Our Army’s Headed for Collapse | POLITICO Magazine


When markets crash, when economic indicators fall by double digits, investors panic, stocks drop like rocks and governments teeter on the brink of collapse. Unable to understand the sudden break in prosperity, the public asks what happened; politicians hold hearings, financial institutions are investigated and, eventually, “too-big-to jail” financial wizards go to prison. At least, that’s what happened in the years after the 1929 crash.

Similar conditions emerge when the United States Armed Forces are defeated in ways that the government and the media cannot conceal. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, captains and majors like Matthew Ridgway, James Gavin and Bruce Clarke—men who would have otherwise ended their careers in obscurity—were promoted, eventually rising to flag rank in time to command the men who came ashore at Normandy in June 1944, 70 years ago this week.

Yet, in most cases, markets don’t suddenly collapse and neither do armies. Instead, armies, like markets, decline gradually. The public seldom notices until it’s too late.

In October 2013, Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno claimed that cuts in the Army’s total annual budget of $125.2 billion, including $37.8 billion for readiness, made it impossible for an active Army of 550,000 troops to provide more than two brigades ready to fight. In March 2014, when 80,000 Russian armored combat forces were poised to invade Ukraine, the U.S. Army was incapable of deploying an effective combat maneuver force to Europe or anywhere else.

How did this happen? How could an Army of 550,000 with 32,000 troops in Afghanistan’s forward operating bases fail to provide more than two combat-ready brigades, roughly 8,000 men under arms, to deploy and fight?

The answer is deceptively simple: It’s by design.

In 1950, before the outbreak of the Korean War, the U.S. Army had 593,167 soldiers on active duty. Despite the impressive numbers, Army divisions contained hollow brigades and regiments, units with only two-thirds of their combat power. Armor was almost non-existent and artillery was sparse. Task Force Smith, a force of riflemen with light, towed artillery from the Army’s 24th Infantry Division, was quickly defeated and overrun by 90,000 attacking North Korean troops with 300 T-34/T-85 tanks in July 1950.

But the architects of the defeat were not President Harry Truman, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson or the U.S. Congress. In 1950, the architects of defeat were the four-star generals who wanted an Army designed to provide jobs for generals, not to fight. To cope with the crisis the hollow Army created, Truman added 400,000 soldiers to the Army, including thousands of World War II veterans.

Fast forward to the contemporary Army and it bears a discomfiting resemblance to the Army that deployed to fight in Korea. Today’s Army, with an annual base budget, in fiscal year 2014, of $129.7 billion and a force of 550,000, is incapable of fighting a 21st century opponent with armies, air forces, air defenses and missile forces. And yet, when you include the estimated $30-40 billion for “overseas contingency operations,” today’s Army easily outspends the Army that by 1953 totaled 1 million men and fielded 201,000 soldiers in Korea.

Today, given the structure of the contemporary Army, it’s doubtful that $134 billion—the budget of the 1953 Army, in 2014 dollars—would buy that same level of force. Consider that during World War II, 11 million American soldiers were commanded by just 4 four-star generals. Today, the Army of 550,000 has 11 active-duty four stars, each of which comes with massive amounts of overhead. This makes no sense. If the Army were a rowboat with nine passengers, four would steer, three would call cadence and two would man the oars.

Retired colonel Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, a Ph.D. and the author of five books on military affairs. His newest book, Margin of Victory: Why Some Nations Win and Others Lose Wars, will be out next year.

via Our Army’s Headed for Collapse | POLITICO Magazine.