Michael O’Hanlon takes a stab at reducing defense spending

Opinion: How — and where — to cut defense – Michael O’Hanlon – POLITICO.com.

Not a very specific proposal, just broad strokes. I think we all realize that any serious attempt to get federal spending under control will cost the DoD real dollars. The question becomes, what to cut, what to keep?

And the most likely candidate for cuts is ground forces. They are expensive, in the worst possible way. They are by definition manpower intensive, and that manpower has very long term costs associated with it, such as medical care and retirement benefits.

Further, there is little domestic political support for further deployments. While support for the current wars is surprisingly strong after a decade of war, that doesn’t mean it will last forever. And it would take a rather extraordinary threat to provide support for a new deployment.

That’s where risk comes in. With fewer deployments, the argument for large ground forces is weakened. But weaker ground forces available, the temptation for other powers to engage in operations that might cause us to deploy grows. And then, our smaller forces would face greater challenges on the battlefield.

I think most people realize that our initial force for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was too small. It was just barely large enough to destroy the Iraqi Army and Republican Guard decisively, but far too small to be an occupying force (and frankly, the Army didn’t really expect to occupy Iraq for 10 years).

Part of the reason the initial force was so small was logistical. There are only so many troops you can support through Kuwait in a short period of buildup. Another part was geopolitical. Turkey declined to allow the Army to simultaneously attack Iraq from the north from Turkey. But part of the size of the force package was also that we just didn’t have as many troops available as we had 12 years earlier in Desert Storm.

My ideal army (and Marine Corps) would be about twice as big as it is now, with about half as many missions. But that’s a fantasy.

The real question is, how small an Army can we have, and not take unacceptable risks on future battlefields?

2 thoughts on “Michael O’Hanlon takes a stab at reducing defense spending”

  1. Not only do the budget contraints impact the size of the ground force, but dollars drive the structure of the ground forces as well. I can’t cite specific dollars, but when you consider how much it takes to operate a heavy brigade compared to a light brigade, the difference is huge, though the cost of manning alone is roughly similar. The cost of fuel, ammunition and repair parts is exorbitant. Last time I priced a tank training sabot round, it was $700 and that was ten years ago. Each crew probably fires more than 40 training rounds to qualify through platoon level; twice a year (x 58 tanks in an HBCT). We won’t even talk about fuel or repair parts beyond $250k for a “new” (meaning rebuilt many times) power pack, and these go down quickly. When it comes time to look for cost savings, suddenly those infantry brigade combat teams look better and better compared to heavy brigades. Thing is, there is not a lot of depth left; we have already cut the armored force (meaning tanks, not reconnaissance) by well over 60% since the Gulf War, while standing up a substantial number of reconnaissance squadrons that are understrength and undergunned.

  2. The problem is we are hollowing the force again. That is a traditional activity for the US, alas. Next time the result will most likely be lethal for us, and not being ready for combat that time will probably cost us the war. We had two oceans that insulated us from the Axis powers in 1941, and were able to build up. It took two years to reach a decisive level of hardware to fight the war and it cost dearly when the USAAF was emphasized and the Army limited to 90 divisions (Some say it risked losing the war, in fact).

    I’m with Brad here. The Regular Army should be about double what it is, and the reserve components about 3 times what they are. As things stand now, I wouldn’t give a fig for our chances against even a well equipped second rate power much less a first class opponent (Iraq wasn’t even close to being second rate).

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