Yesterday’s Senate passage of the budget deal took $20 billion worth of pressure off the Pentagon. But for the Army the deal just dials the pain back down from “agonizing” to “acute.”

The largest service has more to lose in the post-war drawdown (which happens to have begun before the war is actually over). In fact, the Army is losing a lot already: its top-priority weapons program; some 80,000 people; even its ability to keep all its units fully trained and ready; and there’s more to come, even though the Army got the sequester slowdown that its top brass has begged for.

So the Army’s challenge for 2014 isn’t to stop the bleeding: It’ll be hard enough just to slow it down. To do even that, the Army needs to make a compelling case to Congress, the White House, and the American people for the relevance of large and usually heavy land forces in the post-Afghanistan, Pacific Pivot era – which so far it hasn’t done.

That’s not for lack of trying. Army leaders point out, rightly, that they provide a host of services to the whole joint force, from overland logistics to communications. As units come off the treadmill of repeated Iraq and Afghanistan deployments, the Army is starting to assign them to theater commanders around the world as “regionally aligned forces,” ready for overseas missions from disaster relief to training foreign troops. The Army’s Special Forces in particular argue that to build lasting relationships, you need troops on the ground – an argument both the conventional “Big Army” and the Marine Corps have taken up.

But, truth to tell, none of these missions requires a large land force. The Army’s already shrinking from its wartime peak of 570,000 down to 490,000, but that’s slightly above its pre-9/11 level. Everyone expects it to shrink further; the question is how much. One team of thinktankers led by the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Clark Murdock proposed slashing the regular active-duty army to 327,000.

The Army’s foundational argument is the same it has been since at least the 1950 Task Force Smith disaster in Korea: The nation needs the firepower to win a large, prolonged land war, and history proves such wars break out when you don’t expect it. With the self-inflicted exception of Iraq in 2003, every major war we’ve fought since 1898 has occurred in spite of a stated US policy not to fight one: Woodrow Wilson ran in 1916 on the slogan “he kept us out of war;” isolationism prevailed in World War II until Pearl Harbor; Korea came as a shock; Kennedy promised no large ground forces in Vietnam; and few expected Saddam Hussein to conquer Kuwait or for Osama bin Laden to destroy the World Trade Center.

But after 12 years of war, that’s not an argument many people want to hear. The January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance only swears off “large-scale, prolonged stability operations” – emphasis ours – but no less a figure than Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. James Winnefeld, recently told an Army audience that the country could not afford a ground force sized for “an extended war of any type.”

To the extent America needs an insurance plan against a big ground conflict, runs this school of thought, we can keep the needed personnel on retainer in the Army Reserve and National Guard, then mobilize them as needed. Clark Murdock & co. in fact recommended adding 100,000 personnel to the Reserves and Guard to make up for their deep cut to the regular Army. It is true that part-time troops have more than proven their worth since combat since 9/11. They’ve sped up too: Even a full-sized Guard brigade can now go from civilian life to combat readiness in 50 to 80 days.

But will there be enough regulars left to hold the line for those 50-plus days? (It’s politically unlikely any president would call up the Guard in large numbers before the fighting had actually begun). Even the soft-spoken Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, has publicly worried that the military as a whole – active, reserve, and Guard combined – won’t have the needed “depth” for a large war.

The Army’s immediate problem is persuading political leaders that it’s worth buying insurance against an unexpected, large scale ground war like Korea in 1950 (or Korea tomorrow in light of the erratic Kim Jong Un). Perhaps the most likely big-ground war scenario is what some in the Army are calling “war in the megacity.” As Third World populations cram into ever larger and more dysfunctional urban sprawls, the odds are one is eventually going to blow – and if even 1 percent of a population of 10 million takes up arms, that’s a force of 100,000. If a future president decides such a catastrophe requires the US to act, he or she may want a lot of ground troops in a hurry.


  • Don Bacon

    With the self-inflicted exception of Iraq in 2003, every major war we’ve fought since 1898 has occurred in spite of a stated US policy not to fight one: Woodrow Wilson ran in 1916 on the slogan “he kept us out of war;” isolationism prevailed in World War II until Pearl Harbor; Korea came as a shock; Kennedy promised no large ground forces in Vietnam; and few expected Saddam Hussein to conquer Kuwait or for Osama bin Laden to destroy the World Trade Center.

