Can the U.S. Army Meet Its Key Obligations?
by John R. Deni, Ph.D.
The U.S. Army’s missions are to shape the international security environment, prevent conflict through deterrence, and—if necessary—fight and win the nation’s wars. Unfortunately, the prospect of steep cuts in the Army budget, further reductions in forward presence of U.S. soldiers overseas, and calls for drawing down the Army to the same size it was in 1940 will make achieving these missions difficult in the near-term and potentially impossible in the long-run.
When he was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton used to enjoy pointing out to senior civilian and military leaders the folly of trying to predict the next conflict or contingency. He would rattle off a series of military conflicts the United States had fought in over the last two decades or more, and then conclude by noting that a year or two prior to each of those, nobody would have predicted U.S. involvement.
Today, some analysts believe their crystal balls are somehow more accurate, and that the most likely military conflicts will involve only the Air Force or the Navy in some sort of effort to gain access to denied areas in the Far East or the Persian Gulf. Not only is this kind of reasoning likely naïve—and incomplete insofar as it fails to provide an answer to the question of “access for what?”—but it threatens to undermine the military’s ability to provide options to the Commander in Chief by encouraging defense planners to place too many eggs in a technology-laden, stand-off-driven basket.
When faced with a crisis—or a situation that could become a crisis—Presidents seek options that offer more than simply a cruise missile attack or a bombing run. An active-duty Army that lacks depth and full-spectrum capability, a robust military-to-military engagement budget, and both a permanently-based and a rotationally deployed presence overseas threatens to dramatically limit the options available to any future President for responding to crises or nipping them in the bud. If the most aggressive scenarios in terms of sequestration’s impact come to fruition, it seems very likely that the active-duty Army will shrink to a size not seen in 70 years, that its readiness levels will plummet, and its ability to shape the international security environment through mil-to-mil activities will be dramatically reduced.
All of this may be fine if U.S. interests are somehow receding around the world. For example, given the ongoing energy revolution in North America, vital U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf region may appear to be growing less so. Elsewhere though there is little evidence to support this argument. Instead, there are indications that maintaining the world’s best Army in order to deter aggressors and respond to unforeseen contingencies and conducting Army-led mil-to-mil activities in order to build partner capacity and strengthen allied interoperability will all be increasingly vital to shaping a favorable world order conducive to American interests in the decade ahead. Unfortunately, a dramatically downsized, underfunded active-duty Army will be hard-pressed to fulfill the vital landpower missions required for American security.
John R. Deni, Ph.D., is Research Professor of Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational (JIIM) Security Studies at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. The views expressed are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
by Seth Cropsey
U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington arrives at a navy port in Busan, South Korea, in 2012.
American seapower today is in a slow but steady downward spiral whose angle of descent will increase as the effects of cuts the Obama administration has made or proposed as well as sequestration multiply. The fleet, which numbered nearly 600 ships at the end of the Reagan administration, has been reduced to approximately 280. The Navy has not been as consistently small as it is today since before World War I. Naval leadership’s goals for desired fleet size are slowly but surely being reduced. At the midpoint of this century’s first decade the goal was 313 ships. It was recently reduced to 306.
Due to the increased cost of technology, the decreasing number of ships ordered annually, and the Navy’s sporadic efforts to control the cost of building new vessels, the task of replacing the combatants built during the Reagan administration that are now approaching the end of their useful service lives looks increasingly beyond reach. Where American combatant commanders’ requirements for Navy ships were 90 percent filled in 2007, this figure has now dropped to 51 percent as other navies—most notably China’s—modernize and grow.
The Navy’s long-term plan to dig its way out of this deepening hole rests on dubious assumptions about the future cost of ships and exuberantly unjustified optimism about obtaining the funds for modernizing and replacing an aging fleet. The CBO estimates that meeting the Navy’s shipbuilding goals will cost 25 percent more than what the Navy believes is required. Absent additional funding, leadership’s responses are severely proscribed. One traditional approach to achieve cost savings is to defer maintenance on ships. But deferred maintenance increases the expense of repairing ships to when it can no longer be postponed by about 6 percent annually. Over a single five-year period, the “savings” gained from not spending on maintenance result in a bill that is nearly a third larger than normally scheduled repairs.
A briefing inside the Navy projects that if current spending levels on shipbuilding do not receive hoped-for increases, but funds for overseas contingency operations (OCO is the military’s term for fighting against terrorists or the Taliban) remain available, the fleet will shrink by 17 percent to about 234 ships over the next 30 years. The same study predicts that if money for OCO disappears altogether the fleet will shrink by nearly a third to slightly fewer than 200 ships.
