What Potential Army Cuts Might Mean

Posted on: March 11th, 2014 by Will Rodriguez 18 Comments
2-11 ACR conduct dismounted patrol NTC Ft Irwin Photo SPC Adam Hoppe

By now everyone has heard about the defense cuts leaked by Secretary of Defense Hagel’s staff to the New York Times.  To summarize, the Air Force is again offering up the much hated (by the Air Force establishment) A10 as its offering.  The Navy will cut back on the number of unsatisfactory and lightly armed LCS ships.  The Marines will lose 8,000 and the Army 40-50 thousand troops.  My focus here is on the impact of the Army’s sacrifice which along with the 50 thousand troops already cut is the lion’s share of defense cuts.

General Ordierno, the Army Chief of Staff recently explained the role of the Army.  Simply put he described it as “prevent, shape, win”.  “Preventing” war is enabled by being capable enough to deter enemy action.  Modern weapons, training, size and being present or the ability to be where needed are all required. 

“Shaping” is achieved by military-to military contact with our friends to help them be as capable as possible.  This can in some cases mitigate our need to have a large presence in every hotspot and can even deter conflict by making our friends capable of thwarting an enemy’s actions.

“Winning” means to decisively and dominantly defeat the enemy.  When the Army does not, the price is paid in American lives.   Cutting six brigades minimizes our ability to forward deploy troops.  It cuts the number of brigades we can surge immediately before or during conflict.  It makes preventing wars much more difficult and may even jeopardize winning them.

A 40-50 thousand troop cut is equal to about six brigades or two divisions of the Army.   This is less than half of the troops we deployed to invade Iraq in 2003 which was overall 40% less than the Army forces we deployed during Desert Storm in 1991.  Contrast our experiences in casualties and outcomes between WWII (Kasserine Pass) and Korea (Task Force Smith), with OIF (early invasion) and Desert Storm when US troops first made contact with the enemy. 

The Army is already fielding the smallest number of divisions since WWII, which is currently at ten.   The latest cut equates to about 20% of the force after already cutting about 50 thousand troops over the last couple of years.  Army officials have unofficially stated the cuts would be four brigade combat teams, two aviation BDE’s and about 20 thousand support personnel.   The plan is to maintain two each heavy armored, Stryker and light infantry brigades at the highest states of readiness along with an aviation brigade for contingencies.  That equates to a force of almost 40 thousand combat troops.  

Some say and is commonly believed, is that we will no longer conduct operations requiring large formations of troops.  That assumption requires a comprehensive analysis of what potential future threats may be or at a minimum, the agreement of future foes to only fight with small armies.  Neither exists.  Additionally, we have a very strong historical trend of not predicting where or what kind of fight the next war may be.  The fundamental assumption upon which we are justifying a massive cut to the Army is based on conjecture, not a consideration of who we may actually face.   A casual analysis of history, potential adversaries, and the world produces numerous scenarios where the US would be in need of a larger Army.

No one can discount that Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are clearly adversaries.   Russia has an over 420 thousand man Army.  Hundreds if not thousands of books have been written describing scenarios where US and Russian troops come in conflict.   Amazingly, none have been written with the whopping 10 thousand soldiers we currently have forward deployed in Germany today.  Today Russia uses the existence of Russians in Crimea to justify an invasion.  Two decades ago, Russia reminded the world their Slavic brothers in Bosnia were in need of their assistance.  Russia lacked a strong military or a common border then.  That has changed.  Today Russia can bring its Army to bear surprisingly quickly.  They were able to conduct a “snap exercise” and mass 150 thousand troops on Europe’s edge.  NATO cannot match this feat and with the rule of thumb that it takes three to one to conduct a successful offense, it would take an awful lot of time and effort to mass 450 thousand soldiers to eject Russia from anywhere.

Often discussed in the potential “big war” scenarios is Korea.  North Korea boasts a one million man army with eight million in reserves vs. South Korea’s 639 thousand and 2.9 million man reserve.  Our measly 20 thousand troops in Korea would definitely need reinforcement in the event that the “Norcs” came south.  If one does the math I described above the force ratios become even more staggering.

