Before 9-11, the US Army was organized into thirty-three large Brigades, each incorporating three maneuver Battalions, with most combat support units concentrated at the Divisional level. After 9-11, these units were progressively reorganized into forty-five smaller Brigades, each with only two maneuver Battalions, but each Brigade had all required combat support elements. It was thought that this reorganization would increase flexibility by better enabling Brigades to be rotated overseas for long-term sustained combat operations. These smaller Brigades were expected to operate autonomously in low density, low threat counterinsurgency operations. Each self-contained Brigade had organic artillery and helicopter Battalions, plus all other supporting elements. Four of these Brigades were administratively incorporated in each reorganized Division. Today, the US Army’s order of battle is comprised of ten reorganized Divisions, incorporating twenty Heavy Brigades, equipped with Abrams tanks and Bradley armored fighting vehicles, four Mechanized Infantry Brigades, whose troops are mounted on Stryker wheeled armored personnel carriers, and twenty-one straight-legged Infantry Brigades, of which six are Paratroop and four are Air Mobile.
US Army Heavy Brigades each field fifty-seven Abrams main battle tanks. These down-sized Heavy Brigades can only deploy about half as many tanks as Cold War US or Soviet Tank Brigades or current Israeli reserve Tank Brigades. Consequently, the US Army can currently deploy no more than 1,254 Abrams tanks in organized combat units. This represents only about 18% of the Abrams tanks remaining in the US arsenal.
In addition to these active units, the US National Guard includes 36 maneuver combat Brigades, of which eight are Heavy, two are Mechanized Infantry and 26 are straight-legged Infantry. The National Guard can deploy another 456 Abrams battle tanks.
In 2012, the US Army’s annual budget will be 216 billion dollars. This includes a supplement for on-going combat operations. However, it does not include a proportionate share of world-wide DoD activities, which would further increase this by about another 25%. The annual cost required to maintain one US Army/National Guard combat Brigade (plus a proportionate share of all supporting elements) is, therefore, 2.67 to 3.34 billion dollars per year.
The US Army and National Guard employ volunteers, who are heavily recruited, receive enlistment bonuses and, thereafter, are reasonably well-paid. These personnel receive excellent benefits. They can accrue full retirement at 50% salary plus exceptional lifetime family health care benefits after only twenty years of active service. Health care benefits provided to active and retired personnel and their families now represent over 10% of the total American defense budget! Most receive generous retention bonuses each time they re-enlist. One major consequence of the use of a voluntary personnel system is continuous rotation of personnel, with an average annual overall turnover of about 18%. The US military pay scale is primarily keyed to rank, not time in service. Billets are assigned to a specific rank. This creates a continual need for constant promotion and has generated a tendency toward rank inflation. About 14% of all personnel are commissioned officers, which is a disproportionately high ratio. This high turnover and the constant need to train individuals to prepare them for promotion mean that there is exceptional personnel disruption within most units, particularly because a limited number of units with long-term personnel stability have to be generated for overseas combat deployments. The result of this continual turmoil is that a large portion of the active and reserve force structure is actually at partial strength, and that the majority of active units lack training and cohesion and are not combat ready. Two thousand years of military experience have shown that volunteer militaries have been able to sustain only about one-third of its active force structure continuously combat ready at full strength. Given current US policy to limit the recall of National Guard units to active duty once every five years, this means that the US cannot sustain deployment of more than 22 down-sized Brigades.
The US Army is designed to project ground forces against remote foes. It requires twelve to thirteen very large, highly specialized roll on-roll off (RO-RO) ships to transport the organic vehicles and helicopters of one Division, plus additional RO-ROs for the vehicles of supporting units and additional container ships and tankers to provide combat supplies for sustained operations. Assuming a US based Division was at 100% strength and fully trained, it would require nearly one month to move it to CONUS ports, load the ships (assuming they were also immediately available and fully operational), move the ships across inter-continental distances, unload them at a secure, well-prepared and friendly port, crew the vehicles with troops transferred by mobilized commercial airliners (assuming the availability of secure nearby airfields), prepare the vehicles and deploy for combat. In reality, no CONUS Division is immediately combat ready with all troops on hand. Organizing land transport to ports and making ships operational will also take additional time. Therefore, as proven during Operation Desert Storm, it would require eight weeks to fully deploy one active US Army Division overseas and about four months to deploy a Corps consisting of three full-strength active Army Divisions plus all assigned supporting units.
The combat readiness of most National Guard reserve units is far lower than that of active units. First, they experience the same high annual level of personnel turnover; but, more significantly, a very large proportion of their personnel enter reserve service after only minimal basic training or after active duty in a different occupational specialty. Consequently, National Guard combat units have consistently required at least four months to become combat ready, one month for warning prior to activation, plus at least three months of individual/crew/unit training prior to actual deployment.
