January 27, 2006 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense
"Hollow force" is a term that observers use to describe the United States' Armed Forces when military readiness declines and the services lack the resources to provide trained and ready forces, support ongoing operations, and modernize. It was first used after the Vietnam War. The concern today is whether defense funding for the future will be adequate to prevent the return of the hollow force.
The Heritage Foundation recently invited former NATO ambassador David Abshire, General Edward "Shy" Meyer, and historian Dr. Lewis Sorley to speak on this subject. The panel discussed three factors that can lead to a hollow force: the erosion of the military's intellectual capital, the decline of stable, cohesive units, and the tendency to believe that U.S. military forces are ready because they appear fine.
Ambassador Abshire stressed the importance of military education in maintaining a combat-ready force. He attributed the success of World War II's leaders to investments in military education in the 1920s and 30s. While spending on equipment and force structure plummeted, investments in intellectual capital sustained the military's ability to expand and adapt.
The Martial Spirit
Soldiers are asked to display extraordinary bravery under the most difficult conditions. Dr. Sorley emphasized the importance of maintaining that spirit through unit cohesion and an emphasis on teamwork.
It Looks Marvelous
General Meyer discussed the importance of knowing the difference between a force that merely looks good on paper and one that is properly staffed and trained. As Army Chief of Staff, General Meyer recognized that many units had insufficient troops and warned President Jimmy Carter that only four of the Army's sixteen divisions at the time were truly ready for war.
All the presenters agreed that it is far more difficult and costly to remedy a hollow force than to prevent one. In addition, a hollow military incurs unacceptable risks, not only to national security, but also to the brave service members. Congress and the administration must ensure that defense budgets come in at adequate levels.
James Jay Carafano is Senior Research Fellow for Defense and Homeland Security, Alane Kochems is Policy Analyst for National Security, and David D. Gentilli is a Research Assistant in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.