Rebuilding the United States Army

AIRBORNE!It has to be painfully obvious to anyone with any knowledge of national defense issues that the United States Army, like the rest of the armed forces, is in dire need of a complete, top to bottom, restructuring. The current structure has evolved, over time, in an effort to maintain readiness and combat capabilities while almost constantly shrinking in size. As a result, while each individual unit boasts an impressive array of capabilities, they are too small, and there simply are not enough of them to respond adequately to many potential threats.

My personal view of the armed forces is it would be ideal to have the capability to “kick ass everywhere, all the time.” Obviously this level of capability would be impractical in even the most favorable economic environment. It is, however, well within our ability to field an Army more than capable of dealing decisively with any threat we are likely to encounter. This also creates an environment where our enemies, or any potential enemies, are too terrified of the consequences to consider challenging us. Do not tell me it can not be done, we have done it before, and more than once.

I know the first thing people will say when reading this article is: “how do you pay for all of that?” In a previous article, Taxes, Budgets and Borrowing, I lay out exactly how the federal government and the national economy can be positioned so such expenditures are easily managed. Please read that article if you really want to know how to pay for all of this.

Currently, the United States Army consists of ten active divisions and one integrated division. Yes, that is it. Eleven (11) divisions. If you include the National Guard, that is eight more divisions. This gives us nineteen (19) divisions. To be fair, there are other brigade sized units out there as well as special operations units, but even with all of that, the Army is nowhere near big enough to counter many of the threats we are likely to face in the future.

The reasons for this are manifold. Since the end of the cold war, politicians from both parties have taken advantage of mostly false perceptions of security in order to redirect funding from defense to social and other government programs. Many of these programs are not within the purview of the federal government. As a result, our armed forces are constantly in the position of having to do more and more with less and less. Now, due to political malfeasance so severe it can only be described as treachery, the United States Army is far to small, and likely to get smaller.

Reversing this will take an enormous amount of political will. The people, and some few in government, have the will to do it. I believe the next election will move the nation very much in the right direction. Change will not happen all at once, but it need not take forever. Meanwhile, I believe it is necessary to have an idea of how we must structure our armed forces going forward.

There are two basic structural elements of the United States Army. The institutional Army and the operational Army. The institutional side of the Army includes training, support and logistical commands. I will not focus much on this part of the Army. Form follows function. The primary function of the Army is to fight and win wars. I will focus on the size and structure of the operational components of the Army. Training, support and logistics will have to be reconfigured to what ever is necessary to effectively support the operational structure as it evolves.

The current operational structure of the Army consists of six primary combatant commands, and three additional commands. These commands are: Central, North, South, Europe, Pacific, Africa, Special Operations, Surface Deployment and Distribution and, Space and Missile Defense. Currently, the existing war fighting assets of the Army are assigned as needed to whichever of the six primary combat commands require them. This is necessary given the limited amount of combat power available. It is also totally and completely inadequate. This structure needs to be realigned and fleshed out.

Instead of six regional commands, I would have six Army Group commands. Each Army Group would be structured identically. I would further have the structure duplicated in the active reserve component, and again as an inactive reserve.

Before I get into the specific structure of these Army Groups, let me first talk about the type of units required to build out the structure. There will be eight different unit structures involved. Three division structures, three regimental structures and two brigade structures.

The division structures are armor, light infantry and heavy (mechanized) infantry. The three regimental structures are cavalry regiments of three types: Heavy armored, light armored (strykers) and air cavalry. The two brigade structures include a fires brigade, artillery and other direct and indirect fire support assets, and a support brigade with technical, logistical, medical, transport and other support assets. All of these units are structured to provide a wide array of scalable capabilities to combatant commanders that are immediately available.

The standard division structure would be comprised of three brigades with three battalions each, containing three line companies, a combat support company and a headquarters company. Cavalry regiments would be comprised of three squadrons, each containing three line troops and appropriate support and HQ units as necessary. The support and fires capabilities are integrated at the corps level to give combat commanders more flexibility and scalability as needed in any given combat environment. The current concept of the Brigade Combat Team, where everything is integrated at the brigade level, would, and I believe should, be done away with as it is not nearly flexible or scalable enough. If that particular structure is what is needed in a given situation, it can be deployed as such.