The US Army maintains an extremely large inventory of armored fighting vehicles, wheeled vehicles, helicopters, spare parts, and ammunition that vastly exceeds the immediate needs of its existing order of battle. Theoretically, these resources could be used to rapidly expand the order of battle, or they could provide exceptional sustainability for units experiencing heavy material casualties during sustained combat. However, the reality is that the US Army cannot quickly increase its order of battle because of a lack of trained specialized personnel. It takes about eight months to generate cohesive high quality combat ready units, assuming the use of raw recruits first entering basic training and the availability of experienced and qualified NCOs and officers. Even more time would be required if qualified NCOs and junior officers were not available. However, if existing troops were to be retrained to meet shortages in needed occupational specialties, this time could probably be reduced to three to five months. Similarly, the long proven Achilles heel of a voluntary military is its inability to replace the combat casualties in high risk specialties, such as AFV crews, infantry, combat engineers, and artillery men. In order to field three Divisions in sustained intense combat, a fourth Division would, likely, have to be reduced to cadre strength in order to provide immediate combat personnel replacements. Therefore, the actual combat sustainability of the US Army is far more limited than its inventory of vehicles than its vast supply of ammunitions and spares would suggest.
The unarguable reality is that the US Army is relatively small, disproportionately expensive, slow to mobilize and deploy, and has very limited sustainability for intense force-on-force combat. This can be best illustrated by comparing the combined forces, costs and capabilities of the US Army, US National Guard and US Army Reserve to that which can be generated by Israel, which has an exceedingly cost effective military system based on universal conscription and compulsory reserve duty. Moreover, the IDF’s forces are designed solely for regional self-defense, not force projection. They are also suitable for comparison because they are very well trained, technologically advanced and well-equipped. It is estimated that, within ninety-six hours, the IDF can currently mobilize thirty-three Tank Brigades, five Paratroop Brigades and twenty-five Mechanized Infantry Brigades. Another nine Tank and three Mechanized Infantry Brigades could likely be mobilized within twelve to twenty-one days using very experienced older reserves. These seventy-five combat Brigades nearly equal the combined order of battle of the US Army and National Guard. The IDF can deploy almost three times as many tanks as the US Army and National Guard, but it has far fewer helicopters which are operated by the Israeli Air Force. The Israelis employ heavy assault infantry carriers and combat engineering vehicles, plus extended range non-line-of-sight precision missile systems that the US Army lacks. Most importantly, Israel can deploy a large portion of its ground forces almost immediately, whereas it would take the US Army four months versus four days to deploy a much smaller and less heavily armored force in the Middle East. The annual cost of a US Army/National Guard combat Brigade (including a proportionate share of all supporting arms) was previously shown to be 2.6 to 3.3 billion dollars per year. The estimated Israeli cost is only 0.09 billion dollars per year. The US currently spends about 30 times as much as Israel annually on its Army, yet can deploy only 19% as many combat Brigades in the Middle East, taking 120 versus 4 days. Although Israel has a proportionately smaller inventory of ammunition, spares and war reserve vehicles, its actual combat sustainability over the short-term is actually comparable to that of the US because neither has more than limited numbers of available replacement personnel.
By comparison to other leading international ground forces, the hard truth is that the US Army is vastly over-priced, catastrophically slow to deploy and undersized. Following a national strategy that would commit the US to conducting major ground combat or sustained and effective nation-building using an active volunteer army is simply unaffordable and/or unachievable!
It is inherently obvious that the US should adjust its national strategy to reflect the actual capability that can be generated by an affordable army. National strategy should reflect the reality of power not illusions. The US cannot afford to conduct major ground combat or nation-building, since this would require a far larger order of battle than currently exists at an unaffordable cost. If these missions were no longer components of our national strategy, then the order of battle of our active and reserve Army ground forces can be considerably reduced. The National Guard would, obviously, continue to have a major domestic role, i.e., disaster relief, civil unrest, homeland security, etc. However, maintaining National Guard combat units that require almost as much time to activate and get combat ready as units generated from scratch is nonsensical. All reserve National Guard combat units should be disbanded, but additional logistics and support function should be shifted to the Reserves. The active order of battle of the US Army should be reduced to a total of only eighteen Brigades (nine Armored, one Mechanized Infantry, one Paratroop, one Air Mobile, and six straight-legged Infantry), each with three maneuver Battalions. These Brigades should be organized into six Divisions, all based in the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii. Two Corps and one Army level headquarters would still be maintained in order to sustain operational and strategic command skills. There would be no change in the current special forces capability.
By adjusting our national strategy to be consistent with affordability and realistic capability, the number of active duty Army personnel could be reduced by 45% and the number of National Guard/Reserve billets reduced by about 33%. What the US now fields is an over-priced, under-sized and slow response Army that is a useless tool of policy.