Monday, September 26, 2011

How low can you go? HASC Republicans set a new standard

As I mentioned over at Hull Defilade last week, it seems that the looming DoD budget cuts are generating some really odd commentary from those that oppose said cuts. First there was the former Vice Chairman of the JCS, General Cartwright. Then Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Buck McKeon. I was told last week that the HASC staff was preparing a report to substantiate these claims. Well here it is. Here also is the executive summary.

Before we get into some of the nuts and bolts of the thing, let's start with some background and basics. Firstly, the numbers presented are the worse-case scenario wherein DoD faces $1T in cuts over the next 10 years or there is a 10% reduction in DoD funding from FY11 projections. This is opposed to the $600B reductions currently planned over the same period (the two scenarios above are possible, but it's worth mentioning that they are worst case). Secondly, the report assumes that cuts will be even across all services. Thirdly, it assumes that the cuts would be effectively increased because of exemption to military personnel appropriations. I think these are very broad assumptions (especially the last two) and are devoid of any strategic thought on what actual cuts may be - such as cutting entire large procurement programs. Granted, that's not really the staffers' job to do, but I think it's important to acknowledge they are painting with a very broad brush in a topic area that probably requires some more nuance.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get into the meat of the report and it's executive summary. I have a lot of issues with a lot of it. I also don't know a lot about some of these topics in enough detail to comment. I'm also going to skip a lot of the purely money stuff (percentage of discretionary spending, etc) because I do not believe that if you tie appropriations to strategy that data like that much matters. I know my friends on the right disagree with that though. So I'm going to stick to high-level issues and leave the granular stuff to those that know.

1. Are vital missions at risk? Not by a long a shot, but that depends on how you define vital missions. The report also compares projected troop levels to current commitments - hardly a useful tool when we plan to draw down our two biggest commitments in the next few years. Vital interests also include being able to invade Iran and North Korea, defend Taiwan and Israel, and check China. Those might be vital interests, but that's a huge (and frankly Republican) assumption. Not a fact. A Democratic White House may not necessarily agree (they don't now) that large land forces need to be reserved for these contingencies when we're still fighting "terror" around the globe. Partisan opinions do not vital interests make, whether or not there are merits to the opinion is irrelevant until DoD is seriously concerned with it and they'll be concerned when the President and SecDef says they should be. They're not saying that now.

I'm also a little flabbergasted at the metric of Army battalions over time. The use of 1990 as a starting point in the graph is plain stupid - the Army had 20 divisions then in a very different world. Republicans and Democrats agreed at the time (for the most part) that we could reduce those numbers to 10 divisions. So let's just ignore that. I also disagree with their number of maneuver battalions today - it's more than 100. I'm guessing they just counted Combined Arms Battalions in the 46 combat arms brigades (4 brigades per division) we currently have. Part of the modularity regime of the mid-2000s added a reconnaissance squadron to every combat brigade (if you don't think a CAV squadron is a maneuver battalion, I can't help you understand the Army). There are effectively roughly 146 maneuver battalions in the Army. And this doesn't even address the fact that battalions today are much larger than battalions in 2000 (roughly 33% larger). So in spite of what is presented in the chart (without comment or source), a 30-40% reduction in the number of "maneuver battalions" would actually put the number of battalions closer to what they were in 2000, not drastically less. They would likely be very equal combat effectiveness if you take into account the number of companies in each battalion increased in the past 10 years.

That all said, I'll draw your attention back to the executive summary where the preponderance of the scare mongering occurs. Apparently these cuts will "hollow the force" to the point that we'll magically return to the post-Vietnam army of the Carter administration (don't even get me started on the statement that "American freedom depends on protecting vital interests.."). If the Army had about 178 battalions in 1978 and we're reducing down to "60-70" (which, again, isn't accurate), then how are we hollowing the force to the Carter administration levels if the prime metric is the number of battalions? This is such a dishonestly partisan shot that they authors should be embarrassed. It ignores the entire history of the tumult the Army went through during Vietnam from a cultural perspective. In fact, the Carter years (as well as the Nixon years before and some Reagan years after) are a good example of how a large and expensive military may not buy you a competent force that will actually protect your interests. You picked the worst analogy possible. Congrats.

2. Breaking the faith with the troops - which will could make the all-volunteer force unsustainable? Oh come on. I'm not going to talk about this too much, because they don't present anything other than some programs that will lose funding. The Army survived a 50% decrease in manpower in the 1990s. Was it tough for some people? Absolutely. But the force was still extremely effective at the end of it (Exhibit A: early days in Afghanistan. Exhibit B: the invasion of Iraq.). If it's effectively managed, this won't be a problem.

To be honest, it's this draft scare that really gets me. In no way do the authors present any case to suggest that the rate of decreased retention and recruitment because of the "broken faith" will ever match or outpace the decreased manning needs of the Army. You would have to show that somehow for me to believe this and it's fairly simple math:

(people leaving disgruntled)+(lower enlistment rates)+(people getting chucked out)


(number of people your smaller Army needs)

Someone like RAND is probably more appropriate for that type of analysis. These guys don't even try. Their calculus looks more like:

(people leaving disgruntled)+(lower enlistment rates)+(people getting chucked out)


(number of people your smaller Army needs) [QED]

Show me the numbers. Then I'll think about buying this line of (frankly) crap, because now it is an unsupported (and absurd) conjecture.

