Gen. John Campbell, the Army's Vice-Chief of Staff.

Gen. John Campbell became the Army’s Vice-Chief of Staff in March.

Cancelled training. Deferred maintenance. Grounded aircraft. That’s been the damage to military readiness from the mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration in 2013. Now the Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army says the service may have to keep many units at lower levels of readiness for years. This is not a short-term expedient but new policy.

“We’re looking at having certain number of brigades at a higher level of readiness,” Gen. John Campbell told me last week. “Many of our units will go down much lower.”

“Some people would call that tiered readiness, where we said we never were going to go again,” the Vice-Chief went on, referring to the Cold War practice where units not in West Germany or South Korea sometimes never received their full allotment of troops, equipment, and training dollars. “I’d call it progressive readiness.”

A preliminary plan may be ready for public discussion within weeks, Campbell said. “We’re working through that now,” he said, as the service builds its 2015-2019 budget plan, the Program Objective Memorandum.

Campbell’s remarks suggest new willingness on the Army leadership’s part to shift it position on readiness, one that’s been urged by many thinktanks.

“While Army leaders have avoided cutting readiness to every extent possible, it is no longer feasible under current budget plans – even before sequestration moves into year two,” argues Mackenzie Eaglen, one of the think tank experts who recommended cutting readiness levels to guarantee the military’s ability to develop and buy new weapons.

“There is already a readiness shortfall this year that is being funded through war spending and additional untold readiness gaps based on all the services receiving fewer resources than expected when Congress finally passed a defense appropriations bill for 2013,” she said.

Eaglen, a member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors and a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said the “only silver lining is that some Army leaders have said the service is today the most ready it’s been in four decades. This means that readiness reductions will start from an historic high point and be more easily reversible, if desired, at some point in the future.”

As our Defense News colleague Paul McLeary reported last week, the Army is already rushing through a massive cost-cutting exercise whose recommendations are due, ironically, on September 11th; but the August 14 memo launching that effort instructs participants “to determine how best to allocate these cuts while maintaining readiness.” (Emphasis mine). Now it looks like readiness is on the table too.

Before slamming the Army, it’s crucial to remember that no military force in human history has ever been 100 percent ready, with every finger on every trigger all the time (or on every arrow, spear, or sharpened rock). In fact, “unreadiness is the natural condition of all forces,” wrote Army officer and military iconoclast Robert Leonhard.

For generations, Navy and Marine forces have set sail, conducted operations, and then come home again to refit the ships and rest the men. In the Army, for over a decade of war, the service has run its brigades through a regular cycle called “Army Force Generation,” ARFORGEN: a “reset” period on coming home from war to rest, reorganize, and absorb new personnel; a training period during which readiness steadily climbed; and finally a period of full readiness and deployment.

But ARFORGEN as we know it is changing. Each unit’s level of readiness will still cycle up and down over time, but some active-duty brigades will no longer reach maximum readiness at any point in their cycle.

Eaglen believes Campbell is being realistic in changing ARFORGEN.

“The Vice Chief is appropriately focused on setting realistic expectations now for those currently serving. He’ll have to do the same for future enlistees soon and talk about how the Army is going to have to change its contract with soldiers going forward if sequestration sticks for the remainder of the decade,” she says.

Units bound for high-risk areas – such as Afghanistan or South Korea – will always be fully ready, Campbell emphasized, as will the “Global Response Force” of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. Beyond that, he said, the service will maintain “a certain amount of armor, infantry, Stryker, combat aviation, [etc.] at a different tier of readiness” for (relatively) rapid response to contingencies. The rest of the Army will have fewer resources, although it’s not clear whether that means less training, less equipment, fewer personnel, or a combination of all three. Nor has the Army decided how much of each type of unit will be at each level.

“We’re going to adjust how we look at readiness,” Campbell said. “We know that we’re going to have issues here for a couple of years.”

Keeping some units at a lower – and therefore less expensive – level of units probably strikes Army leaders as better than not keeping those units at all. The Army is already shrinking by 80,000 troops and eliminating 13 brigade headquarters, though the remaining brigades will be bigger, and Campbell is counting on further cuts. How far? “I fear… that we’re also going to downsize to levels we’ve never seen before,” Campbell said. “There’s talk about bringing the Army down to levels that are pre-World War II.”

Those cuts would come to both the regular active-duty Army – the full-time troops – and the “reserve component,” the Army Reserve and National Guard personnel who have full-time civilian jobs but train a minimum of 39 days a year. Army leaders have preserved the Reserve and Guard from personnel cuts so far but warn full sequestration would force reserve component to shrink too. That’s another set of tradeoffs Army leaders are looking at, and a particularly tricky one: The balance between active and reserve has been a bitterly contested question in the past and looks likely to flare up again as budget pressures mount.

