Why Ground Forces? Army Leaders Seek to Clear Up 'Misconceptions'
As the Army fights an uphill battle on Capitol Hill to avert deep budget cuts in 2016, it is also mounting a public-relations campaign against pundits and analysts who downplay the value of land forces.
Many Americans are being led to believe that the United States, after withdrawing from Afghanistan, no longer needs a ground army that is ready to fight, said Gen. John F. Campbell, Army vice chief of staff.
Think tank studies and news media reports have suggested the nation can afford to downsize the Army and cut back on training because the age of ground wars is over. Those are flawed assumptions, Campbell said May 20 at a conference of the Association of the U.S. Army, in Arlington, Virginia.
Campbell said it is a misconception that the United States can opt out of a land war and rely on other nations to safeguard its strategic interests, or that wars can be initiated and resolved quickly on U.S. terms. He also pushed back on the emerging conventional wisdom in Washington that technology is the most important component of military readiness and will "change the nature of warfare."
For the past several years, the Army has had to defend its future relevance, especially following the release in 2010 of the Pentagon's "air-sea battle" concept. The plan calls for greater U.S. investments in stealth fighters, long-range bombers and submarines to counter precision-guided missiles and other high-tech weapons that future adversaries might unleash on American ships and aircraft.
"I have nothing against our Air Force brethren, but you can only do so much at 30,000 feet," said Campbell. "There is no substitute for human interaction. If you want to have deterrence you have to have a credible land force."
Army leaders cringe at the idea that the future force would be a "just-in-time" Army that can go dormant in peacetime and mobilize for a crisis, he suggested. "That is not good enough for the 21st century," Campbell said, adding that being ready for war requires sustained training and investment.
The Obama administration's 2015 budget proposal cuts the active-duty Army to 450,000 soldiers from a wartime peak of 570,000. If sequestration-level cuts remain in place for 2016, the force would drop to 420,000. Army leaders have been trying to persuade Congress that a 420,000-soldier Army is too small to meet anticipated future demands.
"Sequestration is something we have to talk about, about how bad it is," said Campbell. "As we get smaller, we can't sacrifice readiness, we can't sacrifice innovation."
Innovation, however, will not come in the form of new weapon systems. Campbell defended the Army’s decision to delay the procurement of new combat vehicles and helicopters. It is an economic necessity, he said. And the Army is comfortable knowing that current systems are still the best in the world, he said. “The leadership has to make tough decisions,” said Campbell. “Sometimes, it means buying less, it means doing nothing, spread it out, buy fewer over time, or invest in science and technology and wait until we have some additional money.”
Current systems still have many years of service life left, so there is no need to rush to buy new, he said. Further, many weapons have been upgraded over the years with the latest technology. The M4 carbine, for instance, is not the M4 from 10 years ago, it’s had 94 modifications, he said. “We continue to update systems.” The Black Hawk and Apache helicopters are not the same of a decade ago, and the Patriot missile defense system also has been updated with modern technology. “These continue to be the best platforms in the world and the envy of our adversaries,” said Campbell.
Officials recognize the Army has become an easy target for green eyeshade types. The phrase “we have to reduce our tail is creeping back into our lexicon,” said Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, Army deputy chief of staff for logistics. “But how much risk can we take?” he asked. “People bring up just-in-time logistics … and talk about business practices,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. There's a place for business practices. But the closer you get to where people are fighting, business practices don't make sense,” said Mason. “Just-in-time logistics is a dangerous thing. There are money people and programmers who want to drive us there.”
Mason expects the Army to be living off its current equipment for a long time. About $10 billion of the $15 billion worth of trucks, aircraft and other hardware that is sitting in Afghanistan will be returned to the United States for repairs and for future use. It's a small piece of the Army's $250 billion inventory, Mason noted. It will cost $1 billion to ship back the equipment and $6 billion to refurbish it. That includes hardware that came back from the Iraq war. “For $7 billion, we'll retrograde about $20 billion worth of equipment,” he said.
Leaving all that equipment behind and replacing it with new gear was out of the question, said Mason. “There is no way we are going to get that amount of acquisition dollars. It's just not going to happen.” There is also the problem of weapons inflation. The $20 billion worth of equipment that was purchased five years ago would now cost $28 billion.