    Wars occurred “in spite of a stated US policy not to fight one” because the actual policy was different than the stated one.

    Wilson got the US into WWI, just like McKinley before him with the war against Spain, for political reasons, not for any necessity. On those two characters I recommend “The Politics of War” by Walter Karp. WWI of course led directly to WWII in Europe, combined with a more complex situation in the Pacific with Japan and Korea. Karp’s general analysis holds for all these wars.

    Without going into a lot of details, the Army problem can be avoided by the US (1) not acting as the world policeman and (2) ending that damned Korean war and achieving a peaceful solution. It’s gone on too long. I know it pays well, but enough is enough.

    The Army need to slim down, way down. Roughead and Schake wrote an excellent paper on it in February, “National Defense in a Time of Change.” At the heart of this plan is the elimination of 200,000 active-duty soldiers. This would bring end strength to 290,000 troops. That’s a start.

    • Gary Church

      Keep the soldiers, get rid of the expensive toys.

      • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

        Nah Gary lets send the B-2’s, drop the nukes and quit playing around with police actions and Green Zones. Go to those mountains in Afghanistan, surround it. Drop some leaflets for if you got any sense to get the Hell out of the mountains then nuke that stuff. It’s either you let a threat grow and practice in those mountains til somehow they get a nuke or biological weapon or you get rid of them.

        • Gary Church

          What are you talking about? Why are you babbling about nuking the mountains of Afghanistan? Go away and stop commenting where I am please.

        • jgelt

          If the existence of the U.S. were truly threatened by Al Quaida, the nukes would have already been out of their cradles. The point is, it’s not. The supposed Global War on Terror is merely part of a big game designed to gain undisputed control of middle-eastern oil for the U.S. Unfortunately, the U.S. omnipotence seems to be waning and GWOT appears to be blowing up in their face.

          • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

            Is it really the existence of the U.S. or the existence of the Rich and their portfolios in the U.S. ? I mean if things get bad enough here they can pack the suitcases and go and call some other place the U.S. while millions are sacrificed they got rich off of?

    • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

      Hey Don this day and time with the tech now. How long would it take to get a Draft up and running? Seems to me you do need to cut back on the Army but then you need the teens who would be drafted ‘in case’ to almost take a few months course while in High School to be Cannon Fodder until you can get more soldiers experienced enough to do the job right. Use Air Power to hold off the Chinese, Russians, Indians or whoever else the Politicians decide they want stuff from.

  • squidgod_the_unbannable_2.0

    “large-scale, prolonged stability operations”

    But not fighting, because only the Marines and Air Force can do that.

    • Gary Church

      Plenty of 101 and 2 division guys who will slap you up the side of the head if you said that to their face. They can fight- you better believe it.

  • Gary Church

    My concern is putting thousands of soldiers into the job market. These people will have trouble adjusting- I sure did- and infantry is always in short supply when you need them most. I say cut back on the cold war toys and keep the soldiers. Cut back on OFFICERS! Way way too many of them. Like Ike said, “The Sergeant is the Army.”

    • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

      Hey did you have any nice trips into the Human Resources for a complaint against you? I had a few and I wasn’t in the Army I could imagine how somebody who had been in combat with their life on the line for this country would have in HR, the Vice President was alongside and he asked me what I thought of the KKK. Did not quite like my answer. But far as Jobs doesn’t really matter whether in combat or not these days, there aren’t none that can pay to keep you afloat for the most part if you can find one. Sure McDonalds would put somebody who had been handling ordanance over the immigrant who they can con into working 7 days a week. Well we build this country on money so money will make it vunerable when we have none as now. If we do have any to spare it is going for a building named after someone in politics.

      • Gary Church

        No idea what you are talking about. thanks for ruining my comment.

  • Craig

    The Army’s biggest problem is fat. It has too many redundant headquarters, layers of commands, and excess outdated overseas bases. There is an article at G2mil that highlights this fat.