3. There is no discussion about the Reserves or National Guard. Save for a comment on page 3 that decreased active forces will require significant, increased mobilization of the Reserves. As if that's a bad thing. So what? What the hell do we have the Reserves (and National Guard) for if not to use them when they're needed? That's why they exist! In fact, I bet we'd have a lot less stupid wars of choice if we used the Reserves and Guard like they were supposed to be used - because then more people would feel the pain of wars. Which is exactly why the HASC Republicans insinuate their use as a bad thing: it would impede the Government's ability to wage war without the consent of the people. In spite of the fact that transitioning a lot of the Active Duty cuts to the Reserves and Guard would be a very cost-effective way of maintaining readiness. After all, what do we pay these people drill pay for if not to prepare for when the Nation needs them?

I'm sure others will weigh in on this report and it's obnoxious executive summary and I look forward to reading other reviews. This is not any sort of serious analysis - it is political grandstanding. It swings from dishonest to ignorant and a few places in between. I will admit that I don't like the idea of the larger cuts to DoD and I hope they don't happen. But this is not, in any way, how you should make your argument. This is pure fear mongering. And should be quickly dismissed as such.


  1. If I'm reading it right, they say that to reduce government spending during a recession will actually stifle economic growth; that government spending creates jobs.

    I had no idea the HASC Republicans were Keynesians.

  2. Jason,

    A couple points: I think your third point is particularly insightful. Reducing the # of Active Duty and increasing the # of reserves sounds like a really nice way of checking the executive's power to make war unilaterally. Though I would point out that we called up lots of reserve units for Iraq and well, that didn't seem to affect the war's inevitability. Do I have that right?

    There seems to be so many lies and misrepresentations in the report that it would take forever to fully refute them. You've done a good job of getting started here. I, however, would love to see you "get started" on the lie that our freedom depends on protecting "vital interests." To me, this the big lie--the one that sustains militarism and all its manifestations like COIN, R2P, preventative war, etc. Our freedom does not depend, in any way, on the Haqqani network. This lie ought to be shouted down at every turn, and I'd love to see your thoughts on the matter.

  3. John - that is an excellent point. But Keynesian when it comes to manly things like weapons.

    Keith - a lot of reserves were called up for Iraq and it was a huge political problem for Republicans. There was a shift after 2005 towards deploying smaller units from lots of places to cover the fact that so many were being deployed. This move led to the 15 month deployments and short dwell times for the active force. But I've said before, the political class has no interest in the American people feeling the full brunt of wars because that would limit their ability to wage it (also why the draft will never be used unless we face an existential war).

    As for freedom and vital interest, there's probably a very long post involved. I'll see what I can do.

  4. It's probably worth noting here that the Army has spent the last couple of years doing its best to ensure that the Reserve Component retains its new and hard-won status as an operational (not a strategic) reserve. What that means is that the Army plans and operates as if it will have ready access to RC forces even in the steady state/peacetime; its projections about OPTEMPO, deployments, and force availability are based on the idea that HQDA will be able to reach into the reserves and activate units and individuals on a regular basis, and thus that certain essential capabilities can be retained there without the worry that you won't be able to access them when needed.

    So there's some irony to this: the reserve is/are being made more necessary to the conduct of operations, but the Army is making an effort to erode the historical distinction between operating forces and the strategic reserve by changing the legal authoritites relating to mobilization and access to reserve forces.

  5. While it's true that the Army has effectively treated the CAV squadron as a 3rd maneuver battalion during recent deployments, I (and many others) would argue that that's simply a field expedient solution. At best, and I say this as a one who's earned his gold spurs multiple times, the Cav SQDN is equal to about half a regular BN. There were some good discussions about restoring the 3rd maneuver BN to the BCT on SWJ a while back, and I'll post links when I get a chance.

    Also, I would agree that the Guard and Reserves are (or should be) a large part of the solution to the current crisis, but they are also deeply flawed and in need of serious reforms (ideally, the prospect of expansion could be a significant carrot).

  6. Tierce - thanks for chiming in again. Is a recon squadron smaller than a infantry or CAB? Yes it is. The fact that it's slightly over 50% the size of a CAB also plays into the fact that CABs are bigger than infantry battalions in 2000. A 500-man cav squadron (in M3s and HMMWVs no less) is still a viable force - but yes, small when compared to a 950-man CAB.

    Concur entirely on the Reserves and Guard.

  7. All of the scare-mongering makes me sick. A lot of us think that budget cuts will actually be good for the military, but unfortunately given the logic of the folks on the Hill, their buddies in industry, and the GO/SES types that make decisions and then move over to the private sector to reap the rewards, the cuts are not going to result in the sorts of efficiencies we hope they will. Instead, the bathwater will stay and the baby will be sacrificed to pay for it. Our military bureaucracy and its supporting cast is very sick these days.