479,000 active duty GIs, while maintaining a presence in Bosnia, and as events would soon dictate, deploying troops to Kosovo.  Even though the situation on Bosnia had improved a great deal, danger was still lurking.  Inexplicably, new deployment standards, designed to give soldiers new 'outs' unheard of during the deployment for Desert Shield, further reduced the manpower of units actually headed to Bosnia.  For example, the time window was widened for school assignments before a soldier deployed, allowing a greater number of soldiers to be diverted for schooling. The same concept was applied for retaining soldiers on special duty with garrison activities.  Apparently, after three years of Bosnia duty, the brass didn't think that this was such an important mission after all, or thought the Reserve Component would pick up the slack.  At least one thing panned out for the Army leadership of the nineties: US units in Bosnia and Kosovo are now composed of Army National Guard units.

 

Active duty strength dropped slightly to a little over 468,000 in 1999; then climbed to 472,000 in the year 2000.  Finally, after 9—11, and with the advent of the War on Terror and the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, end strength was increased in 2003 to 490,000, and, as of January 2004, the level stands at a little over 492,000.  How ironic is it then, that if Gen. McCaffrey's call for 80,000 more troops were satisfied, that the US Army would be only 8000 soldiers shy of the original floor established by Colin Powell's Base Force plan?

 

Even more alarming than the continuing decline in the number of soldiers in the nineties is the fact that this headlong rush into the drawdown reflects an almost fantasyland view of future combat operations.  The rank—and—file was first cautioned by their leaders not to take all of the lessons of Desert Shield and Desert Storm and adopt them as standard procedures, because it was a unique campaign that was not likely to be repeated in the future.  But, this is precisely what the Army did in their rationale for a smaller force.

 

The politico—military environment of casualty aversion, reinforced by false expectations of digitized systems, in fact bred an avoidance of the close—in battle.  Remote sensing and targeting, cruise missile strikes, and precision guided munitions all provide a tremendous advantage to US forces.  But in this war of annihilation against Baathist—Socialist thugs and Shia extremists, there are only so many warehouses and buildings we can blow up from a distance before the issue is settled once and for all by our infantry and tank combined arms teams.

 

Meanwhile, the more mundane, but critical tasks of re—supply operations also fall prey to real world considerations.  Reports from Operation Iraqi Freedom show that even if re—supply messages actually got through on digitized systems, and if the required bandwidth was available, and all databases were synched, it didn't necessarily mean that the manpower existed to pack the pallet, man the forklift, or drive the trucks across 200 hundred miles of hostile territory.  Also, Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and JSTARS downlinks have little practical utility in conducting route reconnaissance and clearance operations, and cannot provide any realistic semblance of proactive security for Coalition supply convoys.  Traditionally, a 500—man cavalry squadron is the unit of choice for this mission.  Unfortunately the people with this skill set are already providing security for Halliburton convoys in Iraq, or are in the Army National Guard stuck in Bosnia or Kosovo.

 

The political grandstanding of the 9—11 Commission in recent weeks has fostered a slogan that goes 'Eight years versus eight months' in reference to those who actually were responsible for the sorry state of our intelligence services during the nineties.  The American people should realize that the same concept applies to the current manpower problems of the Army. For some other Americans, it requires a good, long look in the mirror.

—————————————————————————

* Task Force Smith was the first battalion—sized unit deployed from Japan to South Korea in June 1950 that tried to delay the North Korean onslaught; the unit was woefully undermanned, poorly trained, and without a full basic load of ammo

 

** 'Boots on the ground' means cutting non—combat arms forces to allow more soldiers to work in combat—related functions

 

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent.