    • Don Bacon

      Excellent article at g2mil — see it here. Excerpt:

      Save Our Army From Generals
      Cut Army Fat!
      20,000 – Eliminate 7th Army HQs and half of Army bases in Germany
      14,000 – Eliminate 8th Army HQs and close the Daegu complex
      12,000 – Deactivate or downsize Sustainment Brigades
      12,000 – Eliminate four Aviation Brigades
      10,000 – Cut Army manpower at the NSA
      5000 – Eliminate four division headquarters

      also: generals
      us army 2013
      –314 for 540,000 = 1:1719
      us army 1945
      –1100 for 8.3m = 1:7,545

      • Gary Church

        Thanks for the numbers Don. So at the end of WW2 we had one general for every seventh thousand five hundred troops. Now we have one general for every one thousand seven hundred and we are not fighting the nazis for world domination. We have 5 times the number of generals we used to defeat Hitler and Japan fighting a few thousand illiterate mountain tribesmen with kalashnikovs and RPG’s.

      • 10579

        as for save our army from generals, there is a paragraph were is say the civilians should have congress look into things and have a discussion. HA the great debating society.It is because of congress that we have most of our problems. They don’t read bill, or contracts. Just go and shake the money tree and all will be fine, the people don’t count only as the bank and the lobbiests who give or funnel money to any one in congress should be charged with bribery and those in congress accepting it be charged with accepting a bribe.

    • Gary Church

      G2mil is kind of a nutty site. I do not like the V-22 but G2mil is not a good reason to agree with me. As for “fat”, like I said, the officer corps is huge. The services could lose half of the zeros and probably function better. The only toys they really need are attack subs and main battle tanks- and fighter planes that will probably only be used at altitude and distance to control drones in the future. That is what is needed- and lots of soldiers with guns. The rest of the equipment establishment, with a few exceptions, has pretty much been made obsolete by nuclear weapons and missiles.

      • Larry A. Altersitz

        “The rest of the equipment establishment, with a few exceptions, has
        pretty much been made obsolete by nuclear weapons and missiles.”

        Hmmm, where have I read that line of reasoning before? Right, 1949. In all the fighting since WWII, no one in the US has even thought about using nukes; nukes keep, hopefully, other nuke powers in fear of using one, due to retaliation. “On the Beach” starts with an Egyptian nuke attack on Israel, IIRC, that lead to the conflagration.

        T.R. Ferhenbach: “You can fly over a land
        forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life;
        but if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you
        must do this on the ground, the way the Roman Legions did, by putting your
        young men into the mud.” And he was talking about Korea.

        Yeah, closing bases, reducing the officer corps, those are perennial ideas. Do we need forward-deployed forces? How about a bigger Navy/Marine Corps to have a larger available presence? Getting smarter on what and how we buy stuff is also obvious.

        And suppose the Third World city that blows up is NYC or LA? How would the Administration act if that happens? Do you believe the Administration is prepared to send forces against “people of color” anywhere?

        • Gary Church

          “-against “people of color”

          What kind half-ass racist remark is that Larry? Of course the “Administration” is prepared to do that- they have been doing it. Jeez

          • Larry A. Altersitz

            Yes, they continued the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan, but have abandoned Iraq to its fate and will shortly do the same in A-Stan. They will still blame W for everything that goes wrong. Look at the Israeli-Palestinian problem; which party gets the overwhelming amount of pressure to “compromise”? The “Europeans” or the “people of color”?

            Do you think the Administration is prepared to “send in the troops” against African-American populations anywhere in this country, even if a governor begs for help to assist the National Guard in that jurisdiction? And I see the Administration as defining “people of color” as African-American. My rationale is when the Administration had total control of Congress in 2009-11, no effort was made to pass immigration reform, which would have benefited Hispanics more than any other group. Look at the Trayvon Martin situation, the Black Panthers in Philadelphia in the 2008 election, most of the “knockout” game perps, flash mobs that ransack businesses, etc. Is the Attorney General going full bore to investigate the perps in those instances? If not, why not?