What often isn’t discussed in the “big war” Korea scenario is that China could easily be drawn again into a Korean War II.  As many have forgotten, it took one and a half months from the US pushing out of the puny Pusan perimeter, to being engaged in firefights with Chinese troops.  China has a 2.3 million man Army with 800 thousand in reserve.  If Korea isn’t enough of a flashpoint, China borders 14 different countries many of which most Americans have never heard of and again I must remind one that we have fought in many a place we couldn’t find on a map.  Besides Vietnam, N. Korea, Russia, India and other nations that border China, there are other nations like Taiwan, Japan and the Philippine Islands that don’t.  Taiwan is often discussed as a potential battlefield, but the Philippines boasts an active communist movement that would benefit from Chinese sponsorship causing a situation the Philippine government might be unable to address.

Iran has 500 thousand troops and 300 thousand reserves. Besides the obvious flashpoint that is nuclear weapons and a vehement anti-Israel position one can speculate scenarios where Iranian adventurism or “protecting” Shia in Iraq could lead to an armed confrontation.  We have one brigade stationed forward in Kuwait but remembering the three to one rule quickly and clearly demonstrates it is not enough.  Add to the potential flashpoints and nations above, the near infinite number of potential situations we can’t imagine as well as those as wild as a failed Mexico.   Cutting troops to pre WWII levels make less and less sense.

Missing from much of the discussion that supports cutting the Army is the fact that we had to grow the Army to meet the limited conflict we’ve been engaged in over the last decade.  Is it really wise to drop numbers below the number that wasn’t adequate before?  Most discussions that address the ability of the US to grow an Army give it short shrift or overstate our capabilities.  Conveniently forgotten is that it took two years to build an Army before WWII.  Guard units were federalized for that whole period away from their homes and underwent extensive training so as to be as capable as regular units to conduct full spectrum operations.  We also stripped our active duty formations to cross pollinate the Guard and then rebuilt those active divisions. 

Don’t get me wrong.  The Guard has done yeomen’s work over the last decade but of the hundreds of national guard deployments on only a handful  of deployments were National Guard combat arms battalions used  to conduct full spectrum operations for the majority of their deployments.  Guard units were primarily engaged in repetitive or limited tasks such as fixed point security, convoy security and training type tasks.  Those units deployed with two-three months of mobilization training often cannibalizing other units for personnel and a year or more warning of deployment.   In the event we have to engage in a major conflict and as I mentioned earlier, no scenarios count on two years of peace and foresight with the gutting and rebuilding of divisions to meet the threat.

The current school of thought discounts contingencies requiring large armies.  History has a way of making predictions wrong.  Some will discount some of these flashpoints.  They are not new and are based on real issues that have caused conflict in the past.  Have those issues been reconciled?  Many naysayers lack imagination or account for the subversive approaches by nation states when considering contingencies.  Just saying we aren’t going to fight somewhere/somehow doesn’t mean the enemy will agree with us, and in fact becomes more likely the weaker we are in that area.  To attack someone’s weakness with your strength is at the core of asymmetric warfare.

Be Respectful, Candid and Pertinent. No Posers, No Trolls…
  • KineticFury

    Remember the term “right-sizing?”

    I remember our discussion of the book “Breakout” by Martin Russ (USMC in Korean War), but would bring it up again because if I remember right, he had hard words for Truman’s USMC drama and a lax attitude in much of the army, while the Corps did everything to stay competitive.

  • OttoRommel

    The proposed Hagel cuts are meant to decimate our military, not to cut costs.  Cuts like these will be devastating to our ability to project force in any meaningful way.  If we had to staff up for a conflict, we would need to re-institute the draft, which may be one of their intentions in the first place.

    Cuts like this also don’t take into account ramp up time.  In the build up to WWII our men were training with broom handles because our weapon stockpiles were right-sized along with the troop reductions after WWI.  In addition to that, our technology advancements have changed the makeup of the military with a 3 or 4 to 1 support staff to shooter ratio which means reductions to WWII levels drastically reduces the number of actual shooters.

    We just can’t do this and expect to be able to respond to any even minor conflicts around the world much less two at the same time.  However, knowing this administration, and their opinions of what our place in the world should be, maybe that is the point.

  • islanddude58

    An excellent work up Will. All of your flashpoints are well articulated, and are indeed credible. Regarding your flashpoints in the last paragraph, I have great concerns in the unreconciled/present day world threats. Post WWII, I’m not convinced in the least that our world has ever been more unstable. With the lack of solvency in many Countries, this should send warning shot across the bow of any sovereign Country. Currency, or the lack of it is wreaking havoc, and causing a destabilization in economic dynamics, that is tied directly to a country being about to defend it’s self (ours included). That’s warning shot #1. With the “Global” war on terror, any country that isn’t procuring safety precautions, developing tactics, taking the fight to the terrorist for it’s people, and infrastructure are lunatics. Because the “Holy War” isn’t going away. If anything, with their recruitment/sympathizer movement, and the ability for them to enhance their tactics stealthily, things could turn south really quickly anywhere on the planet. That’s warning shot #2. Warning shot #3 is your work up! To have our Country not able to wage a 21st century war in multiple theaters (if necessary) is unacceptable, because battle ready is the ultimate deterrence. So, my question is; how many warning shots does our Country need to get our shit wired tight, and our heads on a swivel?

