Reducing Stress on an Overstretched Force
Whether or not the U.S. military is large
enough to perform its assigned missions is being debated once
again. Given that American soldiers will not be coming home from
Iraq on time, the answer seems to be an emphatic "no." However,
before the size of the force is decided, its missions must be
defined. The emerging capabilities gap exists because the force is
being used too extensively. With the war on terrorism, operations
in Afghanistan, fighting in Iraq, and peacekeeping in the Balkans
all ongoing, some forces must be held aside in case North Korea
starts a war. The United States is now being pressured to deploy
peacekeepers to Liberia, and this is in addition to enduring U.S.
peacetime responsibilities such as deterring large-scale aggression
in vital regions of the world, maintaining alliance commitments,
and ensuring access to the high seas.
bridge the capabilities gap, the United States should focus its
military resources on missions that are vital to the nation.
Specifically, it must field a force capable of fighting the
immediate war on terrorism, fighting with little or no warning in
unanticipated places, maintaining adequate capability to deter
aggression against America's interests and allies, and contributing
to homeland defense. Only to the extent that America's capabilities
exceed its ability to fulfill these missions should it consider
contributing military resources to other non-vital missions.
Moreover, the long delay in rotating troops out of Iraq
demonstrates that the United States does not have enough forces for
even its primary missions.
Adding Manpower Is Not Enough
While U.S. forces are not adequate to sustain the current
rate of deployment, simply adding manpower is not necessarily the
answer. Clearly, the U.S. needs more capabilities. However, while
adding manpower may seem like the quickest way to fill the
capabilities gap, it is not the best way to solve the problem.
- People are
The most effective weapons in the U.S. armed forces are
soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. They are also,
understandably, the most expensive. Only about a third of the
defense budget is spent on developing and buying weapons. Most of
the rest goes to personnel and operational costs. Maintaining
personnel beyond the number needed to fulfill U.S. national
security requirements takes resources away from important efforts
such as modernization and transformation.
- The result can
be inappropriate deployments
A perceived excess of manpower tempts political leaders to
deploy forces on operations that have little or nothing to do with
U.S. national security. After the Cold War, this perception
arguably contributed to heavy U.S. involvement in peacekeeping
efforts in places like Haiti, Somalia, and the Balkans.
- It is not the
only measure of capability
Although manpower end-strength is important, it does not
by itself determine capabilities. For example, a force trained and
equipped for the Cold War, regardless of size, would be
inappropriate for the war on terrorism. Similarly, a military unit
using old technology may not be as capable as a unit half its size
using new technology. Structuring the force to reflect modern
national security requirements accurately is more important than
investing resources in outdated and wasteful organizations.
Stress in the Force
Although adding large numbers of personnel to the ranks
may not be appropriate at this time, a number of steps should be
taken to alleviate the stress currently being put on the force.
- Reduce Balkan
peacekeeping commitments and resist similar deployments
Approximately 8,000 U.S. troops are deployed for Balkan
peacekeeping. This is the functional equivalent of 24,000 troops
out of service, because for every deployed troop, one is preparing
for deployment and another is recovering from deployment. Worse,
many of those deployed to the Balkans are in high-demand
specialties. While the Bush Administration has acknowledged these
problems, no plan is in place to withdraw significant numbers of
U.S. peacekeeping forces in the near term. While these missions may
give some real-world experience, troops participating in non-combat
missions are not training for combat. More important, because
sister units train or recuperate, every soldier deployed in the
Balkans is, in effect, three that cannot contribute to the nation's
other vital needs. Deploying troops to places like Liberia would
only exacerbate these problems.
- Reduce the
non-warfighting responsibilities of uniformed service members
Congress sets a ceiling on the number of active uniformed
personnel in each service, which totaled approximately 1.4 million
in 2003. Therefore, every service member in a non-warfighting role
is one less soldier in the fighting force. Obviously, some
uniformed personnel are needed to fulfill certain non-warfighting
missions, but those activities should be kept to a minimum.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has identified 300,000 such
positions that civilians could fill. Congress should give the
Pentagon the management flexibility to begin shifting its resources
toward its core responsibility: defending the vital interests of
the United States.
- Invest in
The U.S. military has neglected to invest in many of the
capabilities that have been in the highest demand in recent years.
These include special operations units, reconnaissance assets,
military police, units that specialize in chemical and biological
agents, Patriot anti-missile batteries, electronic warfare assets,
and in-flight refueling aircraft. The United States also needs more
sealift and airlift capability, as is painfully clear each time the
United States moves high volumes of assets. Bringing supply and
demand of these critical assets into balance would improve both the
efficiency and capability of the military.
Ultimately, the United States may simply need more
uniformed personnel to meet all of its defense needs, especially to
decrease dependence on the reserves, but those already in uniform
should first be utilized more efficiently. By making smart
investments and freeing wasted resources, the U.S. armed forces can
increase their capability in the near term and be better prepared
to fight and win America's wars.
Jack Spencer is Senior Policy Analyst
for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom
Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage