This article gets some things right, but misses the key point. If numbers of people and platforms or the quality of individual weapon systems in the armed forces always decided the outcomes of battles and wars, the study of warfare would have nothing to teach us
We know from experience that wars are not won by individual platforms or simple masses of soldiers, ships and planes. Battles and wars are won by armed forces that integrate human capital with new technology inside new organizations. Each succeeding war demands new thinking and new organizations that are designed to exploit new technologies. Clinging to the old organization or old solution that worked in the last major war is as dangerous as clinging to bow and arrow in an age of fire arms. Clinging to old organizational constructs and platforms that worked “well enough” against weak, incapable opponents is also delusional and dangerous, especially when far more capable opponents are already on the horizon.
What is the Appropriate Manpower Requirement of the U.S. Military?
Time for a Reality Check
Since the Cold War ended, military manpower declined by 685,000, a 34.5% reduction. In light of the current threat environment, have reductions put the U.S. at risk?
The correct sizing of the U.S. military is once again a topic receiving a close examination by almost everyone. The Trump Administration wants to increase Army active duty end strength to 540,000 from the previously planned strength of 450,000. The Navy would increase from 274 combatant ships to 350 with manning increasing from 330,000 to 380,000. The Air Force would have 1,200 active tactical stealth fighter aircraft and add about 10,000 personnel. The Marine Corps would need to add approximately 12,000 to the infantry. Are these the right numbers for the U.S. to maintain its security and responsibilities worldwide? What are the repercussions if our active duty military is sized too small?
Of course, the worst case is we are invaded by an adversary and lose our way of life. This is not likely, for many reasons, in the upcoming decades. Another possibility is a surprise attack with nuclear weapons via ballistic missiles. This is also viewed as unlikely from major adversaries based on the decades-old theory of MAD (mutually assured destruction) although a smaller attack from North Korea or Iran or radicals who get their hands on nuclear devices cannot altogether be ruled out. Therefore, regardless of the overall size of the military, it is absolutely essential for the country to acquire and maintain a robust ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) capability. Lesser interests, but interests that most consider vital, are to fulfill our treaty and other international agreements worldwide and to maintain the world’s oceans for freedom of navigation. International trade increases the U.S. GDP, which raises the standard of living for all Americans. Another reason for a strong military capability to project American strength worldwide is to prevent potential adversaries from taking actions against American interests. When countries are perceived weak, history has shown that adversaries are more likely to fill the void created by the perceived weakness.
When the U.S. military is required to protect worldwide interests while being insufficient in manpower, the strain on the undermanned military becomes unbearable for military members and their families. Currently, the suicide rate of 25/100,000 is 25% higher than the civilian population and has more than doubled since 9/11. The military suicide rate in the 1980s was ~12/100,000. The suicide rate increase is one indicator of an overstretched military. One report not released to the public documents retention down across the Navy, even in the SEALs. The Air Force is short 700 pilots, and the figure is expected to grow to 1,000 as trained pilots are leaving the AF for the private sector in much higher numbers than desired.
The capabilities required of the military have been eroded by political social experiments required by politicians such as opening combat forces to women and promoting gay and transgender agendas instead of focusing on potential adversaries. Pregnancy rates for military women are 30% higher than the women in the civilian sector. The higher pregnancy rate increases the deployment time for the non-pregnant military women and the men when COCOM taskings driving longer deployments are already keeping members of all the services away from their families more than ever. All of these factors have put immense strain on and weakened the current force.
But what of the opposite arguments that indicate we should not use comparisons of manpower numbers as our primary indicator of the correct end strength? One convincing counter argument is that past programs, with ever increasing capabilities, were justified based on efficiencies, at least in part, in the manpower required to operate the new systems. Should we not factor in a reduction in manpower achieved from higher reliance on technology embedded in new systems? If the answer is yes, which should be obvious, the difficulty is determining the manpower reductions achieved in past programs. Some estimates indicate the Abrams tank results in an eight-fold increase in lethality over the tank it replaced, the M-60 tank. That should mean the tank corps of the Army should have been decreased to 1/8th its former size. The Infantry received the Bradley fighting vehicle, which was a significant increase in lethality over the M113 vehicles that it replaced. How much of an increase exactly? The answer is not readily available.
The Nimitz-class replaced Kitty Hawk class carriers, a cost increase in constant dollars of $800 million to $4.5 billion. The cost increase was partly justified based on dramatic increases in the efficiency and capability of the Nimitz class carriers. Where did the manpower savings go for the increased efficiencies? These savings never seem to materialize. Why? The same arguments can be used for new classes of submarines, cruisers, and destroyers.
Likewise for the Air Force, the new more technologically advanced, expensive aircraft like the F-35 should have been justified based on a myriad of increased capabilities, including reduced manpower for maintenance due to logistic efficiencies and higher reliability rates. Again, where are the savings?
In addition, don’t new state-of-the-art communication systems result in the ability to reduce duplicative staffs? A revolutionary move to eliminate the services consolidating into a single service with a central DOD headquarters would save tremendously. Those in the field find operations with bloated headquarters and many layers of leadership cumbersome. One study found the Special Forces dangerously bogged down in bureaucracy, with elite operational units made less efficient by their higher headquarters elements.
It is time for an honest, fresh review of the required military manpower needed to meet the country’s needs. It is safe to say the missions are clearly increasing now for the first time since the end of the Cold War. China’s resurgence due to their economic and defense infrastructure improvements are resulting in more systems fielded with ever increasing technological enhancements. Russia is becoming more aggressive, especially within their region. Equipment and manpower improvements are evident in all Russian military services. We are faced with smaller, but dangerous, and potentially more volatile threats from North Korea, Iran, ISIS, and smaller radical Islamic extremists that likely will do all they can to threaten our military directly or our worldwide interests. We are faced with the militarization of space, nuclear proliferation, and cyber security attacks. All of these threats may require more military manpower levels for the services.The points made in this article are intended to reflect the difficulty, yet criticality of estimating military manpower accurately. Manpower is the single most expensive element of the DoD budget. We must have an unbiased, joint effort to arrive at the correct numbers. To do otherwise wastes our national treasure at a time when our national debt already presents a huge threat to national security.