Small Wars Journal

To Improve the U.S. Military, Shrink It

To Improve the U.S. Military, Shrink It by Tom Ricks, Washington Post.

Want a better U.S. military? Make it smaller. The bigger the military, the more time it must spend taking care of itself and maintaining its structure as it is, instead of changing with the times. And changing is what the U.S. military must begin to do as it recovers from the past decade’s two wars…

Read on.



Wed, 12/11/2013 - 12:05am

Avoid Rick's article. Save yourself five minutes and do something constructive. You'll want your five minutes back.

In a nutshell he equates smaller military with adaptive military. Historically that's never been our tradition. (He also thinks carriers are obsolete)

I just saved you five minutes.


Tue, 12/10/2013 - 5:36pm

I don't get it. I mean, I get the argument that we need to cut the budget as the draw down in contingency ops would theoretically be accompanied by at least a corresponding budget drop (DC budget drama notwithstanding). I also get that we need to re-think how we think and all that. What I don't get is the relationship between the two.

A bigger military may need to expend resources in taking care of itself. And if the question was one of resourcing, then sure, taking a bit out of the force structure to finance some modernization initiative may make for an effective argument. But that would be a specific case scenario. It doesn't follow that a reduction in force structure would lead to modernization of the force to be adaptable, etc etc etc.

So again, I don't get it. Nothing in this article points to the size v. modernization (ie changing with the time) trade off.

I do agree that preparing for the next war is foolishness. What the national security strategy should direct is what capabilities the US military should have. For example, fight two major land wars was a good piece of strategy. It required a large force (which incidentally used to cost less in real terms), but it was a strategy nonetheless that allowed the force to orient itself. It was also an incomplete strategy, as the services sequestered themselves in the sexiest parts of their domains, creating massive gaps that started to hurt on or about 2004.

But what are we supposed to be prepared for now? Anyone care to guess? I can point to a dozen "priorities" but not a single strategy. RAF comes close, but even it is a tactical solution to an un-articulated strategy. What is emerging as a strategy (and I think unintentionally, or rather, organically) is a constabulary-type global engagement model that will see us build really complex entanglements across the globe. But because this is not intentional at its intellectual core (we fool ourselves a bit by thinking that the modern world compels us to be engaged, rather than the choice among many that it actually is), we are approaching global engagement piecemeal; a sprinkle of SOF here, a dash of Carrier Group here, and a pinch of BCT there.

Being nimble and being small aren't strategies either.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 3:35pm

In reply to by Sparapet

Spbarapet---some goods comments--I get the recruiting talent and I get the being constantly on the deployment treadmill over the last years, but right now the Force has an issue and I call it the "entitlement" mindset built to a degree around the concept of everyone being heros---by the way not a term associated with VN vets and or DS veterans.

Example---recently I was in DTO getting a ticket and two Sp4s were outside in a heated debate as to why the Army was putting them in military billets and not giving them a rental vehicle as they were headed to a school training session---comment from one---this is BS we have always gotten hotels and a rental cars---what the h---- is going on?

They were adamant as Sp4s they were being mistreated---never a thought given to the taxpayer who has funded them for over 12 years

Example two---current education package for all military personnel---VN was for example for a married vet no dependents 485USDs for a max of 48 months-lucky to finish a MA nothing for books nothing for a stipend-nothing else. Similar for DS vets and then the Montgomery came in.

Now for Iraq and AFG veterans AND their wives---tuition costs, books covered and stipends for both and at what cost to the tax payer?

Let's look at Tricare---originally came in in the 80s and was designed to support the military family due to the pay being low even for AVF at that time---my take home pay for a CW2 in 1993 was a famous 1600 USD and if I moved off post I would have gotten for housing a great 600USD---try to rent anything in CA on 600USD at that time.

THEN it was expanded to the retirees---NOW what are the costs to the Force just to continue supporting Tricare and by the way if one is a DAC overseas we were excluded from using military medical facilities---talk about a single Force.

Let's not get even into a 20 yr pension for say a 38 year old for the next 40 years.

Now salaries, benefits, Tricare, and retirements are chewing up the DoD budget in radically climbing percentages in 1993 they were panicking with the percentage was pushing 19% now we are at 30% and climibing.

THAT means one dollar out of every three of the DoD budget goes to personnel costs or say roughly 180B in the next budget----and that comes out of the operating budget since the Army had years ago a fatal mistake and funds personnel costs out of the operating budgets.

