“The Vietnam War broke the Army,” wrote Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland in a recent issue of Army Magazine, “and there was growing concern that the American military would be quickly overwhelmed by the numerically superior forces of the Soviet Union in the event of a major conventional war.”
This concern, Cleveland continued, led commanders to create and implement an entirely new strategic doctrine in the early 1980s. AirLand Battle emphasized speed, maneuverability, decentralized command structures and technological superiority to withstand any conventional threat.
The doctrine worked. It contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, enabled U.S. Forces to quickly eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991, and rapidly defeat the Iraqi military in 2003.
But 30 years after AirLand Battle’s implementation, Cleveland argues that it’s time for a new strategic doctrine. As head of the Army’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Cleveland has a dog in the fight.
“We still lack a coherent and comprehensive concept for dealing with the irregular and hybrid enemies we will continue to face in the foreseeable future,” he continued.
Using the metric the National Security Agency is reputed to use to detect planned Al Qaeda operations — noise on the network — it may be that American strategic doctrines are on the verge of systemic change.
But there’s no agreement on what the changes will be. Staid publications such as Army Magazine and Armed Forces Journal feature fiercely combative arguments about the future, as do dozens of blogs.
The implementation of AirLand Battle was made possible by Reagan-era increases in the defense budget. The new doctrine required new weapons such as the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the F-16 fighter, the M-1 Abrams tank, and the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters, as well as the creation of a new Army culture. The military’s acronym for all of this: DOTMLPF. That’s doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities.
This time, the military has to reinvent itself in a time of austerity. Available resources are projected to shrink annually for the foreseeable future, forcing difficult choices.
Thirty percent of the Colorado Springs economy depends upon military spending. More than 25,000 active-duty troops are stationed at Fort Carson; about 1,000 cadets graduate every year from the Air Force Academy; and 8,100 people work at Schriever Air Force Base (including active duty military, civilian personnel and contractors). Military retirees contribute substantially to the economy, so any proposed benefit reductions could directly impact local purchases.
“We all know there are cutbacks coming,” said Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance board chair Mike Jorgensen during a presentation to City Council Nov. 12.
Councilor Joel Miller, a recently retired Air Force officer, summarized the military’s dilemma.
“The doctrine has to fit the budget,” he said. “Not the other way around.”
Virtually everyone in the military establishment agrees (or pretends to agree) that a new strategic vision should emphasize the role of rapidly deployable special operations forces as well as the platforms that support them. Military planners largely discount the possibility of set-piece conflicts with powers such as Russia and China, focusing rather on local flare-ups in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In an era of straitened budgets, programs and personnel that do not contribute to these new missions can expect reduced funding.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 (the Sequester) will, unless modified by Congress, reduce overall military budgets by $48 billion in 2015. That’s led to some creative budgeting by Army bean counters.
For example, the cost per service member deployed in Afghanistan is projected to rise from $1.3 million to $2.1 million in fiscal year 2015. That makes little sense, unless budgeters are playing a shell game. As Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a nonprofit think tank, noted in an October report:
“A possible explanation is that OCO [Overseas Contingency Operations] funding is being used for costs that previously had been paid using base funding. Both Congress and the Defense Department have an incentive to migrate costs from the base to the OCO budget because this helps avoid the budget caps imposed by the BCA.”
Such creative accounting means that the Pentagon is deferring the actual costs of the Sequester. But an eventual budget agreement between Congress and the White House will certainly contain cuts of comparable magnitude, and may make them specific and enforceable.
In September the Stimson Center, a defense-oriented think tank in Washington, issued a report detailing 27 proposed cuts in the defense budget meant to replace the automatic, across-the-board cuts of the BCA. A quarter of the cuts would fall upon the Army, which would be trimmed by 40,000 active duty service members. The Stimson Center also proposes reducing military contractors providing services, now estimated to account for 710,000 firms, by at least 20 percent and reducing civilian employment by 58,000.
Those cuts, if applied uniformly throughout the military universe, could throw Colorado Springs into recession. Yet it’s possible that the region could dodge the bullet entirely.
Schriever is a key player in satellites, cyberwarfare, and space — areas that can expect increased funding.
Army force reductions might be offset by reducing forces in Europe and elsewhere.
Upgraded facilities and the Piñon Canyon maneuver space give the Mountain Post substantial advantages over other posts and bases.
The Stimson proposals may seem drastic, but many analysts expect even deeper cuts, while others regard the Army as a lumbering dinosaur that needs radical change. In the latest issue of Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis calls for decapitation — forcing “a substantial chunk” of today’s generals to retire.
“Over the past 20 years, our senior leaders have amassed a record of failure in major organizational, acquisition and strategic efforts,” Davis wrote. “These failures have been accompanied by the hallmarks of an organization unable and unwilling to fix itself: aggressive resistance to the reporting of problems, suppression of failed test results, public declarations of success where none was justified, and the absence of accountability.”
And who’s going to fire the generals? A comment to that article, posted by “Khakicolonel,” summarized the problem. “A hog will not slaughter itself, so it will take politicians and civilian leadership to have any hope of real reform.”
As Todd Harrison points out, the generals and the Pentagon have few options, thanks in part to their own dithering.
“The BCA-level budget caps with the automatic reductions currently in effect once seemed like a worst-case scenario for the defense budget,” Harrison wrote. “Now that sequestration has gone into effect and the deepest part of the decline from FY 2012 to FY 2013 has already occurred, the BCA budget caps may be more of a ceiling than floor in the coming years.”
Is there any way around the problem? Noting that the Pentagon shies away from proposing specific cuts, Harrison suggests that it’s time to bite the bullet.
“The risk of inaction — continuing to propose unrealistic budgets that do not account for the cuts required by law — is arguably worse. As the past year has shown, the Pentagon’s failure to plan for sequestration and its repeated warnings of the consequences did not prevent the cuts from taking place — it only served to limit the number of options available once sequestration went into effect.”
1. Reduce headquarters $4.5
2. Reduce defense agencies $1.0
3. Streamline central training $2.0
4. Extricate uniformed personnel from non-military tasks $2.7
5. Reduce civilian employees $4.7
6. Reduce contractors n/a
7. Reform military retirement $1.5
8. Reform health benefits $4.7
9. Stop funding commissaries and post exchanges in the U.S. $1.2
10. Reduce infrastructure n/a
Subtotal, Management Reforms $22.4
11. Reduce Army force structure $11.9
12. Reduce Marine Corps end-strength $2.0
13. Shift lower-End Air Force fighters to Reserve component $5.4
14. Do not retire Navy cruisers -$0.1
15. Maintain current number of aircraft carriers $2.3
16. Increase resources for cyberwarfare -$1.2
17. Maintain ready Special Operations Forces $0.0
18. Maintain strategic depth the Guard and Reserve provide $0.7
19. Reduce existing nuclear forces $0.4
Subtotal, Force Structure $21.4
20. Cancel GCV and JLTV $1.2
21. Slow F-35 purchases $4.0
22. Continue the long-range Strike Bomber $0.0
23. Delay and reduce purchases of SSBN-X $1.2
24. Freeze GMD; reprogram for further technology development $0.0
25. Buy an additional AEGIS Destroyer a year -$1.6
26. Shift resources from post-prototype to earlier research $0.0
27. Cut minor procurement $0.9
Subtotal, Modernization $5.7
Savings needed in FY15 to Meet Sequester $47.7
Additional Savings Identified $1.8