The proposed Army Group structure includes six full Army Groups, each containing five field armies composed of three corps each. The field Army structure is key:

  • Field Army
    • First Corps
      • Armor Division
      • Light Infantry Division
      • Light Armored Cavalry Regiment
      • Support Brigade
      • Fires Brigade
    • Second Corps
      • Heavy Infantry Division
      • Heavy Infantry Division
      • Armored Cavalry Regiment
      • Support Brigade
      • Fires Brigade
    • Third Corps
      • Heavy Infantry Division
      • Heavy Infantry Division
      • Air Cavalry Regiment
      • Support Brigade
      • Fires Brigade

This structure would be duplicated five times in each Army group, and there would be six active duty Army groups. This structure alone includes over three million troops. I would further duplicate this structure in the Army Reserve, and then again as an inactive reserve with a skeleton command structure in place, not unlike the training divisions we had in the not so distant past. This completed structure would give us the ability to scale the force up to over ten million troops if necessary.

I am sure there are a number of you out there reading this who have noticed the conspicuous absence of any airborne or cavalry divisions. There is a very good reason for this. I propose creating a structure similar to a field Army which I will call an “Assault Army.” Like the field Army structure, this would be an Army comprised of three corps. Unlike the field Army, however, it would integrate fires and support at the division level. This assault Army would be structured like this:

  • Assault Army
    • First Corps
      • Airborne Division
      • Cavalry Division
    • Second Corps
      • Airborne Division
      • Cavalry Division
    • Third Corps
      • Airborne Division
      • Cavalry Division

As you can see, this will require some fancy footwork in order to get the required units stood up and in place, but not as much as you might think. First, how do we get to three airborne divisions? Currently, we only have one, but there are other airborne assets available, not including the 173rd Airborne Brigade, from which to start building those divisions.

The first order of business is to change the airborne doctrine of the United States Army. I know that sounds scary, but I think anyone who knows anything about it will realize that what I propose is way better than what we are doing now. My proposal is simply this: Combine the current airborne and air assault doctrines into a single, cohesive airborne doctrine.

The next question is, how do we create three airborne divisions? Until recently that would not have been as big a problem as it initially seems, but since both the 82nd and the 101st lost their 4th brigades, it becomes a bit more problematic. In any case, it is still not going to be that difficult. First, we need to stand up a third airborne division. Historically, we have several to choose from. The 11th, 13th and 17th divisions of WWII were airborne. Personally, I would go with the 11th for historical reasons, but that is just me. So now we have three divisions, the 82nd, 101st and 11th.

In standing up the new division, 4th Brigade, 25th Inf (Airborne) would become 1st Brigade, 11th Airborne, and two more brigades would be stood up behind it. Existing personnel in the three divisions would be given additional training as needed to bring them into compliance with the new doctrine. This takes care of half of each of the three corps in the proposed assault Army.

The other half of these corps are the cavalry divisions. We already have one, the 1st Cavalry Division, in operation. Historically, there is only one other cavalry division, the 2nd, so it will need to be reactivated, and a third division stood up. These divisions would be configured to bring an array of combat capabilities to the fight, mostly in the area of highly mobile heavy and medium maneuver units.

The idea behind this structure is the ability to rapidly deploy these units into the battle space. These are assault units. In modern military parlance, they are designed to perform “forced entry” missions. The concept is to have an airborne division that can be delivered anywhere in the world by parachute in very short order, and a cavalry unit as an immediate follow on force. Once in theater, the airborne units can further deploy via parachute and/or helicopters.

I envision something like this: A target is selected, preferably an airfield. The airborne division, that is the entire division, is dropped in to assault the airfield. Once the airfield is secured, which will not take long with an entire division assaulting it, assets of the cavalry division start landing, along with the air assets, (helicopters, etc.) of the airborne division. I believe it is possible to have the entire assault corps, that is both divisions and all of their equipment and vehicles, on the ground at the target in less than 48 hours. In fact, it is conceivable it could be accomplished in half that time.

This capability will obviously require an extensive array of air lift capabilities which I will address in a later article focusing on the United States Air Force. Once this assault corps is on the ground with all of their equipment and vehicles, the airborne division, which dropped in like the 82nd, now can operate like the 101st currently operates. This assault corps constitutes a wide array of capabilities that can be leveraged for any number of tactical or strategic missions.

Another part of this doctrine would have to be in training. These units would have to be trained and equipped in such a way as to maximize their ability to deploy rapidly to their targets. For the airborne this is business as usual, but for a heavy cavalry unit it will take some time and effort to work out the most efficient way to deploy the unit and its assets this quickly. I have no doubt it can be done, but specialized training and equipment will be critical to success.

There is a third aspect of the Army structure to be addressed: Special Operations. The current command structure is probably the best way to go, with the Army in the lead, and the other services’ SpecOps units under that over all command. For this article, I will focus on those SpecOps units and capabilities native to the Army.

Currently, Army Special Operations consists of Army Special Forces (Green Berets), Delta Force, 75th Infantry Regiment (Ranger), 160th Special Operations Air Regiment (SOAR) and various other units dedicated to intelligence, civil affairs, psychological warfare (PsyOps), support and logistics, etc. The only real problem we have with Special Operations is the size of the force. Even in a relatively small war scenario, like Iraq, the operational tempo of our special operations forces was very high. Our best troops were burned out too quickly because there were not enough of them to go around. This must count as a lesson learned, and steps must be taken to insure this does not happen again, even in a much larger scale conflict.

I would propose increasing the size and scope of Army Special Operations. First, I would increase the number of Special Forces Groups, the Green Berets, from five to at least seven, and preferably eight. I would also stand up a second Ranger regiment, as well as a second Special Operations Air Regiment (SOAR). I would then permanently assign two units that are currently not under Special Operations Command, to that command: The 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the 10th Mountain Division. These units have experience working with special operations units already. Training for these unites would expand to include special operations specific activities.

Our special operations forces will always play a key roll in any combat we might face. Giving that command the flexibility and scalability needed to decisively engage in what ever action is required of them is critical to any combat scenario in which victory is the end goal. If victory is not the end goal, then we should not engage any forces in such an operation.

In addition to these structural changes to the existing Army, I would create an entirely new type of unit within the Army. The appropriate number of these units is something I have not determined, but at this point that is not an important consideration. What is important is the mission: Occupation.

I propose a new type of unit be established based on the current light infantry model. A division, with three brigades or regiments of three battalions each. This would essentially be a light infantry division with all those capabilities, but it is not a front line fighting unit. It is, instead, a dedicated occupation force. These soldiers would be regular infantry soldiers, but would receive additional training relative to occupation duties. They would also be equipped differently than their front line infantry counterparts. Instead of armored personnel carriers or main battle tanks, these units would be equipped with armored wheeled vehicles like the current MWRAP vehicles used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Everything about the outward appearance of these units would be different. Their uniforms would be different. They would use different vehicles and helicopters. These units would be designed to maintain order in an occupied area, and would have within them dedicated administrative, civil affairs, civil engineering and intelligence units in addition to the occupation troops themselves.

The purpose of all of this is to present a different “face” to the native people in the occupied area. The key is to have a range of capabilities allowing that “face” to be one that is friendly and helpful, or, if necessary, harsh and intimidating, or something in between. This would, of course, be dependent on the disposition of those people living in the occupied area. The idea is to be able to go from a fairly innocuous looking presence oriented toward maintaining order, to a full on combat ready presence oriented toward restoring order, and leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are fully capable of doing precisely that.

I believe this type of unit should be maintained in a separate command structure and deployed as needed. In some cases the entire unit may be needed. In other cases perhaps just a brigade or battalion is needed. It is also possible to embed these units in the existing field Army structure, although I prefer them in a separate and independent command structure as I believe that offers more flexibility. I also believe that only a small portion of the unit need be on actual active duty. It would probably be of benefit to have one division on active duty, and the rest of the Army structure on active reserve.

Keep in mind that the mission of these occupation units is not nation building. These units are designed to operate in rear areas after front line fighting units have secured them. Their mission is to maintain, and if necessary, restore order. There would also be an inherent intelligence gathering mission.

Another long standing problem with the Army is that of procurement. While the Army, and the armed forces over all, have solved a lot of their procurement problems, there are still some things that should be addressed. Most of this can be dealt with as part of an overhaul not only how things are procured, but what is procured and why.

For this new Army structure, actually, even without it, we need to update much of the equipment used. In particular, are the heavy weapons and vehicles used by our troops. The capabilities of these systems must be different than what we are used to considering for such systems.

Given the state of current technology, an extended period of development of new vehicles and heavy weapons for the Army is not necessary. I would recommend developing a basic vehicle that is readily adaptable to configurations needed by the Army. This would be similar to the canceled Future Combat Systems program previously pursued by the Army. In fact, it could be that very system. A single program encompassing all, or at least most, of the Army’s needs into the future is preferable due to the lower inherent cost and logistical requirements of such a system.

We already have the technology, and already know how to apply that technology to the problem. The system could be built and deployed in fairly short order if we stick with existing proven technology, at least at first. The key is to design these systems in such a way that they can be updated and upgraded with new technologies very rapidly. By using a modular design, at least where the electronics and computer technology is concerned, it is possible to field a system that can be readily updated and upgraded quickly right in the field.

