Forces: America's New Combat Brigades March On


April 17, 2006: The reorganization of the U.S. Army is, as expected, changing direction even as it takes place. This is largely due to the feedback from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new organization is based more on combat brigades, than combat divisions. The divisions remain, but with more of the men and gear going into four combat brigades, instead of three brigades previously. That means 77 new brigades are being formed. Only a year ago, the plan was for 35 of those brigades to be "heavy" (equipped with M1 tanks and M2 infantry vehicles.) Now there will only be 31 heavy brigades. In addition, there will be four sets of heavy brigade equipment, stored overseas as "prepositioned" gear in places like Kuwait and Korea. Nearly half of the heavy brigades will be in the National Guard, and they will have older equipment (armored vehicles without all the latest electronics.) The army has been trying to get a billion dollars (or so) to bring all armored vehicles up to the same standard. Most of this has to do with computers and electronics. The goal is to have all armored vehicles connected in a battlefield Internet, allowing for rapid exchange of information during combat. This works best if all vehicles have the same communications capabilities.

Even so, this transformation is getting more expensive. Two years ago, it was believed that getting the 77 brigades set up would cost about $370 million per brigade (on average, more for the heavy ones). Now the cost is up to about $683 million per brigade. Most (78 percent) of the cost is for new equipment. Most of the remainder goes for construction of new facilities. Costs may go up again, if, as force levels are reduced in Iraq, much American gear is handed over to the new Iraqi army, instead of being brought home.


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