The parade of retired generals has finally been heard. General Abizaid, Commanding General of CENTCOM, has requested more manpower to garrison Iraq.  More than a few news outlets have reminded us about how seemingly prescient the now—retired Army leadership has been about this issue.  For example, Rowan Scarborough in the Washington Times devotes space at the end of an otherwise matter—of—fact piece about the new troop requirements, to remind us of the comments of then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Shinseki testifying before Congress about the need for more occupation troops in Iraq.  And, in the April 19th issue of Time Magazine , retired General Barry McCaffrey gets down to specifics and states that we need 80,000 more troops in the active Army component to bolster our strategic depth.

 

They are most certainly right, given the course of events in Iraq in the past few weeks.  Gen. McCaffrey points to important global considerations, such as the problem of fielding additional troops while leaving critical parts of the globe unprotected, or possibly moving towards conducting a greater mobilization of National Guard brigades. 

 

However, what many fail to recall is that many of these needed troops 'disappeared' during the 90s, when these retired generals were in positions of leadership to actually affect the future capabilities of the Army.  It's certainly legitimate to criticize Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and claim that he does not listen to the calls of what is best for the Nation and the Army. But if the critic has himself had a role in the degradation of the best military in the world, then gripes about inadequate force levels may raise a few eyebrows. Therefore, an examination of what actually happened on the watch of the retired General Officers is necessary.

 

The Army that was victorious in Gulf War I was already in the process of reducing its strength when the alert for Desert Shield was announced.  Initially, the force reduction was based on the realization that the funding available during the Reagan military build—up would almost certainly decline as the eighties came to a close.  Then, world events abruptly reinforced the justification of force reduction and realignment, with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the dissolution of the USSR.

 

The objective strength for each service was outlined in Colin Powell's Base Force Plan.  The plan stated that the Army was to reduce its strength from 765,000 active duty soldiers down to 580,000 by mid—1997.  What is frequently overlooked is that the Base Force structure and troop strength figures were an absolute floor, not a ceiling.  If these numbers were to change for whatever reason, they would go up, not down.  In reality, this reduction figure had already been exceeded by the Army while Gen. Powell was still Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  By 1993, active duty Army strength stood at approximately 572,000, which was 6000 fewer soldiers than the floor allowed.

 

The Clinton administration saw to it that this trend continued throughout the nineties.  By 1994, strength had further decreased to about 541,000. By 1995, the year the first US combat formations entered Bosnia, it was down to 513,000.  Even Stateside, battalion commanders realized that their individual units were ready to go, but their battalions had no depth due to an increased operations tempo, and also due to the practice of sending individual companies on temporary deployments overseas.  This 'penny packet' deployment strategy wreaked havoc on unit cohesion and battalion—level training and readiness.

 

The Army leadership answered these problems by issuing a series of meaningless slogans designed to placate commanders and soldiers who had to accomplish more missions with fewer and fewer troops.  Sayings such as 'No more Task Force Smiths'*, and 'Boots on the ground'** were outdated just as soon as they were uttered.  The Army already had plenty of Task Force Smiths and not very many boots on the ground.

 

The operation in Bosnia was also the first indication of where all this military talent was headed after it left the Army.  In a national TV appearance, Vice—President Al Gore proudly announced that the fledgling Army of the Federation of Bosnia—Herzegovina was going to be trained by US contractors.  The current situation in Iraq has made the world aware of contractors driving trucks, rebuilding infrastructure, and so forth.  But as far back as 1995, a foreign army was being trained, not by uniformed US military assistance personnel, but rather by private citizens via a contract through the US State Department.

 

In 1996, Army strength dropped below 500,000 with active duty soldiers numbering about 493,000.  Concurrently, the Army embarked upon the grand experiment of 'digitization' that it hoped would greatly increase the lethality of the force, while requiring fewer troops.  Eight years later, it's safe to say that some efforts of digitization simply led to viewing battlefield realities through rose—colored glasses.

 

Some new systems were very promising, and were worth their weight in gold on the battlefield.  For example, no one could argue the benefits from accurate, GPS—based land navigation systems in a trackless desert, or increased situational awareness from enhanced command and control systems.  But long—term manpower efficiencies were a pipe dream.  Sometimes, systems designed to support the soldier ended up doing the reverse.  The more electronic equipment that was piled on the units, the more communications specialists had to be taken 'out of hide' to maintain and repair the gear.