            What has the Administration done to protect the Christian populations in the Middle East from Islamist depredations? Nothing. If it was Copts attacking Muslims in Egypt, what do you thing the Administration’ response would be? Written protests? Stamping of feet?

            Draw your own conclusions. Mine is the several states would be YOYO (You’re On Your Own) if a major black-on-non-black rioting situation arose, unless the black groups were repulsed and hunted down. Nothing I have seen the Administration do to date gives me “warm fuzzies” that the Administration would do other than talk about the situation.

          • Gary Church

            I have lived downtown in Oakland, Baltimore, and Mobile Alabama; all places with many black people and much crime. There have always been poor people in cities rioting, it is not because they are black and if anything, a black president means they are not going to get favoritism. Baltimore has a great many poor whites and I was just as worried about them as the blacks. The white boys are catching up in case you have not noticed; the thug culture is now making white the new black. 40 something percent of young white males have now been arrested compared to 50 something percent of young blacks.

            You better stop being afraid blacks and of riots in the city and worry more about the economy and the destruction of the middle class.

        • Gary Church

          “-where have I read that line of reasoning before? Right, 1949.”

          It aint 1949 anymore.

      • 10579

        while what you say is true, I also think we are sent into conflicts with out wanting to win but contain.Where are generals like Ike, Bradley Patton,and admirals as Halsey ,Nimitz, Mitcher.There are none all we have is yes men.Those who don’t know how to win a war or a small conflict.Rules of engagement,one of the best examples of how not to win a battle but sacrifice our good men and women in uniform.Prices paid for equipment has skyrocketed and yet the military is willing to leave military equipment in foriegn lands. We the American people paid for that stuff and we want it brought home. I don’t care if its obsolete.Bring it home use it for training melt it down for new equipment,don’t just throw it away.We have to preserve our resourses and recycle our equipment not throw it away just because it might cost more than it’s worth to bring home.We are not made of money and owe 17trillion plus out. This so called budget is a laugh too. please when it comes time to vote, vote because it’s the right guy for the job not a good BSr,or speaks great. look what the people put in for the last 20+ yrs.We have lost out way.Listening to oophs like J kerry and john mccain.These two men are a disaster to this nation and over due for retirement.They had better put some smart people in charge of negotiating new military contracts. the way they are written now favors the contractor and screws the military. They wouldn’t want me on the other side of the table. Enough said. MERRY CRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR, and God Bless the USA.

  • Clint

    Give that South Korea is 5-10 times more powerful than North Korea, only the ignorant and greedy, evil spinmasters cite that as a possible role for the US Army.

    • Don Bacon

      Yes. But we keep the 24th there as a ‘tripwire.’ Also families now, at Camp Humphreys. The wives and kids are tripwires too, apparently. It’s so 1950’s. Actually we didn’t put families in war zones then.

      Meanwhile Hyundai and Kia autos arrive by the thousands to hit the US auto industry.

      • Bob

        24th what?

        • jgelt

          The 24th Infantry div was stationed in Korea from the Korean War through 1957, it was deactivated in 2006. The 8th Army, with the 2nd Div is the primary trip wire at this time.

    • jgelt

      I was in a unit in the ROK that had a Twilight Zone Opsplan for when the balloon went up.

      In the process of trying to correct our plan, I was given a major overview briefing of what the first 72 hours of war would look like.

      I noted that U.S. casualties would be high and that there would be no way to extricate ourselves if things went really bad. The briefer said “That’s kind of the point. If we could get out of here, the voters would demand we did. Since we can’t, it guarantees follow on support. I like to think of the infantry as being logistical hostages.”

      More frightening to me was the fact that the Air Force, Army, and liaison briefs were very much out of line with each other. The AF made dangerous assumptions about the ground war that were almost the opposite of what the Army believed would happen.

      • Gary Church

        The problem is the country is small and a narrow peninsula which means all the North has to do is steam roll their way in for a few days and they have won. That is why there is a huge network of tank traps and all kinds of obstacles between the DMZ and Seoul. It might work and it might not. One thing is for sure- it will be a bloodbath if it happens.