“Progressive” readiness further complicates the active-reserve question. Army leaders argue that only the full time, active-duty force, with a few select reserve “enablers,” can respond rapidly to crises – meeting what Campbell calls “early-on requirements” – while National Guard combat brigades provide “strategic depth” for prolonged conflicts but take longer to spin up. If some active-duty units are kept at relatively low readiness, however, that blurs the old distinction between active brigades and Guard.

A nuanced answer could be a continuum: the 82nd Airborne and units in combat zones ready to go at all times; a second echelon of the active-duty Army and select reserve component forces ready to go in days or weeks; a third echelon ready to go in weeks or months; and the big Guard brigades coming in last but hardly least. Nuanced answers, however, rarely win out in Washington.

Nor are the nuances easy to convey to Army soldiers in the field and at bases around the country. “With this unprecedented level of uncertainty out there, I’ve got to make sure they understand that we do have a plan,” Campbell told me. “Otherwise it’s all doom and gloom.”

“What I try to tell people is you’re part of the best army in the world,” he said. “It’s going to be smaller, but it’s still going to be the best.”

Dan Goure, a defense expert at the Lexington Institute here, says Campbell’s remarks make it clear the Army had no choice but to adopt tiered readiness. “We have essentially priced ourselves out of the ability to field an all-volunteer force with modern equipment. On the current trajectory, fixed personnel costs will consume the entire procurement portion of the defense budget within a decade. Tiered readiness is just the first step toward a return to the pre-WWII mobilization-based Army,” he said in an email.

Nevertheless, many analysts and soldiers are deeply skeptical that the era of large standing armies is over, no matter what the administration’s 2012 defense strategic guidance says. A conference is convening this week at Fort Belvoir, south of Washington, to discuss “strategic landpower,” Gen. Odierno’s effort to enlist the Marine Corps and Special Operations Command in a united intellectual (and budgetary) front against the idea that air, sea, space, and cyber warfare can do it all. (I’ll be attending). One young enlisted soldier, though, has already put the argument in blunt terms, Gen. Campbell said.

“My son’s a specialist in the 101st [Airborne Division], getting ready to do another deployment to Afghanistan,” Campbell told me. When the general talked with his son about maybe getting out of the Army and going back to school now that the war is winding down, the son replied (as Gen. Campbell recounts it), “Dad, I think there’s going to be plenty of work in the future. Look at the world we live in.”

Comments

  • Don Bacon

    “West Germany”??? Sydney, your grey hair is showing. There hasn’t been a West Germany for 23 years.

    Regarding “Dad, I think there’s going to be plenty of work in the future. Look at the world we live in.” — don’t believe it. Peace largely reigns in the world, except where the US military is, and the US is not threatened militarily by any country.

    WEST POINT, NY — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets on Friday that it would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of regime in that fashion again are slim.

    “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

    Regarding sequestration, let’s look on the bright side. The hemorrhaging of the US treasury has been stanched just a tiny bit. US government deficits that in FY12 were running about $3 bpd (billions per day) are now in FY13 running less than $2 1/2 bpd. Yeah!

    • http://www.breakingdefense.com/ Colin Clark

      Come on, Don! The general is referring to when it WAS West Germany, which Sydney makes clear by referring to “the Cold War practice.” I’m pretty sure you’re old enough to remember that there was a Cold War and that US troops were stationed in West Germany to deter the Soviet Union!

      • Don Bacon

        Is it my fault I read it too quickly?

        Sorry.

        • Christopher Camacho

          Yes, it is. Attention to detail.

    • Peter C

      Don,
      While you bring up some interesting points, I would be interested to hear about your defense strategy for the next 5, 10, 25 yrs +. While I would be inclined to share in your idealism and fear of a large, standing army, a concept that our founders found abhorrent, I cannot help but look at our world through a realistic lens. Considering the astronomical size of our current defense budget and the bloated forces that we currently field, it is very rational to drastically cut and reduce our military forces– in fact, as a soldier, I think these are cuts that we have evaded for far too long. Another factor affecting our defense posture is our political strategy that drives our foreign policy. Van Clausewitz aptly put “war is a continuation of politics by other means.” The first step in fixing our military is fixing the politics which drive it. That’s your lane Don, we are your servants.
      I challenge you to think about the implications of policy change and a subsequent cutback (or on your terms elimination) to a progressively ready defense force. I don’t know your thoughts on our other aspects of foreign policy (governmental and non-governmental) to include humanitarian work, “peace”-keeping, missionary programs, NGO-work, and the general proliferation of Western ideals, values, and political goals. Having also worked for a progressive NGO in the Third World, I can tell you that the effects of what some call “peace-fare” can be just as devastating as any land army. If we decrease the size of our military that lowers the scope for NGOs abroad. American travelers are protected abroad because of our economic, political, and military strength.
      That being said I think that cuts are good, however, readiness must be maintained. The government including the military needs to be held accountable for their fiscal/personnel decisions just like anyone in the private sector would be.