Sequestration is taking its toll as measured by the February 2013 decision not to deploy the aircraft carrier, USS Harry S. Truman, to the Middle East, leaving a single aircraft carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf as Iran continues its progress toward nuclear capability. With sequestration the Navy began substantially to cut the readiness of the air wings associated with carriers, cancel the deployment of a half dozen ships around the world, indefinitely delay the deployment of several logistics ships to the Pacific, and call back a pair of ships, one from duty escorting the carrier, USS Nimitz and another from its patrolling mission in the U.S. Southern Command.
There are consequences for all this and for what is to come.
If we are thrown back on a policy of moving ships around as required by either crisis or long-term strategic reason, allies who see that American ships only arrive under extreme circumstances will know that extreme circumstances in other places can drain protective American naval power as quickly as it appeared. The problem of a shrinking fleet is not a problem of American presence in this or that place. It is a question of whether the U.S. will continue to possess the distributed global fleet whose size and reach have paralleled America’s rise to great power status and helped establish such international order as now exists in the world. Absent relief in the form of an administration that understands and appreciates how seapower helps preserve alliances and keeps conflict from approaching U.S. shores, the outlook for continued American dominance at sea is not good.
Seth Cropsey is a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute. He served as a naval officer from 1985 to 2004 and as Deputy Undersecretary of the Navy in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations. His book on the challenges that face American seapower, MAYDAY, was published by Overlook Duckworth Press in April.
by Michael Auslin
Over the past generation, the U.S. military has become a joint force and one whose effectiveness is due increasingly to its networked capabilities. In a real, yet silent way, carrying out much of this change has fallen on the shoulders of the U.S. Air Force. From space surveillance to instant communications, and from close air support to global lift, the Air Force has become the service underpinning the free movement, worldwide reach, and persistent presence that allows the full unfolding of U.S. military operations.
In an age of austerity and reduced defense budgets, as well as one in which the political will to undertake large military campaigns is wanting, the role the Air Force plays will actually become even more important to maintaining U.S. power abroad. More than ever, airpower will be central in shaping the future of warfare in a way that takes advantage of America’s key strengths.
Politically, what America’s defense posture will look like in the coming years was revealed by President Obama’s January 2012 “Defense Strategic Guidance.” In calling for leaner, more flexible forces, the president was putting a bookend on the era of massive U.S. interventions in countries like Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, a smaller U.S. military will seek asymmetric advantage over conventional forces and non-state actors alike, ideally by using real-time intelligence and full motion video (often from remotely piloted vehicles) to enable precision-guided munitions, as well as surgically employed special operations forces. All that means a larger role for the U.S. Air Force.
In this future, the United States will have to do more to shape the pre-conflict environment, in part through aerial intelligence collection and the judicious posturing of U.S. forces, but ideally through developing the capabilities of overseas partners to protect their own interests or act regionally. This, too, mandates an increasing role for the U.S. Air Force, in training foreign air forces to be able to better control their battle space. In cases where U.S. forces are employed, dominating the airspace and inflicting maximum damage on enemy combatants without the introduction of U.S. ground forces will be the preferred method of fighting, at least in the beginning stages of combat. In this, the White House is turning the clock back to 1991 and the overwhelming air campaign against Iraq in the Gulf War.
The key scenarios the U.S. Air Force will have to prepare for will include an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, a conflict in the Pacific that will depend on close coordination with the U.S. Navy to defend islands and keep strategic sea lanes open, imposing no-fly zones over areas wracked by civil war, and large-scale humanitarian relief efforts.
This requires a balanced Air Force that modernizes its aging bomber and fighter fleet to be able to deal with advanced enemy air defenses and fighter jets, continues the building of new tankers to allow for extended sorties far from land bases, and the upkeep of our cargo planes. Equally, forward-based units of the Air Force will have to be better defended against increasingly accurate missile capabilities of countries like China, as well as Iran.
Being a global power means being able to reach anywhere in the world with overwhelming force almost instantaneously. Only the U.S. Air Force can ensure that type of capability, and do so in a way that is both cost-effective and least risky to U.S. ground troops. Without that power, future presidents will be far less likely to conduct military operations abroad, thus adding further uncertainty to an increasingly unsettled world.
Michael Auslin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.
by Major General Larry Taylor, USMCR (ret.)
“There’s no reason to have a Navy and Marine Corps. We’ll never have any more amphibious operations. That does away with the Marine Corps.”
— Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, December 1949
“The Navy and Marines have never shone more brightly than this morning.”
— General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, on the amphibious assault at Inchon, Korea, September 1950
By Congressional mandate, your Marine Corps is called to be “the most ready when the rest of the Nation is least ready.” That language is not a mere slogan. In specifically mandating that, the 82nd Congress was reacting to the deadly lessons learned at the outbreak of the Korean War, when our lack of preparedness almost resulted in defeat.
Our history is full of examples of this lack of preparedness, as illustrated by the quotes above. Some of the highest officials in government have been spectacularly wrong in assessing the risks to our national security.