  • islanddude58 Typically we wait for the coffins to start coming back…

  • OttoRommel  
    proposed Hagel cuts are meant to decimate our military, not to cut

    I agree with you whole heartedly.  I only recently came to realize there is a sizeable group of people out there that cite cost as the primary reason to cut defense but the truth is they feel a smaller military will limit our involvement in the world.  A good thing because they see us as the primary problem.  

    They can’t say that of course.  They’d never get elected.

    For me, an inability to very specifically state what America’s foreign national security interests require our action is a dead give away.  The other dead give away is avoiding analysis of what potential threats we will face.

  • KineticFury
    I’m automatically suspicious when a Marine talks about, “lax attitude in much of the army” when it comes to Korea.  Seems to be ignorant of the Army’s tremendous success in holding the Pusan perimeter, the very outnumbered fight they fought to get there and an assorted number of other significant achievements and accomplishments.

    That said I remember, “right-sizing”, “doing more with less” which became “doing everything with nothing” as the Army was pressed into nation building in Serbia and where we remain two decades later.

  • KineticFury I suggest you read Appleman’s East of Chosin for a fair handed treatment of the Army at Chosin. Personally, after reading some of the well documented reviews I think this book is an example of why many Marines have such an unfounded and poor opinion of the Army.  If one knew the story of Task Force Faith one would be mortified by the mendacious treatment of the Army by Ross.  

    Check out this review http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/AL2ZOVIWXW32F/ref=cm_cr_pr_pdp (Lindenhurst, NY) – http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/AL2ZOVIWXW32F/ref=cm_cr_pr_auth_rev?ie=UTF8&sort_by=MostRecentReview

    This review is from: http://www.amazon.com/Breakout-Chosin-Reservoir-Campaign-Korea/dp/0140292594/ref=cm_cr_pr_orig_subj

    I found this book to be very biased, especially
    in light of recent revelations regarding the force that the Army was
    facing. Task Force Faith, which numbered 3200 men, included numerous
    South Koreans, faced a Communist Chinese Army force of 20000. They not
    only had to fight the Chinese, but temperatures below zero as well. In
    June, 2000 Task Force Faith finally received the Presidential Unit
    Citation for its efforts at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. It was
    denied to them in 1952, at the direction of Marine General O.P. Smith.
    One group that was instrumental in Task Force Faith receiving this
    Citation was the Chosin Few, an organization consisting of mainly
    Marines. Several Marines who fought there have also praised Task Force
    Faith. Retired Marine Colonel Robert Parrot has said,”May be I am
    talking to you now because of what the Army did”. Retired Marine
    General Raymond Davis, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, called the
    Army’s actions “essential” to the Marines effort. With revelations in
    mind, the recent praise given to Task Force Faith by Marines, and with
    its extreme anti-Army bias, I cannot recommend Martin Russ’ book.

    and for a more documented eval check out this review rated the most helpful critical review from http://www.amazon.com/review/R8U3U3ENCU33O/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R8U3U3ENCU33O but there are almost 20 other similar reviews.

    By http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A3VTFRP9T00AMB/ref=cm_cr_rdp_pdp

    This review is from: Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950 (Hardcover)

    Let me start out by saying that I have nothing
    but the highest respect for the United States Marine Corps. Not only
    for what they accomplished during the retreat from Chosin in particular,
    but for all the Corps has accomplished during its long and honorable
    However, if one were to take Russ’s book at face value, the
    Marines did it all alone with no help whatsoever. This is just not
    the case, as any real military historian of the capaign will attest.
    His anti-Army rhetoric detracts from the main story he is trying to
    tell, that of the Marine exploits during the retreat. Had he stuck to
    just the story of the Corps, the whole book would be somewhat more
    credible. As it is, his comments about the conduct of the army troops
    at the reservoir and in other areas show an appalling lack of research.
    His list of sources, ironically, lists books that directly contradict
    the anti-Army stories he likes to tell. I can only assume that Russ
    needed the list to try to impress his readers that he did some form of
    research. Let’s face it, the definitive work on the Campaign is THE
    CHOSIN RESERVOIR CAMPAIGN, Vol. 3 of U.S. Marine Operations in Korea.
    Even here, Russ distorts what positive information that was presented
    on Army operations. He sure used all the positive information on the
    Marines, however.
    The one glaring example of the many distortions on
    the Army relates to Company D, 10th Combat Engineers (Third Infantry
    Division) which was the largest single Army unit in the battle for East
    Hill. It comprised a total of 77 GI’s and 90 ROK troops. Russ states
    that a Marine Major came upon Company D’s encampment and found only
    one guard outside the tents, a Private Franklin Kestner. FACT.
    Franklin states that the whole Company was outside preparing for a work
    detail. Russ further states that the Marine Major was disgusted as
    the Engineers had not a single radio nor even one machine gun. FACT.
    KOREA and others) show that Company D had four 50 and five 30 caliber
    machine guns. As stated by Lt. Rosen and Private Kestner the unit had
    its full compliment of radios. Russ states that during the battle GI’s
    broke and were fleeing for their lives down the slopes. FACT. The
    only trops that seemed to disapear were the ROK troops. The Engineer
    troops fell back 250 yards and held fast under the inspired command of
    both Captain Kulbes and Lt. Rosen. In the morning, there were some 400
    dead enemy troops in front of the Engineer position. Captain Kulbes
    and Lt. Rosen were awarded Silver Stars for their leadership and
    COmpany D was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation from the Department
    of the Navy for their part in the action on East Hill. What is so
    ironic is that Kulbes, Rosen, and Kestner were all available for
    interviews should Russ really have wanted to be objective. But then
    they were Army. Even the books Russ lists as references refute his
    commentary on Company D. Again, obviously he did little or no reserach
    on any information presented on the Army units. His distortion of the
    facts is an insult to the ten brave infantrymen of Company D who gave
    their lives that night.
    There is no need to comment on Russ’s
    unjustified and ill-informed accusations on the conduct of Task Force
    Faith and General Walker and the 8th Army. Suffice it to say that Russ
    and his myhopic view of the mission of the 10th Corps shows again his
    lack of objectivity and research. it is the considered opinion of most
    military experts that had not the Chinese 80th Division been diverted
    to attack the Army’s 31st RCT, the Marines might not have been able to
    hold Hagaru-ri. This could have doomed the 1st Marine Division.
    conclusion, Russ tells a nice folksy story about the Marine retreat.
    He did not, however, have to spend useless time vilifying the Army. I
    was very proud to have served in Combat during the Korea Conflict as a
    member of the Army. We fought just as hard and bled just as freely and
    died just as bravely as any Marine.

  • KineticFury

    majrod KineticFury Didn’t mean to focus on Army vs. Marine Corps in Korea, but rather the mindset and/or state of readiness during “peacetime.”

    Again, not saying the Corps was always better in every way, it was just the first example I thought of when we talk personnel cuts with the reason being “we don’t do conventional wars.” Military history is chock full of “smart people” thinking that some technology, tactics, and even professional armies were outdated or not needed. 
    Didn’t mean to focus on Army vs. Marine Corps in Korea, but rather the mindset and/or state of readiness during “peacetime.”

    Even after WWII few people really thought there would be a significant conventional war in the near future.

    I believe Russ brought up a couple of those issues in the book (briefly), which is why I mentioned it. In regards to my Marine Corps references, it’s probably because I’ve read more the USMC in the Pacific than anything else. So you could say I’m biased, just my default. Glad I have you and others around to balance things out more.

  • KineticFury

    majrod KineticFury Oh and sometime, if you get a change, would like to get your thoughts/opinions on the Balkans/Serbia and US involvement from ’90s to present.

    Request For Info… Ha ha. Just in case you ever run out of topics!

  • ArcticWarrior

    So we will be down to essentially 8 Divisions…today out of the Ukraine they say 80,000 Russian troops, 180 tanks and 200 aircraft are all staged at the door step ready for the flag to drop…and we will be down to essentially 8 Divisions….

  • KineticFury majrodI was never a fan of the Bosnia affair.

    I’m not saying we should have done nothing but why do we have to always do most?  Consider that Europe has for ages promised to increase defense spending but has always proportionately spent less (25 vs. 4% of GDP).  Europe has been on US defense welfare since WWII.

    It’s similar to the unPC truth that many on welfare come to expect it and create generations of welfare receivers whop expect it.  Europe largely doesn’t pay for the Bosnia mission so why end it or devote energy to solve it?