        • jgelt

          My observation is close to 25 years old. Since then the South has modernized and the North has mostly stood still. Iraq gave us a good example of how Warsaw Pact gear held up against U.S. stuff. The terrain is a little more beneficial to the north, they can actually hide some things. The NK Air Force, if it bothers to fly, will be swept from the sky faster than you can say kimchi. NK armor is pathetic. A huge unresolved issue is how good and prevalent radar counter battery is in the South. The answer to that question will determine how bloody it would be and if the NK army will even be able to advance. Bottom line to all of it is, I don’t think the North believes it can win anymore. The tweaking they do seems much more to be an exercise for NK leadership to show prowess during internal leadership struggles. It really doesn’t appear to be the mentality of a regime that thinks it could be victorious in a war.

  • Phoenix07

    When discussing Army end-strength, reference is continually made to the wars we ended up fighting…..WW 2 (surprised in 1941, though kinda-sorta prepared), Korea 1950, etc, etc…..but I’ve not seen reference to the periods in between. In between WW1 & WW2 was 23 years……a few minor “skirmishes” mainly in the Caribbean (USMC) and China. From WW2 to Korea was 5 years but I suspect part of that was due to our hubris from winning WW2. From Korea to Vietnam (sending in large GPF units) was 12 years…..again filled with minor “skirmishes” in the Levant & DomRep. From Vietnam to ODS was 18 years.

    During these lengthy periods of relative peace, do we need, or can we really afford, a huge standing Army? Will a smaller, more focused force be suitable for the minor skirmishes we seem to run into during periods of relative peace? After Vietnam & before ODS, we sent fairly small forces into Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, capped SF at 55 in Central America and “won” there……and the USA didn’t collapse. Can the US Army survive going down to 400,000 or 325,000? Probably so. More importantly, we may have to since we may not be able to afford anything larger.

    Instead of focusing only on the “surprise” beginnings of previous wars, look at the periods in between our wars……are large forces necessary during those periods? Probably not.

    • Bob

      So the argument is “win the small ones, lose the big ones?”

      • Phoenix07

        No. I’m just not as worried about winning “the big one”. Big/ lengthy wars that require a massive ground force don’t come along that often….though I agree that we ought to be prepared for the day when it happens. but that can be accomplished by using our reserve component and ensuring they are kept “up to speed”. Moreover, winning “the big ones” isn’t our problem……we seem to be pretty good at that even if we lose the first few battles (Pearl Harbor, Philippines, Kasserine, TF Smith, WTC-9/11, etc, etc….).

        As for our standing, active force that we maintain during times of peace, I don’t think it needs to be THAT large. Reducing the size of the Army and USMC will allow us (force us?) to rely more heavily on diplomatic efforts since sending in ground forces is unlikely given the smaller size.

        While I don’t necessarily agree with the RAF concept, using our reduced Army to advise/ assist/ train/ mentor host-nation forces seems a far better use of limited resources which will also keep our troops out of harm’s way even in the case of the minor skirmishes.

  • whocares

    Restructuring the Army without factoring the rise of China upon America’s national interests is no way to do it. While fat abounds with the brass, those cuts don’t buy you much except good chest thumping. During the Pacific War its kind of overlooked but the Army was an expeditionary force, just like the Marines. Given the Army has zero chance of a Operation Forger in the next decades, it’s possible US ground troops will be needed in Guam, Okinawa, atolls scattered around the Pacific and of course Alaska and Hawaii. Those require sea and air mobility last I checked.

  • Publicus

    There is billions of dollars of bloat, waste and duplication in the Army budget. Too many officers – and the attendant “commands” and headquarters – account for a good portion of it. Another first-class money waster: that public relations idiocy known as the Army Ten Miler. The bloody thing has its own website and a special designated headquarters. No wonder there is no money left over to train Joe Snuffy – we have to glorify the jocks.

  • Joe Bumkin

    Bring back the Draft. We won’t have stupid 12 year wars when some Congress person, Mayor, Principal, Doctor, yada-yada’s precious son/daughter/LGBT/whatever is subject to the draft. No exemptions, just like 1973. Everyone has skin in the game.

    Besides, the Nations isolation isn’t good for the Military.