Hypothetical Exercise- A Modern Mobilization Army

Over on twitter, Nathan Finney, aka The Barefoot Strategist, posed this question:

An interesting one. How would you go about doing so?

For the purposes of this little exercise, let’s posit that this is over and above an activated and federalized Guard and Reserve component.  Wiki tells us there’s just over half a million active duty Soldiers right now, with another slightly more than half a million Guard and Reserve troops, yielding a total force of about 1.1 million right now. Given that the US Army fielded roughly 8 million in World War II with only half the national population, finding another million or two warm bodies would seem to be rather easy.

But would it be?

The current military aged male population (for my purposes here I’ve rather arbitrarily selected 18-30 years) is very roughly around 30 million. Roughly 75% of that population is disqualified under current enlistment standards, either due to weight or other health issues, criminal history, or lack of education. That gives us a current population of qualified males of about 7.5 million to recruit from. Given the struggle to recruit 80,000-100,000 of this population annually, I do not think it realistic to achieve the additional numbers purely through voluntary recruitment. That leaves either conscription, or a gross lowering of the standards for enlistment. It should be noted that the standards for selective service in World War II, particularly in the last 18 months of the war, were far, far lower than today’s standards for enlistment. Many who went on to perform distinguished service in World War II would today be laughed out of the recruiter’s office.

There exists today virtually no real political support for conscription. Of course, there is no political support for such a massive expansion of the Army, either, so for the purposes of our exercise, I posit that the political support for enlarging the Army can also be seen as supporting a draft.

Another obvious pool of manpower reserves is the Individual Ready Reserves- those service members who have completed their initial obligation for active duty, or regular drills with a reserve compenent, but have not yet been completely discharged form the service. Every initial enlistment in the Army is for a term of eight years, with the first three or four typically served on active duty, and the remaining five or four in the IRR. Persons in the IRR don’t perform military duties, nor do they receive pay and allowances. But they are by law subject to recall. While some IRR troops were subjected to recall for Desert Storm, and a handful for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the last major recall of IRR troops was in the early stages of the 1950-1953 Korean War. I’ve mentioned that the Army recruits roughly 80,000-100,000 people a year. That means roughly the same number leave it annually. The greatest number of these are soldiers whose initial obligation is complete, and decline to reenlist. Of this cohort, some will not be suitable for recall. So let’s just go with a working WAG* of 50,000 over the last 5 years available for recall. That gives us a bump of a quarter million, easing the needed numbers via draft or recruiting. Theoretically, these troops have already been trained, but in reality, even after a very short break in service, the training required to again make them effective soldiers is little different than that needed to train a new recruit.

Speaking of training the troops, the existing Army training pipeline would likely prove incapable of surging production throughput to anywhere near the numbers needed. The initial training of Army troops is generally grouped by functional areas. Infantry and Armor go through training at Ft. Benning, Artillery at Ft. Sill, and support and service support soldiers go to basic training at Ft. Jackson or Ft. Leonard Woods, and then on to their specialized training at the branch school responsible for their career field, such as the Transportation Corps school at Ft. Eustis, Virginia. Further, one of the advantages of having high quality recruits with fairly long terms of enlistment (which means a fairly long term of training results in a decent return on investment) is that you need fewer military occupational specialties. You can spend the time and money to train a fire control repair technician to fix the electronics on both an Abrams, and a Bradley. But if you desperately need to raise an Army quickly, you are almost forced to limit the breadth of any one  job’s training. You’d likely have to split that fire control technician into two specialties, one for Abrams, and one for Bradleys. That means the tooth to tail ratio of our expanded army will suffer somewhat. Still, speed is of the essence, and the old rule of fast/good/cheap applies. Pick any two. In this case, it would be fast/good.

Still, the institutional schoolhouses of the Army simply cannot absorb that large an influx of new soldiers. Some skills simply must be taught at the schoolhouse (say, much of the aviation maintenance field) but a greater portion can be taught in other ways.

In World War II, much of the occupational skill training for soldiers was done in the units mobilized for the war. And here our current Army has an advantage over our forebears of 1940-1943.  The Army of 1940 faced an expansion of eventually some 2400%. There simply wasn’t a large enough trained cadre of people. Finney’s proposed expansion, however, is significantly more modest. The obvious way to leverage the existing troop formations is to use them as the cadre, the nucleus of new units. For instance, each current Brigade Combat Team might be tasked to form an entire division, with each subordinate battalion transforming itself into a BCT (or rather, forming an additional two battalions to flesh out other BCTs activated). Essentially, everybody gets bumped a paygrade. This would likely result in some decline in the quality of leadership, but that would be almost inevitable in any expansion on the scale proposed.

Another challenge for our notional expansion is simply equipping the force. As a practical matter, some things cannot be expanded in such a short time. Two years is simply not long enough to ramp up production of things like helicopters, let alone train the aircrew for them. Other major weapon systems would also face shortages. The Army has a goodly number of M1 Abrams and M2/M3 Bradleys in reserve, but not as many as might be needed. Trucks of all types would be in critical supply. That could be augmented with some civilian procurement for many roles, but the authorized equipment for many units would likely have to be changed.