Kind of like using a credit card and then at some point having to pay the credit card.

What will be interesting to watch how the Force reacts when they see the latest proposed federal budget which has them paying more for their retirements much as do DACs.


Wed, 12/11/2013 - 12:33pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw, right now a Captain assigned to metro DC makes around $108,000 in civilian dollars (his take home is the same as a civilian making that much). Take out all the deductions civilians usually make like 401K, medical, dental etc...and we are talking close to $120,000 in civi dollars. Most of his 28-32 yr old peers with similar ed backgrounds working contractor and govvy gigs average in the 70K-90K range. So he makes a ton more. Leave a metro area like DC and Soldiers start making way more than local averages. This pattern doesn't reverse until you hit the O-5 ranks where civilians with comparable responsibilities make more or avg. Issue is, when mil pay was below average in the AVF (1980's - 1990's), there was big to do with keeping talent and keeping up with inflation.

Right now we function under the model of attracting talent by compensation. We take care of this for the Jr. officers and fair share of enlisted with financial promises for college or job after high school. So we buy a good sample there. Once we hit the 4 yr mark we have an interesting problem. If we have a big enough pipeline of junior folks, then some percentage of them will probably stay, giving us enough to fill the more senior ranks. But this is a game of averages, not incentives. We have no non-financial incentives for controlling who will stay and why.

The Clinton draw down shrank that pipeline, creating the awareness that mil pay was actually too low to keep talent. In absence of compelled service for creating that pipeline in the late 1990's there was a great push for pay parity. Now, we have another draw down, but pay is not the issue anymore. Something else is. Incidentally, in 2007-2011 there was another talent-retention crisis. Our solution was financial, monster bonuses and ease of re-entry for those in the RC, which happened to coincide nicely with the financial crisis.

Problem is, throughout human history there have been three ways to generate an army: 1. coercion (compulsive service) 2. pay 3. ideology. We have completely focused on #2 and have reached the point where it can buy us a bunch of 18-24 yr olds, but looses its buying power after that. The problem with #2 is that puts us in direct competition with the broader economy. We treat service in the military as a job-choice, and are rewarded for that with broad competition.

As for civilians, there are certainly entirely too many of them in the Department (I'm one of them, my USAR persona notwithstanding :) ). We can thank Mr. Rumsfeld et al for that. And I am all for Soldiers returning to DFAC duty, grounds maintenance, etc. The training schedules of those formations are as chock full of nonsense "training" directives as actual training (e.g. suicide prevention and sharp...these should not be training, they aren't training. Anyone that thinks a person can be trained not to shoot themselves or assault someone is delusional. There are better ways of addressing these serious issues besides classroom time and ppt. that takes time on training calendar, but i digress.)

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 8:19am

In reply to by davidbfpo

David---will take your WSJ article and raise the bar by another set of facts;

1. currently approximately 30% of the DoD budget goes to pay, benefits and retirement for the AVF---in a draft force a VN SF SGT made with jump pay, combat pay, demo pay and language pay a grand total of 355USDs a month in 1970 for fighting 24X7 for 365 days with one week of leave WHAT does say a AVF SGT get today in AFG?

2. in addition to the 1.5M full time civilians out of the DoD budget comes also contractors doing the cleaning of barracks and restrooms, mowing of grass/raking leaves, cleaning the base areas---WHY because we cannot have the war time fighters of post 9/11 having to do menial labor as they must prepare themselves for combat.

3. in addition say in Europe we give the AVF two extra training days off a month for payday---that makes a total 24 days out of a training year the AVF soldier is not available for training on top of the 30 days a year in vacation time that is a grand total of 54 days a year in vacation time---almost a 1/6th for time off in a normal year and over a twenty year period almost two full years of paid vacation time---WHAT civilian job has that much time off in a given year---most young workers have to work for two years just to get one week off---SO really a 20 year retirement concept is only 18 years to muddle through.

Yes the Force needs to reduce---the taxpayer can no longer afford a AVF.

Besides a leaner AVF would be literally forced to adapt---following the motto sink or swim.


Tue, 12/10/2013 - 5:15pm

Thankfully I am not a US taxpayer, so this is very much your problem. Caveat aside then.

When your read this on FP Situation Room you just have to wonder WHO is defending the USA?

