Forces: Obstacles to a Larger U.S. Army


December22, 2006: Proposals to increase the size of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps has to contend with several realities. First, recruiting more troops, training them, and creating new units for them, will take time. Individual and unit training takes about a year. Even after new training facilities are built, you're not going to get more than one new brigade a year. You're also going to need some place to put the new troops. Some old facilities are available, but they have to be refurbished. Based on current costs, each new trooper will cost about $120,000 a year, plus the cost of new facilities (a one time cost of up to $50,000 per soldier or marine.)

At the end of the Cold War, the army had 800,000 troops, and sixteen divisions (55 brigades, including independent brigades). That was cut during the 1990s. The current force has 500,000 troops, ten divisions and 43 brigades. The current army organization is different from what it had fifteen years ago. The army is a leaner organization, with more support services outsourced to civilian firms, and a larger proportion of troops in combat units.

Adding 100,000 troops to the army, would probably result in nine additional brigades. But it would take six or seven years to reach this number, and would make the army a less effective organization during that period. That's because thousands of experienced troops would have to be taken from existing units, in order to provide trainers for the new troops, and leadership for the new units. Because it's a wartime situation, the army has a deep bench. Lots of combat experienced troops of known capabilities. But the loss of these troops to training duties will make some units less capable.

There will also be some problems with troop quality. With the economy booming, and unemployment so low, standards will have to be reduced a few percent in order to bring in an additional 15 percent or so new recruits each year. The quality drop will have more of an impact in the media, with frenzied news stories, than it will with any actual battlefield effect.

The main thing coming out of this plan is the apparent decision to keep troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and perhaps elsewhere, for a decade or more to come. Not much has been said about that, or the fact that expanding the army and marines will take years.


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