  • desertguardsman

    How about instead of dumping billions into failed nation states such as Egypt we spend that money keeping our military primed and ready to go. Stepping back to the Carter Era we are.

  • Stephen Malone

    For those of us who entered active duty in 1976, tiered readiness is no surprise. The lack of resources during the first three years of the Carter administration spoke for itself. After the Reagan years, the DoD capability was substantially reduced during President Clinton’s two terms as he balanced the budget and created a surplus. I predict a lot of Army units will go to ALO-3 and stay there unless they are tapped for deployment or there is a major attack. Be prepared for a lot of garrison training on individual skills. Company training and higher will become a rarity unless you are at Fort Hood where there is room to train. That is, assuming you have enough fuel to take you to the field. I wish the Army well as it struggles with the upcoming choices it has to make.

    • http://www.breakingdefense.com/ Colin Clark

      Let’s all keep our eyes on those tank miles and see how Congress deals with this issue!

      • Stephen Malone

        Too funny! Actually I remember a time when we would drive howitzers to the nearest firing point, park them, and then have the cannoneers foot march out and take turns on the guns. I also remember my major filling up his Jeep at the PX gas station out of his own pocket because while we had diesel fuel for the big vehicles, we ran out of gasoline for the small ones. Cheers.

  • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

    I hope they are keeping all the top in the military happy at least. If not Patton may look out the window, realize there is not enough forces there to do squat and see his greatest enemy is in Congress and the White House. Greed is going to destroy us. A tiered system is going to work about as good as it does in the insurance biz, not for those on the lower tier. But always a need for ‘Cannon-fodder’. General Campbell has a lot of medals there, have to see if I can read a bio on him sometime. Wish his son and the rest the best out there. Wish the country would fight the war in the best possible way. I don’t think Green Zones and making a few in the area millionaires is the best way.

  • Don Bacon

    There is absolutely no need for a half-million person army, or any standing army at all, for that matter. Canada and Mexico are not threatening a land attack. The last such attacks were conducted by General Francisco Villa, and Pancho is long gone, having been dispatched by assassins while riding in his Dodge touring car.

  • ESS

    Task Force Smith looming on the horizon

  • Jessie J

    Go figure put a demo crap in office and lose an army

  • jpm6ret

    “Each unit’s level of readiness will still cycle up and down over time, but some active-duty brigades will no longer reach maximum readiness at any point in their cycle”

    Then why have them? Doesn’t make sense….it didn’t work before and won’t work now. The top ranking leadership today doesn’t care about troops, only their officers rubber stamping command cycles.

  • Jessie J

    Don Bacon go peddle your pork somewhere else say Russia or China. They love you there.

  • Steven Wood

    How about we cut the force starting from the top down. That one LTC who got canned for this idea was absolutely right. We have far too many generals and senior enlisted personnel sitting at the Pentagon with their thumbs up each others asses. Considering how much pay they draw, they’re just as bad as the politicks sitting on Capitol Hill.

  • M&S

    “Colonel, Sir! I’ve wanted to be a soldier since I was uh…born! So when do I get checked out on the XC-115?”

    “Son, you need to understand, we’re the New, Not So Modern, Army. If your state doesn’t contribute more than it’s collective shoe size to the national GDP, you don’t get all the latest new toys…errr weapons. Here in Alabama for instance, we are part of what you might call ‘The Second Tier’ of readiness.”

    “But, but, I joined to be an XC-115 gunner…”

    “Private, if you’re lucky we might let you head down to the range to cap off a few pistol rounds every month or so. Think Toys for Tots, Cleaning Highway Embankments. And Parades. Lost and lots of parades.”

    “Damn that recruiter, he lied to me!”

    Imagine how well this vision of Second Tiering is going to go over if you are not in the top five percentile ranks who are ASVAB qualified by competence or disparate impact set aside to be ‘one of the best and not the rest’… Recruiting is going to bottom out completely to the dregs of society that cannot find a way to get three squares and rack out of the rain any other way.

    The despicable thing about war is that it insists on being fought the way the moment dictates and seldom the way you’re prepared to (if History is anything to go by, Gates is full of dreck if he thinks we’re done with LIC/SSC/OOTW) and yet training for multiple varieties of combat capability is _the number one_ eater of money. First because we forget and second (mostly)because once junior wakes up and realizes what Army Life is really about, he’s little better than a prisoner killing time until his service commitment is done and couldn’t get him to reup if you chained him to a chair and made him watch all six years of Donny and Marie, in a marathon sitting.

    One of the reasons why we have so many unattached brigades in the actives and particularly the reserves is so that seldom used units can be swapped in and out like modules from low priority Guard units to achieve specialist capabilities not often required in conventional combat. So it’s not like we aren’t already doing this tiered approach at some level but where we have especially embedded huge numbers of CS/CSS capabilities into the part time force, there are still points where extreme reductions as neckdown could cripple the actives as well.

    The point being that, rather than look at units as composites of plug’n’play capability where ‘all must come together to function as one’; a condition where select degradation does indeed jeopardize the Total Force, I would divide things up into ‘Kills things better than any other system solution out there, buy 1.’ and ‘Jack of all trades, cheaper their ain’t none, buy 1,000′ mission force variations so that independent mission force capabilities were treated almost like expendable units of ammunition imbedded in much more generic force structure composites which were, by themselves, too small to be ‘offensive’ but which jacked up their unit combat rating capabilities by imbedding these outside units as team/task force provisional building blocks from the squad level up to battalion if not brigade.

    Example:

    Forced Entry Team: 2 JTLV, 2 drivers, 1 Robot Operator, 1 Missile Operator, 3 T200s, 1 Jumper VLS missile pack.

    In a normal mission setting this unit would would replace an infantry platoon and be LAPES deployed off the back end of a C-17 to do things like harass enemy traffic on LOCs or strike key BMC3 nodes or even to take down TV stations and the like. Theoretically, they could also sit opposite from a ballistic missile field, looking down from a UGS or UAV and then rush in to launch range to sterilize the target set as soon as the silo doors started sliding.

    OR.

    They could beef up a platoon doing a walking security patrol to let the locals know they were there and make some feel secure and the rest feel like they shouldn’t be shooting rockets outside the neighborhood.

    And then you get notification that X, a Key Person Of Interest is staying at X. And rather than walk the entire platoon up the 2 blocks to where half of his hired guns are, you send one robot down the street and up the stairs to knock on the apartment door. If nobody answers, the robot turns the knob on the door. All things which over sized RC Tamiya tanks _cannot do_ but an anthropomorphic robot could.

    Terrorist shoots robot in face, through door. Robot has brains in left testicle and ‘doesn’t feel a thing’ as it turns and leaves building.

    JTLV Jumper Gunner fires missile over rooftops. Blows up room around terrorist’s ears.

    Now what is the different here? The difference is that the infantry platoon is optional. A platoon is at least 30 men and at 12 grand a year, that’s about 360,000 dollars in salary alone. While the training they receive, at 40,000 dollars per man and another 100,000 for the AOCS/JROTC lieutenant plus a 250,000 dollar staff college command course for a Captain. Is outrageous, coming to 1.55 million overall.

    By comparison, the unit acquisition price for your Forced Entry team is about 1.5 million for the vehicles and robots. While the total annual operations costs: 5 enlisted and a command sergeant for comes to about 85,000 dollars, annually and 240,000 dollars in ab initio training.

    Roughly 1/4 of what you pay for the man power alone.

    Now, you’re still gonna lose about a 1/4 of those gunner/vehicle operators to the civilian world every year. But the robots are free for as long as you pay the spares costs and the spares costs, except during actual war, come down to the price of electricity for lights and climate control in the warehouse where you store them.

    Advantage humans not having to go from a walking patrol into the wild and hairy of a SWAT assault: priceless.

    Errm, well, maybe not, but it does give you a major step up on the 100,000 dollar life insurance head bounties that you pay as group premiums for a couple hundred thousand trigger pullers.

    Again, we forget too much and being devious little monkeys we are constantly trying to figure out new means of mayhem and destruction by which to get aroudn existing doctrine.

    Which requires re-training to detect and develop countermeasures to.

    Robots _don’t care_, having no families to cry for them and memories which train by download.

    Note that none of the above requires a robot to be a trigger puller.

