Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Military Transformation

In the previous post, I alluded to the size of the army. Ideally, 1/3 would be deployed, 1/3 would be recovering, and 1/3 would be preparing to deploy.

The problem is, there were 780,000 army troops in the 1990s, but that number was steadily reduced to around 500,000 now. There were even more at the height of Reagan's buildup.

Note that such levels were supported on an all-volunteer force, so no "draft" would be required. Why we haven't rebuilt the army in the last 5 years to a larger size is a mystery and a huge mistake. At least it finally looks like it will happen.

The draft idea is designed to produce a huge anti-war backlash and isn't a serious idea. There isn't really a job for a short-term non-motivated draftee in the modern army -- the training just takes too long to get up to speed for a draftee to have a role.

The Iraq war has however speeded the "transformation" of the army into a much more flexible force. Not transformation in the futuristic sense, but away from inflexible cold-war organization and deployment.

For example, the 1st Armored and 1st Infantry divisions, after rotating through Iraq from their cold-war and obsolete posts in Germany, are not going back there, but have returned to the US for re-organization into Brigade Units of Action.

In fact, it appears only three brigades will remain permanently forward-deployed: one heavy brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, in Korea; and two independent brigades (the 2d Cavalry Regiment and the 173d Airborne) in Europe. The whole V Corps in Europe, for example, is being disbanded. Take that, Old Europe!

See, the old idea was that the Division of about 15,000 troops was the main unit of deployment. It was at the divisional command level that lots of the support equipment such as extra artillery and transportation and intelligence was attached and administered. Nominally, each division (roughly speaking) was divided into 3 brigades of 3 maneuver battalions each (though the brigades weren't really fixed, but were task-force commands that had battalions assigned for specific missions), plus the extra divisional assets.

That meant we had about 30 combat brigades, though it wasn't easy to deploy all of them separately.

But through reorganization, we now have 43 independently deployable combat brigades (not counting National Guard)!

It had become obvious over time that brigades of 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers were more useful units to move around instead of whole divisions, especially if the brigades were given more modern firepower and direct control of some of what used to be divisional attached assets, such as of scouting and artillery.

Some of our forces could operate as independent brigades, but apparently some of the cold-war divisions were still really structured to work as a whole divisional unit and weren't very flexible if we needed pieces of them.

The new idea, now put into implementation, is to relegate the division to more of just a headquarters, to which now 4 brigades could be assigned; but it will be the new Brigade Units of Action or Brigade Combat Teams that will be the real independent tactical units of employment, with new organization.

Nominally assigned to ten division commands, that leaves three "independent" brigades: the heavy Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, the medium Second Cavalry Regiment, and the 173d Airborne brigade. Technically there are also a handful of training units that operate as the opposing enemy force or "OpFor" for wargames that can be deployed such as the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, but I think they are organized on Soviet doctrine.

One change is the new brigades now have only 2 maneuver battalions (i.e. of infantry or tanks) instead of 3 -- so in terms of maneuver battalions it's sort of a wash, which it kind of has to be as it's a reorganiztion of existing troops without changing their overall number -- but the brigades have extra cavalry/scout troops and artillery battalions that they didn't have before, or in such size.

Plans are to add 5 more independent brigades in the near future by expanding the number of soldiers.

The new structure also adds sniper teams at the company level, which is very interesting.

Basically, firepower has been pushed down to lower levels of command, in the form of heavy mortars, snipers, combat engineers, and drones.

As far as I can tell (and I'm no expert), this "new" brigade structure looks an awful lot like German WW2 regiment design. I'm very comfortable with copying the height of diabolical Prussian military thought on this topic. The more things change...

It's sure an improvement over the weird "Pentomic" concept of the 1950s...

There's also been a simplification and standardization of brigades. Brigades in different divisions had come to be very different from one another, even if they were both nominally supposed to be armored or infantry or whatnot.

Another interesting aspect is that it appears we are increasing the number of paratrooper brigades from four to six, which may be significant.

Now, there will simply be 3 main types, Heavy (armored), Medium (motorized), and Light (infantry). Click the links for org charts.

The 15 light infantry brigades will all be organized the same, and there will be apparently four subtypes depending on specialized training or specialization: one regular, four mountain, six airborne (paratroop), and four air assault (helicopter).

There will be 22 "heavy" armored brigades with tank and armored fighting vehicles for the infantry -- all tracked for mobility. The previous distinction between "armored" and "mechanized infantry" will be done away with -- the organization was only slightly different anyway and didn't make much sense.

And the six "medium" motorized infantry brigades, using the new and controversial wheeled family of Stryker vehicles, round out the force. They are particularly suited for urban environments.

Interestingly these medium brigades do have 3 maneuver battalions, because this was designed as the initial step to the transformed army and a different general took over before the other brigades were designed. I wouldn't be too surprised if these medium brigades (which have LOTS of assets organic to them) get reorganized into slightly smaller formations, creating more of them overall.

It also looks like former divisional assets will be divided into separate brigades as well, to be deployed as needed in support of other multi-brigade task forces. These include Aviation brigades of helicopters, Fires brigades with the really heavy rocket artillery and target location technology, and Surveillance brigades to gather signals information.

There are also interesting "Maneuver" and "Sustainment" brigades for "host nation support" to "multinational agencies." That sound like a step towards separate "peacekeeping" brigades in a mostly permissive environment, as they seem to have things like medics, communications, military police, and transportation. That is a HUGE benefit to keep the combat forces from having to do that kind of work. Some are even designed to be "joint" to work with the Marines.

In fact, in September, 2003, I wrote the following letter to SecDef Rumsfeld with the following suggestion:
Dear Mr. Secretary,

I propose the development of special “Peacekeeping Battalions” as part of the Army’s transformation. These new battalions would be used in “operations other than war” such as the humanitarian, nation-building, and peacekeeping missions that the Army can be expected to face in the future, freeing up dedicated warfighting resources for their primary function.

These Peacekeeping Battalions would be liberally supplied with Military Police and armored car companies for urban security and patrolling, engineers for public works and rebuilding, civil affairs and communications specialists for administration and public relations, and medics for humanitarian assistance. They would require neither expensive heavy armor nor artillery. In a non-permissive environment, they would be accompanied by warfighting battalions.

As a further advantage, by allowing recruits to volunteer explicitly for these battalions, more young people who are interested in serving their country but who are not necessarily warriors would be encouraged to enlist, which would then relieve the true warriors from performing these support functions and result in a better alignment of personnel with their strengths and desires. This will boost morale and enhance retention, as well as allow more focused training.
Well, he didn't write back. But the end result is moving in the direction I suggested (ha, as if my letter didn't go straight in the nut file -- but the idea must have been in the air, as it was so obvious).

If only the President would make a call for volunteers!


Post a Comment

<< Home