Today, we are drawing down both the numbers and capabilities of our forces. Now, more than ever, our nation must retain a credible means of mitigating such risks by maintaining forward-deployed forces, agile and mobile, and trained to a high state of readiness. Because we cannot afford to hold the entire joint force at such a high state of readiness, the nation has chosen to keep the Marines ready, and has often used them to plug the gaps during international crises, to respond when no other options are available.
U.S. soldiers, part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, walk as a U.S. Chinook helicopter is seen in the background near the place where the foundation of a hospital was laid in Shindand, Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan.
The American people can remain confident that U.S. Marines, forward-deployed aboard amphibious shipping, will be ready to respond to a wide variety of crises, along the entire spectrum of conflict, from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, all the way to mid-intensity combat. Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs) also have the capability to respond via a forcible entry ashore, if necessary.
Unfortunately, the number of amphibious ships is shrinking, and the existing fleet is constrained by budget cuts. The Navy-Marine Corps requirement is for 38 amphibious ships. According to current shipbuilding plans and scheduled ship retirements, we are “chasing 30,” in the recent words of a very senior Marine Corps leader. Already this year, the scheduled deployment of one of those ARGs, built around the USS Bataan, has been canceled, meaning there will be an entire region of the world left uncovered by this critical capability. Therefore, the 1500-strong Marine Air-Ground Task Force that would have deployed aboard the Bataan ARG, while still “trained to a high state of readiness,” will not be “forward-deployed.”
As we navigate the coming austerity, there will be other shortfalls as well, some less dramatic and, if history is our guide, largely unnoticed by the American public. In a previous period of declining defense budgets, the late 1970s, the Marine Corps found itself short of such things as ammunition for training, and spare parts for equipment maintenance. These shortages were especially acute in the reserve components of all the services.
Whether as obvious as cancelled deployments, or the unnoticed and less-glamorous shortfalls in training and equipment readiness, such austerity lowers the confidence of our friends and allies in American willingness and ability to live up to our commitments, to deter conflict, and to win those conflicts should deterrence fail. Furthermore, it emboldens our potential enemies. It has happened before. As Captain Richard M. Miller, USN recently wrote, “Adversaries may simply read our policy papers, but will believe our budgets.”
Major General Larry Taylor retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as Deputy Commander, Marine Forces Reserve, New Orleans.
by Vice Admiral D. Brian Peterman, USCG (ret.)
The United States Coast Guard (USCG), founded in 1790, is the smallest of the five military services but has broad authorities and responsibilities. Residing in the Department of Homeland Security, the USCG can enforce domestic laws, issue maritime regulations, save lives and protect the environment. The USCG consists of 42,000 military personnel, 7,000 civilians, 8,000 Reservists and an Auxiliary force of nearly 30,000 volunteers who perform this broad range of missions.
Many Americans think the USCG is just around our shores, guarding the coast. But there are USCG people and assets around the world, boarding commercial ships off the coast of Africa and in the Caribbean to search for illegal drugs or smuggled weapons, protecting oil terminals in the Arabian Gulf, inspecting U.S.-flagged ships in Singapore for compliance with safety standards, and opening ports in Antarctica to supply U.S. research stations.
Aging equipment, new challenges and budget pressures are making it difficult. The 25-50 year old ships of the Medium Endurance Cutter fleet are the workhorses on the high seas. These multi-mission ships do the bulk of fisheries enforcement, offshore Search and Rescue, counterdrug and illegal migrant interception, and maritime environmental protection. But they are showing their age and their replacement, the Offshore Patrol Cutter, is still on the drawing board. Whether Congress will actually fund this large procurement is still a question. The larger High Endurance Cutters are being replaced by very capable National Security Cutters (NSC). Three NSCs are operational, the fourth will be commissioned in October, and the keel is being laid for a fifth vessel. Coastal patrol boats are also being replaced with new Fast Response Cutters. Five have been delivered, eight are in production and five more are under contract. It is unknown whether Congress will continue funding these critical recapitalization projects. If our Nation wants the Coast Guard to continue providing current levels of service, recapitalization funds must be provided.
While the USCG struggles to replace aged ships, boats, and aircraft, operational challenges mount. Climate change is evident in the Arctic regions with ice packs receding to historic small size. This opens up new areas for “wild west” style offshore resource exploitation and marine traffic that puts the U.S. in direct competition with Russia and other nations ringing the Arctic. The USCG is responsible for environmental protection, Search and Rescue, and maritime safety there and is working to build new infrastructure in the Arctic region to meet these new challenges while struggling to maintain current assets under sequestration and continuing resolution budget reductions.
The men and women of the USCG have always taken pride in “doing more with less,” but the people, boats, planes, ships, and aircraft are nearing a breaking point. The realities of reduced budgets will mean the USCG will start prioritizing missions and “doing less with less.” Services will be throttled back to match the resources provided by Congress.
Vice Admiral D. Brian Peterman retired from the Coast Guard as Commander, Atlantic Area / Commander, Defense Force East.