    Because people have no idea how important simple tasks like being the first person in a room with a camera for an eyeball can be to all the breathers who expect something to blow up but have no way of knowing who as how or where. It is a _major_ boost to morale to have a sacrificial team member rather than a rotation of living people who have to be the designated doorkick that day. Or walk to the top of a hill which may have mines in it. Or or or.

    OTOH, it’s equally important to be able to lift a barge and tote a bale before peeling a raft of taters for 24:7 before rinse:repeating back out on another knock-and-entry patrol.

    And to be able to hook up to an online phrase book with speech recognition to speak flawless Balochi, Pashto, Persian and Kurdish.

    And to be able to EXPAND a base force by 50% in six weeks using automan to crank out the droids in record time.

    While finally, if you go for block obsolescence to keep pushing the SOA, you also get a capability to pump a fragile civilian economy, transforming the way we do things via rapid intro of robotics to the civilian marketplace as work product -equivalent- cash generators whose ‘salary’ can go towards supporting a welfare state (buy a license to run droids, pay a tax in yearly labor equivalent to 1 robot wage, the rest coming to you in hourly equivalents that are half that of living manpower).

    A robot can do all of these things, _cheap_. Because once they are purchased, they stay in the force without constant turn over.

    To get an idea how expansive this ‘buy the do all’ capability can be, I suggest reading this article-

    Better Than Humans

    http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/12/ff-robots-will-take-our-jobs/all/

    Or at least the part relevant to the ABDC diagram (1/4 of the way down the page).

    Because robotics are going to be the way forward for the simple reason that they _do not_ have to ‘think like a human’ to get the same job done. They just have to be able to flip between specialties where they do -almost- as good, in a very linear, deterministic, fashion, faster and longer than we can.

    The U.S. Army can lead the way here, helping to provide seed money that feeds into a broadly innovative tech base to prevent our economy from bottoming out in a debtor state condition we can never pay back from except through a new currency.

    Or it can try to hold onto the past and be lost to history as the cataphracti were lost, with the end of Rome.

    OTOH, if you accept much smaller overall force structures with high tech leveraging multipler systems as the promise towards reaching a dramatic leap ahead capability with _much smaller_ (less expensive = same level of health care and services) overall ground component you also get to pass on some of that savings towards directed investment in kills-like-no-other Weapons System such as Hypersonic Strike and DEWS as the way to gain forced entry to A2AD regions in whatever amounts to 2025s ‘high intensity’ MTW/MRC campaigns.

    This-

    Ahnold As A Automan Of Rapid Build Robot Subassemblies

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbcmLPXuQzo

    Buys you this-

    Deep Hull (Arsenal Ship) Strike Cruiser as Carrier Replacement

    http://fc03.deviantart.net/fs70/f/2010/046/4/5/USS_Monitor_BB_76_Arsenal_Ship_by_bagera3005.png

    Firing these-

    Hypersonic Strike Weapon = MRBM In ALCM Package Size

    http://www.armadninoviny.cz/domains/0023-armadninoviny_cz/useruploads/images/vojenska_vyzbroj/hypersonicke_zbrane_jiz_v_roce_2025/hssw.jpg

    http://bi.gazeta.pl/im/5/6775/z6775305Q,Charlie-Brink—szef-badan-nad-napedem-hipersonicznym.jpg

    When this-

    PGS Falcon

    http://notreally.info/transport/drones/blackswift/htv-3x/img//blackswift_2008_hypersonic_01.jpg

    Turns out to be beyond our wallet.

    But it all has to begin by looking at things in terms of what we move away from at the smallest force increment level of Jack Of All Trades platforms so that we can out and out retire the most expensive of manpower heavy systems (ground forces) to then turn around and buy into the tech base what will let us beat China without commiting Carrier Group to ASBM.

  • Gobo

    I guess since we have militarized our police forces, we could list them as T2 and send them in after the T1 units.. Just a thought after seeing the Boston Army rolling the streets.

  • Soldier

    As a current serving Soldier, I understand and will accept the cuts. The only thing that I ask is that you PLEASE cut the massively-bloated, ever-expanding, over-staffed commands that exponentially increased over the last 12 years. These organizations are staffed by a few hundred, mostly low to mid quality officers and NCOs that would have been cut from the force in any other organization. They add unnecessary levels of beaurocracy and produce nothing significant

    • angel pan

      i am angel pan chinese in egypt , i hope u can help me to find out a army friend seving in iraq now, help me to get his contact .my yahoo: xiaoxuech_2009

    • angel pan

      please, please

  • Bryn Rutecky

    How about this, lets reduce the goof offs in D.C. and keep our Army numbers up there.