18 May 2007

Troops and the "Total Force"

Sitting in the Sydney airport last week, I read an article on Real Clear Politics (lost the link…sorry) concerning Army and Marine troop levels. The author gives some background on where our current troop numbers come from, including how the Reserves began to be used, and where he thinks troop levels should go. His number was about 650,000 if I remember correctly.

I think that even that number is too low. I think that a number of between ¾ and 1 million is more of a target to reach for. And, as I’ve written before, I believe that moving toward this number of troops should have started almost 6 years ago, on 12 Sep 2001. But there are other things which must be done as well to create a force which can win the long fight we’ve chosen.

First, there must be a move away from using Reservists as active duty soldiers. The “Total Force” idea sounds good from the outside – using Reserve units to augment active duty forces in times of need. This idea, though, gives a false sense of the real role of Reservists. Since the early ‘90s, some jobs which were shared by active duty and Reserve troops have since fallen completely under the umbrella of the Reserves. Additionally, the very term Reserves belies how they are being used. If we have, in fact, tapped our reserve forces, then we can see the bottom of the well, so to speak. Obviously this is not the way to run an ongoing, long war.

“Total Force” has its roots, I believe, firmly embedded in the idea that at some level (or at all levels) the military should be run like a business. Fewer overall numbers reduces costs. Unused “commodities” – Reserve soldiers who drill once a month – can be viewed as waste or “overstock”. From a business point of view it is better to use every piece of “equipment”, fully utilize every cog in the machine, the result being maximum efficiency.

Efficiency, though, is not something that necessarily applies to the military. I realize that might cause a laugh, but there is more to war fighting than simply maximum output of all “equipment” involved. Fully trained, ready-to-fight forces must be kept in reserve (not to be confused with the Reserves, which function in a different way) so that strategies can be changed, actions by the enemy can be met, and commanders on the ground can flex their efforts as quickly as possible. These are very difficult, if not impossible, things to achieve when the whole force – the “Total Force” – is being used to maintain a level of effort already.

It is no surprise that the current “surge” of troops into Iraq has already begun to stir questions of when the operation will yield press-release level results, i.e. all quiet on the Baghdad front. The “what’s next” if the "surge" does not yield politically acceptable is not a pretty picture to envision.

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