 

By 1998, Army strength dipped further, to approximately 479,000 active duty GIs, while maintaining a presence in Bosnia, and as events would soon dictate, deploying troops to Kosovo.  Even though the situation on Bosnia had improved a great deal, danger was still lurking.  Inexplicably, new deployment standards, designed to give soldiers new 'outs' unheard of during the deployment for Desert Shield, further reduced the manpower of units actually headed to Bosnia.  For example, the time window was widened for school assignments before a soldier deployed, allowing a greater number of soldiers to be diverted for schooling. The same concept was applied for retaining soldiers on special duty with garrison activities.  Apparently, after three years of Bosnia duty, the brass didn't think that this was such an important mission after all, or thought the Reserve Component would pick up the slack.  At least one thing panned out for the Army leadership of the nineties: US units in Bosnia and Kosovo are now composed of Army National Guard units.

 

Active duty strength dropped slightly to a little over 468,000 in 1999; then climbed to 472,000 in the year 2000.  Finally, after 9—11, and with the advent of the War on Terror and the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, end strength was increased in 2003 to 490,000, and, as of January 2004, the level stands at a little over 492,000.  How ironic is it then, that if Gen. McCaffrey's call for 80,000 more troops were satisfied, that the US Army would be only 8000 soldiers shy of the original floor established by Colin Powell's Base Force plan?

 

Even more alarming than the continuing decline in the number of soldiers in the nineties is the fact that this headlong rush into the drawdown reflects an almost fantasyland view of future combat operations.  The rank—and—file was first cautioned by their leaders not to take all of the lessons of Desert Shield and Desert Storm and adopt them as standard procedures, because it was a unique campaign that was not likely to be repeated in the future.  But, this is precisely what the Army did in their rationale for a smaller force.

 

The politico—military environment of casualty aversion, reinforced by false expectations of digitized systems, in fact bred an avoidance of the close—in battle.  Remote sensing and targeting, cruise missile strikes, and precision guided munitions all provide a tremendous advantage to US forces.  But in this war of annihilation against Baathist—Socialist thugs and Shia extremists, there are only so many warehouses and buildings we can blow up from a distance before the issue is settled once and for all by our infantry and tank combined arms teams.

 

Meanwhile, the more mundane, but critical tasks of re—supply operations also fall prey to real world considerations.  Reports from Operation Iraqi Freedom show that even if re—supply messages actually got through on digitized systems, and if the required bandwidth was available, and all databases were synched, it didn't necessarily mean that the manpower existed to pack the pallet, man the forklift, or drive the trucks across 200 hundred miles of hostile territory.  Also, Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and JSTARS downlinks have little practical utility in conducting route reconnaissance and clearance operations, and cannot provide any realistic semblance of proactive security for Coalition supply convoys.  Traditionally, a 500—man cavalry squadron is the unit of choice for this mission.  Unfortunately the people with this skill set are already providing security for Halliburton convoys in Iraq, or are in the Army National Guard stuck in Bosnia or Kosovo.

 

The political grandstanding of the 9—11 Commission in recent weeks has fostered a slogan that goes 'Eight years versus eight months' in reference to those who actually were responsible for the sorry state of our intelligence services during the nineties.  The American people should realize that the same concept applies to the current manpower problems of the Army. For some other Americans, it requires a good, long look in the mirror.

—————————————————————————

* Task Force Smith was the first battalion—sized unit deployed from Japan to South Korea in June 1950 that tried to delay the North Korean onslaught; the unit was woefully undermanned, poorly trained, and without a full basic load of ammo

 

** 'Boots on the ground' means cutting non—combat arms forces to allow more soldiers to work in combat—related functions

 

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent.