The National Commission on the future of the Army has released its long-awaited report and the message is that the Army just isn’t big enough for all of its jobs. Ground service’s numbers are slipping and its resources are thinning. The possibility that it might ditch a few jobs is apparently unimagined by the Commission. A hint of where jobs might be ditched is in the statement by Commission co-chair Gen. Carter Ham (U.S. Army, Retired) when he said that their Total Army—the combination of the active and reserve components—end strength recommendation of 980,000 soldiers “was the absolute minimum required to defend the United States, its allies, and its interests”.
The question then is: Is it in our interest to pay for the Army needed to defend our allies? We certainly want allies and some allies might need our direct help in their defense. But who are these allies and how much help do they need? The Commission recommends that we send an armor brigade to Europe and maintain a combat aviation brigade, which was slated to fold, in Korea.
This seems to me to be an insult to American taxpayers. The Europeans and the Koreans are rich enough to afford their own tanks, helicopters, and soldiers. Our European allies do not meet the agreed-upon NATO standard of two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for defense, while the Koreans, at just over two percent of GDP, are well under our three and a half percent. If more armor or attack helicopters are needed, shouldn’t they, rather than we, dig deeper? Aren’t local and regional necks most at risk? Don’t we have two big oceans and a big navy between us?
The Commission talks about the hard choices that have to be made in a time of budget scarcity, but then skips a big opportunity to make one. The commission was convened in part to deal with a rift between the active-duty Army and the Army National Guard over attack helicopters. The Army coveted the National Guard’s attack helicopters, given its obligation to provide trained forces on demand to our regional commanders. On active duty rather in the Guard, they could be maintained at a higher readiness status. But the Guard wants to be considered a real army, not a reserve one, and real armies have lots of attack helicopters. The Commission, unwilling to tangle with the Guard’s many friends in Congress, caved and recommends that the Guard retain four battalions of Apaches, but not have them available for deployment without augmentation by the Army.
There is insight there, though, that the Commission should have pursued. The U.S. Army ought to be the reserve force for our allies. It is their armies that ought to man the barriers. If they cannot hold against an aggressor, have them ask for our help. Like the Guard, we should be behind them, not in front. They are or should be the active-duty force for their own defense. The U.S. Army defends America and relies on the Guard and Reserve for backup. That formula applied to our allies should be the Commission’s solution to the problem of U.S. Army having more jobs than it can afford. Or better put, having more jobs than the U.S. taxpayers can afford.