    Then there’s Madeline Albright’s insight into another school of thought, “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”  There are many who see saddling nation building as a military task as a useful role for “folks not doing anything”.  It’s brilliant and insidious.  By adding that mission to the military menu, you force the military to focus on other roles besides its primary mission.  This is desired because a weaker military is less able to achieve its mission.  That’s a desired goal for those that think America’s military is the source of the world’s woes.

  • KineticFury majrodI’ve seen you post for awhile.  You strike me as a fair, even keeled Marine.  I don’t think you were consciously trying to defame the Army.  The problem is the Corps does a very poor job of teaching history that isn’t Marine history.  I love Marines and hold them in the highest regard but it’s amazing that such a fine force can be so insecure.

    Better organizations always foster esprit.  Esprit is a good thing in many ways.  Numerous stories state cohesion IS a key factor in unit’s combat performance and endurance.  Building esprit does include a certain level of propaganda and some humans are just more accepting of propaganda than others.
    I think you picked a bad example to demonstrate the impact of peace on America’s investment in ground forces after a war.  (FWIW, the Marines also had to scrape and adapt to get Marines to Korea who arrived well after Army units fought a successful withdrawl to the Pusan perimeter, a subject ignored in most Marine history.)

    Our greatest enemy after war have been the been counters who typically  ravage the Army to pay for a peace dividend ignoring the historical fact that the Army pays 80% of the price in blood for our nation’s wars.  Frankly I don’t see this changing.  It’s acceptable as long as it’s someone else’s kid and it’s been someone else’s kid for a long time.

    Another enemy is America’s technophile culture that is apt to believe things like nuke’s, drones and special ops makes large wars unlikely, ignore they haven’t been right yet.  Then add that America’s tech love is fed by certain branches.  Strategic bombing’s WWII effectiveness has always been overstated and up until recently the Air Force has consistently polled as America’s most important branch yet it has consistently failed to be the decisive arm.  To be fair I can’t fault the Air Force’s propaganda arm.  The Army has always and continues to be the military’s hands down worse public messager.  It’s http://sofrep.com/22031/happy-238th-birthday-us-army/.
    Which brings me full circle.  The Army bashing (what Russ does is bashing, not ribbing) by Marine’s is also a cultural thing.  Some is understandable (Truman), most isn’t.  Better people can raise themselves above it but even the Corps last SMMC put “Breakout” on his reading list.  He just sowed a whole new crop of Army hating Marines. 

    BTW, always appreciate your thoughtful participation in the blog and the thoughtful, educated and vigorous debate.  Iron sharpens iron.

  • ArcticWarrior Yes, but we have a new AT Javelin missile warhead on the drawing board.  When it hits an enemy tank it blinds them with a flurry of EBT food stamp cards.  Hopefully the crew stops to collect them at a minimum our troops have an opportunity to withdraw.

  • ArcticWarrior

    majrod ArcticWarrior Ha!!! that is funny…runs counter to the all business, no sense of humor MajRod we have all come to love over the years….

  • steelhorse

    well said they destroyed the economy made more people dependent on goverment now their destroying the military has anybody seen the movie red dawn

  • YankeePapa

    “…Your lack of faith is disturbing…  Your government is trying to expand social programs and you are implying that we might someday relive the losses and humiliations of the Kasserine Pass and Task Force Smith.  
    …Such thinking is at best hopelessly outdated… if not outright atavistic.  Your government can control any and all threats with diplomacy… or worst case… with sanctions.   It would be very much in your interest if you did not spread ‘alarm and despondency…’  Your site will be reviewed periodically to make sure that no further anti-social comments are posted…”
    Thank you for your service,

    -Big Brother-

  • YankeePapa
    LOL, I’m used to being watched…

  • Riceball

    Sadly, this is the way that it’s been since at least the Clinton years, they cut military spending but at the same they maintain or even increase the op-tempo, that along with stricter regulations causes all branches of the military to lose good people because they get tired of constantly being deployed and never seeing home, or they get fed up with all of the petty regs designed to keep the military small. We already saw some of this fatigue as units were rotating in out of Iraq & Afghanistan after only a brief rest back home because we just didn’t have enough troops to fight two wars while maintaining our commitments elsewhere in the world. The worst thing about this, aside from the stress and strain that this places on our troops, is that our opponents know that we’re stretched thin and that our troops our tired and along with weak political will know that they can get away with a lot more than they could have ever before.