May 12, 2006:
The U.S. Army is planning on how to deal with another Iraq. That is, a lengthily, large scale, peacekeeping operation. This effort concentrates on using the new "brigade-centric" organization the army is creating. Twenty new combat brigades are being created. The 77 active duty and reserve brigades could, it is believed, provide a twenty brigade force in a combat zone indefinitely. There would be enough brigades to rotate them in and out of the combat zone, allowing time for rest and training back in the United States.
The current reorganization makes the brigades, not the divisions, the primary combat unit. The new brigades have more support units permanently attached, and can be more easily sent off to fight by themselves. In the past, doing this involved quickly adding a lot of support units to the brigade. But the new organization makes small support units part of the brigades, and, more importantly, the brigades train using these support units and learns to work well with them. The divisions still exist, but operate more like the corps has for the last two centuries (coordinating the actions of a few divisions and only having a few support units under its command.)
Divisions now have four of the new brigades, but can control more (or less) in action. Each of the new brigades (or BCTs, for Brigade Combat Teams) has 3,500-4,000 troops (depending on type). There are three types of BCTs; light (infantry, including paratroopers), heavy (mechanized, including tanks) and Stryker (mechanized using wheeled armored vehicles.) During this reorganization, which will be completed by 2007, the army will end up with 43 active duty combat brigades, instead of the current 33. This is done by reorganizing the combat units of each division into four brigades, instead of the current three.
There are several independent brigades as well. New weapons and equipment (especially satellite based communications and battlefield Internet software) enable the army to get the same amount of combat power brigade, using fewer combat troops. The army is also transferring over 40,000 people from combat-support jobs to the combat brigades. The actual number of infantrymen and tanks won't change, but the number of communications, maintenance and intelligence support will. For example, increased use of robots, sensors and computerized vidcam surveillance systems makes it possible to do the same amount of work in combat, with fewer troops. A lot of these new ideas, and equipment, is being tested in Iraq and Afghanistan, and most of these items work well in combat.
The new training and deployment plan is based on a schedule that would have a brigade available to deploy overseas for a year, then spend six months taking in new troops (to replace those getting out or transferring) and training, followed by 18 months being ready for any emergency, but otherwise continuing training.