The minutia of equipage, uniforms, boots, packs, and such, should not be an overwhelming obstacle, but ramping up production and maintaining quality will likely be a challenge. Producing enough rifles might be a challenge, at least in the short term.  Equipping the force with modern radios would similarly be a challenge in at least the short term.

Finally, merely finding the space to house and train this notional expanded force would be a great challenge. The US has shed much of the vast amounts of training space it acquired in World War II. Reacquiring it would be next to impossible. For one thing, many of those spaces have become developed. Ironically, even though the proposed expansion is a good deal smaller than the size of the Army in World War II, the battlespace a reasonably equipped force today needs to train is vastly greater. More space is required to effectively train a mechanized battalion today than might be needed for an entire World War II division’s maneuver elements.

So, could the US vastly expand from it’s current Army of half a million soldiers to two million soldiers in the space of two years? Probably. But it would yield a force of greatly diminished quality.** Further, absent an existential, immediate threat to the country, there is simply no political support for such an expansion.


*Wild Assed Guess

**Though quantity has a quality all its own.

14 thoughts on “Hypothetical Exercise- A Modern Mobilization Army”

  1. It seems to me that if you need to grow that fast that you should have each unit train it’s own recruits. I believe that I read somewhere that that model was used at times during WWI, WWII and Vietnam.

      1. I think I was a little vague there, as I’m a little vague myself, that is, undecided, as to what should be taught centrally, and how much can be shifted to unit training. Basic Rifle Marksmanship? Drill and Ceremonies? Physical conditioning? Land navigation? Communications and radio procedures? UCMJ?

  2. jenn1964,
    When I was Basic & Ait(’67), all of the DIs were Viet Nam vets. They were not training for any specific unit, just teaching about the Army, rank, march, arms, and discipline.
    After that, one went to Advanced Individual Training and learned to be a cook, Infantry, armor, artillery, aviation, or whatever…

  3. Any situation that is serious enough for the eunuchs in Washington to institute the draft would be dire indeed. I cannot imagine that in such a situation existing units would not already be occupied with more pressing matters than serving as training cadres. What we would have is probably like what we have had; a system that trains individual replacements.

    In two years I think it could be done, but the resulting force would be poorly equipped and living in tents, certainly not comparable in any way to the current force.

    Let’s not forget that any situation requiring such an expansion of the Army would probably require similar expansions of the Navy and Air Force. Not to mention the transformation of civilian life and society in general.

    This is one reason I advocate a permanent draft now. At least some of the infrastructure would be in place if needed, and handling draftees would not be as big a shock to the system.

    All of this is probably moot, since such a large expansion would probably tip us over the edge into social chaos, national bankruptcy and a collapse of Civilization-As-We-Knowe-It.

  4. Most large posts which have been designated as mobilization platforms such as Fort Stewart, Fort Lewis, etc, have a large infrastructure in place to house mobilizing reserve/ANG units. Also, there are a lot of little-known ANG facilities such as Camp Roberts or Fort Hunter-Ligget that would serve as training or merely basing facilities. If this hypothetical army were stood up, I think it would be realistic to scale basic and advanced training down to a modicum of skills and push them out to new units. The real issue would be cadre for them at PSG and above as well as Co Cdrs and above. Some could be split out from existing units, some could be promoted earlier, and some could come from fat staffs, but some would have to be recalled to active duty. (For example the big pool we are now releasing at captain through lieutenant colonel. And we have already seen the precedent for recalling from retirement in OIF / OEF.)

    1. Many states have places like Camp Shelby or Roberts, where people could receive basic training as the infrastructure already exists to do just that. Shelby has a MATES facility (near Hattiesburg, MS), but much of the Mobilization function could be moved to other places without compromising it. Recently retired vets could be recalled, put through the DS course and then run Basic without having to draw on the currently active force to train newbies.

      The most serious problem I see is leadership. We would end up with the sort of force that got landed in North Africa in 1942, green as grass, and poorly led. The price for leadership was paid in blood in places like Kasserine Pass.

      If we are faced with the sort of cataclysm WW2 was, I doubt we will have the chance to spool up anyway. It will probably be over within 12 months, and whoever didn’t already have what was needed to fight at the beginning, would see their end in the war that followed.

  5. Y’all might consider using us gezzers for initial entry training. We could work them up to a basic level of military training and then push them out to units to do more advanced training. Just a thought.


  6. Hire a bunch of mercenaries. I dinna see a price limit to our hypothetical. Are there a million mercs out there? If the pay is good enough, yes.

  7. One of the first assumptions you made; “The current military aged male population (for my purposes here I’ve rather arbitrarily selected 18-30 years) is very roughly around 30 million.” limits your further math by not including the female population. If it is assumed we would stand for reinstating the Draft at all, why limit it to half of the age-eligible citizens?

    1. Good question. Mostly because that is an issue I just didn’t feel like getting into. If we reinstated a draft, is there sufficient public support to draft women? What percentage of the force would/should be female? Is the military aged male population sufficient that drafting women would not be needed? Would/should women continue to be excluded from direct combat roles?

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