It is also very important to consider the vulnerabilities of that technology. One EMP and everything goes to hell. These system should be designed with a basic functionality that enables the users, our troops, to shoot, move and communicate in the event the major technological systems are rendered inoperative. This means, for instance, that a tank crew still have the ability to drive the tank, and load, aim and fire the main gun, even if the computers and electronic fire control systems are offline.

While I do believe it is prudent to field new, more capable ground combat systems, I am not so sure we need to do that where the Army’s air assets are concerned. The primary air assets of the Army, the Blackhawk, Apache and Chinook helicopters, are more than adequate to the mission, whatever that mission is. In fact, and especially in the case of the CH-47 Chinook, even though it has been a mainstay in the Army for half a century, I do not believe anyone, anywhere, has come up with a better design to do what it does. The only real problem with any of these helicopters is that we do not have nearly enough of them, especially given the demands of the new structure explained above. Fortunately, all three of these helicopters are still in production, so procuring enough to fulfill the requirements created by the expansion of the Army, the deployment of all those AirCav Regiments, and the integration of the new airborne doctrine, will not be a problem.

In addition to the regular Army, and the Army reserve, I believe we need to take a hard look at the Army National Guard. Specifically, we need to redefine the mission of the Guard, and restructure the units back to what they were before. This modular combat brigade structure is really not as useful, especially to the Guard, as people seem to think. This is especially true given how I believe the Guard should be deployed.

I believe the Army National Guard should be permanently assigned the mission of doing what its name implies: Guarding the Nation. Given the Army Group structure described above, and the fact that this structure would be duplicated in the Army Reserve, there would no longer be a need for the Army National Guard to be deployed as a reserve force for the Army in overseas operations. Instead, the Guard would train and deploy for operations only within the borders of the United States. To this end, some structural changes, especially to the front line units, would be required.

As stated above, the combat divisions of the Guard should be realigned into standard three brigade divisions. Currently, there are only eight combat divisions within the Guard. This should be expanded to at least twelve divisions. The Guard should have sufficient assets available to it, including air and special operations, to deal with any of its natural missions. As we know, the Guard is not only a combat oriented organization. It also responds to natural disasters, civil disturbances, and a host of other missions for which it is uniquely suited. Those missions must all be maintained and trained for, but the primary mission of the Guard has to be to engage in combat operations against any enemy of the United States on our own soil.

Until recently, this was something most people would not consider a pressing need, but that has changed. Our enemies are not all foreign nations with standing armies to deal with. In the age of terrorism, and especially with the advent of the “invasion by immigration” doctrine of so many enemy cultures, it is only prudent to maintain a force structure and level of readiness in the National Guard capable of dealing with any of these eventualities.

In addition to the structural changes, there is a real pressing need for a change in the way leaders at the very top of the command structure approach combat operations. Firstly, in any combat situation, it is wholly unacceptable for the rules of engagement to be formulated by a lawyer. In fact, in most combat situations, the only rule of engagement needed is simply “kill the enemy.” These lawyerly rules first showed up during the Vietnam war, and were a large part of the reason that war was lost. It is the reason politicians now talk in terms of “ending” a war instead of winning a war. This is not only unacceptable, it is inexcusable. Lastly, the United States must take a different approach to foreign relations. The current United Nations centered approach not only does not work, it has actually created an environment where the sovereignty and security of the United States is directly at risk.

Whether you agree with my concept of a restructured Army or not, you have to agree that the current model is at least inadequate. There can be no doubt that many of our enemies, and potential enemies, are watching very closely to see what happens next. If the wrong person is elected President this November, they will know our military capabilities are likely to become even more atrophied. Our enemies will not only become bolder, they will also increase in number. It must also be pointed out that in identifying who our enemies are, the enemy gets a vote. That is to say, even if we do not consider a particular nation an enemy, they may consider us an enemy. In that case, they are an enemy, and should be dealt with on that basis.

The first duty of the federal government is to defend the nation. That means our lands, our people and most especially our constitution. Anything less constitutes at the very least a dereliction of duty, and could, in some cases, be construed as down right treason. These are considerations it seems our current leaders are not aware of. I pray they do not learn them the hard way, at least not before they can be replaced. Enemies such as Russia and Iran are already on the move in the middle east and Eastern Europe. The situation there could easily escalate into something even more serious and widespread. The United States Army is not adequately manned and equipped to deal with the potential problems we face right now in a decisive manner. This must be a top priority for the next administration. The current administration certainly has no interest in solving this problem. We can only hope these problems with our Army are solved before it is too late.

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