Military Force Structure Math the American Way

As the United States defense budget has been cut over the last several years, the Congress has been very disappointed with proposals from the military services for readjusting their force structure. This disappointment generated the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force (NCSAF) – after the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2013 proposed cutting 3,900 Regular Air Force members, 900 Air Force Reservists, and 5,100 Air National Guardsmen, along with about 50 Regular Air Force aircraft, 50 Reserve aircraft, and 130 Guard aircraft.

Guard advocates, including members of Congress, decried the cuts as too targeted on the Guard. Taking the numbers at face value, the casual observer will sympathize, especially considering that Regular Air Force end strength started at 332,800 and Air National Guard end
strength started at only 106,700. A similar uproar has followed comparable PB15 Army force structure proposals and a National Commission on the Structure of the Army will likely ensue, along with similar commissions to examine the Navy and the Marine Corps.

All the forms of force structure mathare valid and important. The challenge is to balance the equations – and all their associated risks and benefits – for the greater common good.

All Kinds of Ways to do the Math

The senior leaders of the Department of the Air Force explained that their force structure logic was to trade quantity for quality, in order to be an affordable “smaller, but superb, force that maintains the agility, flexibility, and readiness to engage a full range of contingencies and threats.” The senior leaders of the Department of the Army explained that their force structure logic is to reduce end strength as rapidly as possible, while still meeting operational commitments, in order to concentrate remaining funds on rebuilding and sustaining “a force capable of conducting the full range of operations on land, to include prompt and sustained land combat.”

The Army is planning to take risk in its modernization programs, while the Air Force is taking risk in near-term combat capacity in order to invest in its much delayed recapitalization programs. Either way, however, call this the math of affordable combat capability, where you increase the Active Component percentage of an overall smaller force to be more ready and responsive with what’s left.

Reserve Forces Policy Board math counters the above formulation by asserting that Reserve Component forces across the four services consume only about 16% of the Defense budget, even though they represent 39% of military end strength. The simple math is telling. Unfortunately, it fails to account for the difference in routine Active and Reserve Component output short of full mobilization, and for significant Active Component investments in Reserve Component force structure (to include capabilities research, development, testing, evaluation, and acquisitions, as well as training, education, oversight and other management infrastructure).

Enough about combat. What about homeland security? For homeland security math, we’ll turn to Terry Branstad, the governor of Iowa and co-chair of the Council of Governors, which was created by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 to serve as a mechanism for governors and key federal officials to address matters pertaining to the National Guard, homeland defense and defense support to civil authorities. Governor Branstad has argued that even the Air Force’s proposed reduction of Air National Guard F-16s and A-10s would have significant impact on state, regional and national emergency preparedness, because of the loss of “the corresponding personnel and affiliated support capabilities, such as communications and medical response.” Call this the math of subsidized dual-use domestic responsiveness.

Dual-use capabilities are capabilities the military departments possess with applicability to combat and homeland security requirements. When those capabilities reside in the National Guard, they are within easy reach of the governors of American states and territories. But despite the fact the Blackhawks offered as an alternative are more useful during domestic responses, the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) argues against the Army proposal to move all Guard Apache and Kiowa aircraft to the Regular Army, because it would render the Guard unable to augment the Army as a true reserve for rotary-wing attack and reconnaissance capabilities. Call this militia math, where an operational National Guard in all or most capability areas allows for a smaller standing military, “as our Founding Fathers intended.” The kicker is that our Founding Fathers couldn’t possibly have envisioned modern American national security demands for which a militia simply can’t deliver the capacity needed for forward presence, rapid response, and high-rate rotational demands.

The Abrams Doctrine is often posited to be a corollary to militia math. In this interpretation of General Creighton Abrams’ Total Force approach to managing Army force structure, a significant reliance on the Reserve Component falls in line with the Founding Fathers’ opposition to a large standing military, by making obtaining popular support before significant military mobilization a limitation on use of military force. Considering Abrams’ actual intent, this interpretation of the Abrams Doctrine is a stretch. It is also ironic, given that the Constitutional establishment of the Militia was intended not as a hindrance, but rather to provide federal access to all able-bodied male citizens fit for military service in all states and territories, as the need arose.

The final kind of force structure math I’ll mention here is the Congressional math that comes with the jobs, economic impact, constituent happiness, votes, and even the prestige associated with having military – and especially National Guard – units in a member’s district. Some observers may consider this last form of force structure math politically self-serving, but providing for their constituents is exactly what members of Congress are elected to do.

Unflappable Mathematicians Needed

All the forms of force structure math I have listed here are valid and important. The challenge is to balance the equations – and all their associated risks and benefits – for the greater common good, even though there is much less defense funding to go around while dangers at home and abroad simultaneously abound.

Our American military men and women are the ultimate professionals, regardless of component or service. They need senior component and political leaders who will honor their sacrifice and devotion to duty by dispassionately applying all the force structure math I’ve described, in order to build and sustain the full range of military capabilities and forces our country needs now and in the future. General Abrams and our Founding Fathers expect no less.

After retiring as an Air Force colonel in 2013, Eric Jorgensen served the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force as a Senior Research Analyst. In his final military assignment, Eric was Chief of the Total Force Enterprise Management division in the Air Force Directorate of Strategic Planning in the Pentagon. He is a pilot with more than 4,000 military flying hours in aircraft including the F-111F, the F-15E, and the KC-135R.

[Photo: Flickr, Ft. Wainwright PAO]


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *