The inadequacies of budget allocations for the American military over the past too many years have been the subject of many reports and observations by national security experts. The effects have been noted amply, but recovering the combat dominance of our armed forces has not been a serious pursuit. I cannot address the needs of the other services, serious though I believe them to be. I can address three requirements a new administration might consider regarding the condition of the U.S. Army.
First is a requirement to recognize that an Army of 450,000 is too small; that number cannot guarantee a sustained effort to satisfy a needed national military strategy. An immediate authorization for a strength increase of 100,000, and the money to pay for it, would allow for the beginning of a recovery. An authorization to recall officers and NCOs being relieved to meet the 450,000 figure would recover the loss of experienced leadership now occurring and provide relief from the laws and regulations that cause the problem of retaining the non-deployable personnel, recently identified as about 150,000 for the total Army.
The second requirement is to establish a stable organization capable of dealing with existing international threats and sustaining commitments that require military action. There are two examples of times the Army was built to satisfy those conditions. The first was during World War II, when Gen. George C. Marshall Jr. designed the Army needed and built some 90 divisions, all but one of which were committed to combat roles before the fighting ended. The last division had already been alerted to deploy for its role in an assault on the Japanese homeland. Construction of that Army took over three years before it was ready for the June 1944 invasion of Europe and the subsequent planned assault on Japan, but it accomplished its combat mission in Europe in only 11 months and was well-prepared for the rest of the war that loomed in the Far East.
The second was the Cold War Army designed by Gen. Creighton W. Abrams following the Vietnam War. He obtained an agreement with the president and Congress for 16 divisions and an end strength of 780,000. That Army stabilized for about 20 years, contributed markedly to the deterrence of war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact and mounted the only truly successful military campaigns of the balance of the 20th century.
It was a versatile organization designed principally for the resumption of conventional mechanized war in Europe, but it was capable of conducting two airborne campaigns in Grenada and Panama and the armored warfare that re-stored the government and the independence of Kuwait. That Army, particularly after 1980, was staffed, equipped and trained to conduct the operations that are now paradigms of how to conduct war that will be studied for many years in the future. It was designed by Army leaders and employed by Army decision-makers, fortunately not plagued by ”whiz kids,” national security experts or government officials in high-level positions.
I do not know what size the Army should be, but I believe today’s Army leaders can identify the structure and organization needed to cope with today’s international situation. I expect the end strength to be closer to the 780,000 Cold War figure than to the 450,000 now programmed, perhaps around the 650,000 recommended in the early 90s after the Cold War ended.
World War II is the prime example war-winning strategy. After three years of bombing, anti-submarine warfare and land power action that set the stage for the D-Day invasion, Germany surrendered when their army was defeated and their nation occupied. But the war in Europe was actually won only after four of five more years and Allied military governments established a democratic republic in West Germany that became a significant ally. The war with Japan ended militarily with the employment of two atomic bombs, but it also was won during the five more years of occupation and the development of another allied nation.
A third requirement is recognition that wars are won when our joint forces are committed. The Air Force and Navy are absolutely essential for the conduct of modern warfare, but the Army and Maries are the conclusive forces because they defeat enemy land power, occupy geographic objectives, and establish control of populations. No service can win wars alone. Those who think air power, naval blockades, bombs, missiles, drone strikes and special operations raids are individually effective means of war-winning always come up short. The enemy is punished tactically but inconclusively, even over long periods of time.
Failure to defeat enemy ground forces and establish control of their populations caused us to settle for less in both Korea and Vietnam. That kind of failure is plaguing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Land power forces, not necessarily American, will have to settle both current conflicts. Preferably those forces will be provided by a coalition of Arab nations that do not wish to impose Island control of the World through violent and terrorist means, but want to solve the internal Islamic problems that now exist. We can help them, but we should not have to do it for them.
Gen. Frederick J. Kroesen, USA Ret., formerly served as Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and commander in chief of U.S. Army Europe. He is a senior fellow of AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare and 1st Vice President of the American Security Council Foundation.
Reprinted with permission from ARMY Magazine, Vol. 67 #1. The Association of the United States Army.