Since 9/11 we have heard liberals frequently claim we need to add 40,000 more soldiers to the Army. It is treated by the left as a panacea for everything that ails the Army (whether true or not). Meanwhile, in the background Rumsfeld's transformation of the Army continues plodding along. Should we have added 40,000 soldiers? Or was allowing Rumsfeld's work to continue the better call? (It should be noted when discussing the reform of the Army that it is extremely difficult to find complete information on all aspects of it. I assume in cases where no information is available that it is staying similar to the current Army.)
First off, why reform at all? The reason is we still have a military which is essentially the little brother of the Cold War military. That military was designed to send dozens of divisions to fight the Soviet Union on the plains of Germany. Our current military is designed to send 3-6 divisions to fight regional wars against lesser states; Cold War planning in miniature. Further, the basic combat unit is still the division. This despite divisions never deploying for combat as they are organized in peacetime. The heavy battalions of the Army are still organized for the mass tank confrontation with the Soviet Union. Compared to the 18 armor battalions we had guarding the few dozen miles of the Fulda Gap in Germany during the Cold War we had 4 armor battalions sweeping the several hundred miles of desert in the invasion of Iraq. It no longer makes sense to have all armor battalions, as the ad hoc usage of mixed mechanized infantry (hereafter called mech) and armor task forces in Iraq shows. Lastly, the overall mix of troops we need has changed. In the past we needed lots of armor and artillery. Now we need more infantry and military police.
Rumsfeld's reforms largely takes these issues that are being worked through on an ad hoc basis during combat operations and makes them permanent. On the issue of divisions, they are being made "modular". This means the brigades in the divisions can be easily switched around to suit the needs of the current mission. All of the support assets that used to be loaned from the division when it came time to deploy are now permanently part of the brigade. The heavy battalions are being changed from 3 mech or 3 armor companies to a mix of 2 mech and 2 armor companies. Many artillery and air defense battalions are being replaced with more useful military police and cavalry battalions.
The net effect of these reforms is to increase the number of combat and close combat soldiers in the Army without increasing the overall number of soldiers. Basically, it is making the Army more efficient. The pre-Rumsfeld Army had approximately 59,000 combat and 61,000 near combat soldiers, or about 12.5% in each category. (note: my definition of combat soldiers is soldiers in infantry, armor, cavalry, and special forces units; close combat soldiers are those in artillery, air defense, engineer, and military police units. It does not conform to the Army's MOS classification system, nor do I include artillery as a combat unit.) Once Rumsfeld's transformation is completed with 48 new brigades, there will be 75,000 combat and 64,000 near combat soldiers. This would represent about 15.5% and 13.5% of the Army. While the overall number of combat soldiers per brigade would drop from 3,370 to 2,700, the total number of brigades that could be sustainably deployed would increase from 14 to 20. This means that the number of Army combat/near combat soldiers that could be deployed somewhere like Iraq would increase from 47,000 to 54,000 (the number of combat soldiers would see a much greater increase from 21,500 to 27,500).
The problem with only adding 40,000 soldiers is that it would just be adding more soldiers to the old Cold War Army. It would do nothing to solve various problems such as deployability, tactical rigidity, or exceptionally low share of combat soldiers of the old system. It is also more expensive than transformation while being less effective. Simply adding 40,000 soldiers to the Army would add 5,000 combat and 5,000 close combat soldiers. This compared to the net gains of 16,000 and 3,000 respectively with transformation. However, it would require an increase in the Army budget of nearly $6 billion a year plus many more billions upfront for the new equipment and bases. Transformation costs a few hundred million for the more expensive training of the extra combat soldiers and such. While I support much more money for the Army, this is not a "if I ruled the world" post so it does not matter; what matters is that Congress will not fund the extra $6 billion on a sustained basis. Congress has always cut funding quicker than troop levels.
The question would then arise, why not do both? Besides the fact that it is difficult enough just expanding the Army much less transforming it at the same time, the main reason is that the Pentagon as a whole does not want to reform to begin with. Armies have historically had major issues with reform and change. As great as our Army is, it is still an army. It has all the institutional problems that afflict all armies and nothing will ever change that. That said there are two things that spur change and reform in an army, defeat and fighting a war with limited means. To successfully change an army you must know how to operate within these constraints. Rumsfeld knows much better than most how to work within the Pentagon.
Examples of the first case include the German army after World War I and the French army after the Seven Years War. However, this situation will not force reform through today in the US Army so is not relevant. The second case can apply today and is what we are doing. When armies are provided with everything they ask for to fight a war, they will simply fight it the way they have always fought. The best (or worst if you like) example of this is World War I. Initially every army was given everything it could ask for, all the men, guns, and supplies they wanted. The result was the generals fought on like they always had. They did not attempt any reforms since they were constantly receiving new soldiers and supplies to try again. It was not until 1916 when her manpower reserves began to run low that Germany started to think about different, less bloody ways to fight. England followed suit after Lloyd George refused to send more conscripts to France in the wake of the Paschendale Offensive. By early 1918 the Germans had developed the organization and tactics that allowed for infantry exploitations while the British had begun working out tank exploitations. It was the requirement to fight a war without all the resources they wanted that forced these armies to develop their new ideas. Sadly, that is how armies have always worked, and always will.
This is what we are doing today. The Army is having to figure out how to provide more combat troops to deal post-conflict occupations without simply recruiting extra soldiers. In the process it is possible to get through other reforms to deal with the outdated Cold War structure of our Army. The overall effect on Iraq is limited since as evidenced in my prior post I think we are at the point where adding more soldiers becomes counter-productive. However, it would be nice to either have more combat soldiers with the same number of soldiers overall, or the same number of combat soldiers with fewer soldiers overall. It is also good (though not necessary) to lower the strain on the National Guard. Iraq is also a great opportunity for reform because while it is limiting opposition to transformation, we are not at major risk by reforming before adding more soldiers. By comparison, had the British military been slow to change in 1918, the decision to stop sending new soldiers could have easily cost them the war when the Germans unleashed their new tactics in March 1918.
Once transformation is complete we could add 40,000 soldiers and get even more combat soldiers. But until the Army reforms are completed, it is better to hold off lest it cause the generals to begin seriously opposing transformation because of their new found leverage. Since in addition to fixing many of the current structural problems in the Army, transformation will also provide more combat soldiers at much less cost it is the better bet anyways for alleviating any troop level or deployment related issues the Army has. Afterwards, if Congress would continue funding the new soldiers and not force the Army to reduce its important procurement and training budgets then it is a good idea to add more soldiers. I never have and never will oppose troop increases or increased funding for the Army in general, only when there is good reason to. The need to reform the Army is just such a reason.
US Army OrBat http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/agency/army/bua-list.htm
US Army Budget http://www.asafm.army.mil/budget/fybm/FY07/overview.pdf
Numbers of soldiers is arrived at by using the above OrBat with the TO&E in the latest version of the Steel Panthers computer game.