Now’s not the time for slash and burn

At least, not when it comes to active duty troop levels.

One of my frustrations when frequenting Milblogs with a naval or air centric theme is that in tough budget times, the authors and commentariat are quick to offer up ground forces on the budget alter. “Oh, put the bulk of ground forces in the reserves!”

Well, here’s the thing. In the almost seven decades since the end of World War II, we’ve found ourselves time and again involved in manpower intensive ground combat.

Recently, retired Admiral Gary Roughead and defense analyst Kori Schake published a paper from the Brookings institution recommending that, in effect, all the looming budget cuts in DoD should come from the Army, and that the Navy and Air Force should see their funding levels maintained.

First, thanks guys, for validating the suspicion many of us harbored that AirSea Battle wasn’t a doctrine, but political maneuvering to preserve Navy/Air Force budgets. One can hardly fault a former Chief of Naval Operations for being a tad proprietary when it comes to his service’s budget.*

But to wave your hands and pronounce that henceforth, wars will be high technology affairs with little or no need for manpower intensive operations is to ignore not just the last seven decades of history, but all of history.

Comes now Steve Metz and Douglas Lovelace, arguing that, like it or not, we still need ground troops.

It would be nice if the United States could simply opt out of all messy conflicts, but it cannot. Global connectivity means that conflict in any part of the world has cascading effects. These are most intense in neighboring states or regions as combatants, refugees, money, disorder, crime, and weapons flow back and forth, but in most cases will spread even further. The recent conflict in Libya shows this contagion effect, when there is no sustainable security following the defeat of an enemy regime. In the future, major conflicts anywhere will affect the global and American economies, increasing commodity prices, disrupting the supply of goods and services, and creating uncertainty. U.S. economic growth will depend, in part, on whether the global economy is generally stable or conflict-ridden. This will make it difficult or impossible for the United States to totally avoid major conflicts (although it does not mean the U.S. will intervene militarily in every major conflict). The profusion of global diasporas will also make it politically difficult to ignore major crises or conflicts.

Now, Metz and Lovelace are not unbiased, either. They work for the Army War College at the Strategic Studies Institute.  But they’re quite right that in spite of all our efforts to avoid messy operations on the ground, we seem to always end up there.

I’ll grant that one reason we tend to fight land wars is that in recent history, our naval power has been so overwhelming as to effectively preclude a naval war. And I do fully support the nation keeping a strong, forward naval presence throughout those areas of the world that hold our strategic interest. But the Navy has done poorly at managing the relatively strong support it has received. That’s not to say the Army has done much better, but before the Navy and the Air Force raid the Army’s budget, maybe they ought to consider which branch has born the brunt of the nation’s fighting for the past 70 years.


*We’d be a lot more sympathetic if his term as CNO hadn’t been such a goatrope in terms of shipbuilding.

6 thoughts on “Now’s not the time for slash and burn”

  1. The lead time for rebuilding a Navy with not enough ships is far longer now than it was in 1941, but based on their LCS foolishness, it’s hard to say we shouldn’t stop them from throwing money into the ocean for now.

    Bomber Harris and Giulio Douhet would have disagree with you. Of course, they were wrong, just as the drone-heads will be proven wrong.

    Boots on the ground will always be the way things are settled.

  2. Reblogged this on danmillerinpanama and commented:
    I agree that we still, and probably for the foreseeable future will, need “boots on the ground,” i.e., principally Army and Marine. However, and the article does address this, they should to a greater extent than presently be dealt with as though in a “war corps,” not a “Peace Corps,” as some civilian as well as military officials seem to think proper. Rules of engagement that promote multicultural sensitivity in lieu of troop safety and combat effectiveness seem to harm, rather than promote, the latter two while having at best dubious effects as to the first.

  3. Planes and ships cannot hold ground, that takes troops. It is well past time to take command back from the JAG officers and remember what war is: imposition of your will over your enemy through the application of overwhelming force.

  4. What you’re ignoring is that the political climate simply isn’t favorable to putting boots on the ground, and probably won’t be for a generation. Politicians are far more likely to approve making the rubble bounce over sending in troops, even if the latter course is more effective.

    There’s also the fact that ground forces are more granular and have a shorter pipeline. I can shave $20 million off the cost of an HBCT by cutting 2 tanks from each armor company and reduce their combat effectiveness by about 15%. If the increased combat power is necessary the necessary tanks can be sent to the unit in a matter of months. If I’m short $20 million on a submarine I don’t get 90% of a submarine, I get nothing. And it takes years to build one.

    In a perfect world we’d be arguing over how to distribute cuts over the various transfer payments in the federal budget, but we’re not. In the real world the burden of the cuts to the military should fall on the infantry because they’re the least likely to be used in the short to intermediate term and the fastest to be reconstituted.

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