Referring to a WSJ op-ed by former Navy Secretary John Lehman, which points out that more than half of the DoD's active-duty servicemen and women serve in offices on staffs...While the fighting forces have steadily shrunk by more than half since the early 1990s, the civilian and uniformed bureaucracy has more than doubled. According to the latest figures, there are currently more than 1,500,000 full-time civilian employees in the Defense Department-800,000 civil servants and 700,000 contract employees. Today, more than half of our active-duty servicemen and women serve in offices on staffs.

The WSJ piece is behind a pay-wall alas, so not linked.

Surely what is needed is a drastic reduction in the numbers of civilians and seriously asking why do so many military serve in an office?


Tue, 12/10/2013 - 11:51pm

In reply to by Morgan

The reserve unit members with careers and many families will never support this as well as employers losing employees for a year but being required to maintain a position. The loss of personnel, especially key personnel would destroy guard units.

There exists a mythical belief that we can train and field an Army in short order except that it took us almost three years during WWII (with the draft).

The fact is that even with a large conventional force the Army had needed Guard help. That Guard significant and important help consisted of combat units being assigned repetitive type tasks like fixed and convoy security rather than executing full spectrum ops expected of a regular unit. Guard units also deployed 3-5 times less often with HUGE retention issues. The intuitive answer is NOT to rely on the Guard more.

Don't get me wrong. The Guard has done yeoman's work over the last decade plus but let's not get confused with what they did, how well they did it and what might be expected in the next conflict which might not feature operations from fixed facilities against a highly outnumbered and poorly equipped foe.

Perhaps we ought to make better use of the Reserve Component and bring ARNG BCTs & RC units onto active duty for a year at a time every 5-6 years. Do this in combination with drawing down the active force…..say from the recommended 490, 000 to 300,000 - 350,000. The standing active Army can focus on RAF training and missions as well as training for “The Big One”, while the RC/ ARNG forces focus primarily on “The Big One” whether in M-Day or active status….?

We may be able to do with the USMC as well…..keep two USMC divisions on active status, the third maintains only an active headquarters with its RCTs in the Reserve Component, with units serving on active status every 5-6 years.

We can maintain a relatively sizeable active force able to respond to short-term crisis situations while placing the bulk of our “big war” force in the reserves but guarantee their capabilities by bringing them onto active status every few years. Since the RC is no longer a strategic reserve force but part of the operational force, costing 1/3 of the standing active force, rolling them into the discussion regarding force size and availability seems to make sense.


Wed, 12/11/2013 - 12:00am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Sounds like with all your rhetoric you want to go back to a pre WWII military. I think WWII showed the folly of that approach. I don't think we can count on a draft and three years to train an Army...

BTW, no one saw WWI, II, Korea etc. 5-10 years out. We are exceptionally poor at predicting where and what kind of war will be next.

The next war may be a UW event. It may not. It's a mistake to count on the next war being like the last one. A ratchet is a great and efficient tool but makes a poor hammer.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 6:33am

Just a side comment---can we after ten years of war which was forced upon the US taxpayer with false information and currently again from a taxpayer perspective can we support a military budget that is what six/seven/eight times what it was before 9/11?

After over 6K killed and over 200K wounded---just what do we have to show for the 12 years of war?

Broken bridges, broken roads, broken schools, failing cities, increased poverty, education failing, a drug war that has placed thousands in jail and has failed, divided political parties, radical political elements claiming they know better than others and who want us back into the 20s---and one thinks we do not need to get smaller?

Besides I see no land wars on the horizon in China or Iran although Russia has completely rebuilt it's military, has new weapons systems and under Putin is wanting to expand back to it's Soviet military strength days.

Even with the above---a smaller force can still handle any arising problem concerning force on force---a smaller force would in fact give us a greater UW ability.

So yes reduce it.

Interesting anecdotal stories, but they fail to provide any correlation to or substantive proof for the proposition that if this country “Want[s] a better U.S. military[ m]ake it smaller.” that a smaller military will be “the most relevant military at the point of necessity — a point that cannot be known” while a more “powerful military” will not be.

A story about the Royal Navy not having enough destroyers for Anti-Submarine Warfare early in WWII isn’t proof that if they had been a smaller Navy they would have had sufficient destroyers or other escort vessels at the beginning of the war nor that they would have possessed aircraft with the range needed to patrol and remain on station over the middle of the Atlantic for a lengthy period of time.

To quote from the article: “Yes, the Royal Navy won the Battle of the Atlantic — but that’s partly because the United States gave it destroyers and other escort ships the admirals had neglected, as well as some crucial long-range land-based aircraft. (One-third of U-boats sunk were hit by aircraft, with another third knocked out by combined air and surface-ship action.)”

What is it that the RN’s Admirals neglected between the World Wars? First, neither the USN nor the RN built battleships during that period under the Washington Naval Treaty. The RN and the USN built a comparatively small number after the Treaty ended. Second, the period between the wars was the depression era and military budgets were small. The RN appears from the lists to have launched around 126 destroyers between the Wars, mostly in the 1930’s and around 26 Light Cruisers that were around 4500 tons -- actually glorified destroyers with 6 inch guns. The 50 U.S. destroyers were all “Four Stackers” built during / around WWI. Given their depression era budgets, the RN did what it could. If they were even smaller would they have been able to launch that many new destroyers. Where were they going to get the crews to man those ships and to maintain them in port? Warships require a lot of maintenance.

And, as far as not having Patrol type Aircraft with the range and time on station capability and the search technology needed for ASW, that airframe, engine, and search technology simply wasn’t there until later in the war. What would the writer have done, built half that number of ships and attempted to develop / build longer range aircraft with that portion of the budget? It’s a crap shoot as they say. Nothing is for free. It takes a long time to build a warship and an even longer period for the senior Petty Officers and Commissioned Officers to develop the needed skills / experience to operate and maintain the vessels. Warships aren’t somebody’s yacht or other pleasure boat type that you can jump on with a can of beer, turn on the engine, pull up to the gas station, and then cruise around.

The US military was down sized significantly after WWII ended – and were they prepared for the Korean War? Where was the preparedness and adaption? In fact, reducing the military budgets and reducing the size of the military had the opposite effect – across the services vis-à-vis being able to quickly respond to and adapt to fighting in Korea.

On the other hand, having a large Navy and Marine Corps in 1963 provided the force necessary to successfully confront the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis, having a large and well equipped Army enabled its victory in the 1990 Gulf War, having a large Air Force in 1990 ensured the Iraqi Army was moving anywhere or receiving logistical support.

The British had a 75,000 man professional army while the French had around 1.0 million and the Germans approximately 1.5 million men armies in 1914 at the outbreak of WWI – any of them perform particularly well at the opening of that conflict? And, even if the British Army performed brilliantly at the strategic and tactical level – does anyone believe that small force could have stopped the much larger German Army.

To quote again from the article: “Eugenia Kiesling, a professor of history at West Point, observed that in the period between the world wars, “Smaller forces brought fewer logistical constraints and more rapid adaptation to changes in technology.” That observation is an argument not for a big jack-of-all-trades military but for one that is smaller and optimized through its spending to be nimble.”

So, supposedly, if a nation has a smaller military, and one presumes (logically) a smaller budget and, therefore, that smaller military has lesser logistical needs, somehow that combination translates into the ability for “a more rapid adaption to change -- precisely how?

Let look at some facts. Between the wars the US Navy launched 8 or 9 Aircraft Carriers -- using their budgeted funds for that purpose, but given their budget constraints their aircraft were comparatively obsolete. The Army also was quite small during the interwar period. Through the end of 1936, the caissons for their Field Artillery (French 75’s) were horse drawn. Smaller budgets, optimized spending, and nimble horses.

The above noted Professor wrote a book titled “Arming Against Hitler,” which may be interesting to read and well written. However, a summary of its contents notes:

“In May–June 1940 the Germans demolished the French Army, inflicting more than 300,000 French casualties, including more than 120,000 dead. While many historians have focused on France's failure to avoid this catastrophe, Kiesling is the first to show why the French had good reason to trust that their prewar defense policies, military doctrine, and combat forces would preserve the nation.” If she is implying the French Army Officers of that time were really stupid and inept – then okay, otherwise, Is this what they are teaching the future officers of today at West Point???

A large military may not perform well, but that will either be the fault of its officers or due to the Executive sending it on Mission Impossible, i.e. expecting success when ordering it to conduct operations under impossible limitations. On the other hand, a force that is too small for the task at hand will never succeed – especially against a much larger opponent.


Sun, 12/08/2013 - 12:11pm

The Military is not interested in becoming smaller, and even if it was the sad fact is that the military really doesn't have a lot of say in the matter. Even if we wanted to reduce our footprint in CONUS some Congressman or Senator from the state where the base is, or where the program builds the equipment, will scream bloody murder. The Defense Department is not just about Defense, it is about income redistribution. Nothing intelligent will happen in the current political environment. That is my optimistic opinion.