Small Wars Journal

Ready or Not? A Proposal for a Readiness Framework

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 2:59pm

Ready or Not?

A Proposal for a Readiness Framework


Philip Neri



Prussia has conclusively demonstrated that the strength of an armed force derives from its readiness. Wars now happen so quickly that what is not ready at the outset will not be made ready in time…and a ready army is twice as powerful as a half-ready one.

—Austrian Field Marshal Heinrich Hess

In 1933, as the world saw potential war in Europe, British politicians gathered to discuss preparing UK forces to defend the empire. After concluding that Great Britain’s forces needed a substantial increase in size, parliament was urged by the British General Staff to reconsider their plan. British military leadership did not want to enlarge the current force. Unlike their civilian masters, the military leaders understood that any increase in force structure would simply be arming the British with obsolescent equipment while the Wehrmacht was fielding advanced weaponry matched with revolutionary doctrine. Increasing force structure, despite the quality and frequency of training, would simply result in a larger number of tactical formations figuring out how to adapt to meet their German foe and its superior readiness levels.[1]

A force that must contend with an aspect of the operational environment that it is not prepared for must adapt to achieve its objectives. Therefore, the reciprocal of readiness is adaptability. Military forces seek to man, train, and equip so that any adaptation required is not beyond the reach of its tactical formations. However, the accumulated manning, training, and equipping of a nation’s fleets, aircraft squadrons, and brigades does not equate to a qualitative assessment of overall military readiness. Incorporating the five distinct categories of force structure, modernization, institution, force projection, and sustainability, in addition to the tactical readiness metrics, as depicted in figure 1 below builds a comprehensive readiness framework. This could help determine which areas are ready and which will require adaptation to meet adversarial threats. Such a framework can help highlight the stark difference between posturing the nation for war and ensuring its tactical formations are adequately manned, trained, and equipped.

Incorporating the strategic readiness lines of effort (SRLOEs) of force structure, modernization, institution, force projection, and sustainability combined with the more traditional tactical readiness lines of effort (TRLOEs) of personnel, equipment (readiness and availability), and training can help determine the overall joint force’s readiness. The current bifurcation of readiness efforts at the strategic and tactical levels suggests that the operational level of war consumes military readiness throughout the course of campaigns and major operations.

readiness 1
Figure 1: Readiness Framework

The Readiness-Adaptability Spectrum

Military readiness can be an abstract idea with varying definitions and descriptions depending on the context and the individual asked. Many experts have sought to define or describe this abstract idea by using a variety of logics. For instance, Kathleen Hicks, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic International Studies, described readiness in terms of timeframe. She argued that a force ready today is actual readiness, while preparing to be ready tomorrow is investment, and the size of the force is structure.[2] Russell Rumbaugh, a former Congressional Research Service analyst, claimed that the term readiness “clouds the debate” and recommended splitting readiness into two categories; the broad sense that the military can meet the demands of the nation and the narrow sense of sufficiently employing fielded capabilities.[3]

These descriptions of readiness seek to capture the desire for minimal adaptation required to accomplish the mission. If adaptation is the reciprocal of readiness, then the goal is to avoid or mitigate the need to adapt beyond a reasonable measure. For instance, to avoid high levels of required adaption by tactical forces the US Department of Defense closely monitors and reports personnel (P-Level), equipment status (R-Level), equipment availability (S-Level), and training (T-Level) to determine unit readiness. In the US military, these aspects of readiness determine operational readiness – defined as a unit, weapon system, or platform’s ability to perform as designed – but falls short of measuring the strategic components that contribute to overall military readiness.[4] The SRLOEs fills the void to account for this shortfall in accounting for both tactical and strategic levels of readiness. Just as tactical units must adapt when there are shortfalls in TRLOEs, failure to account for these elements requires strategic adaptation which can consume considerable national resources.[5]

Whether at the tactical, operational, or strategic level, the requirement to adapt imposes itself upon the force relative to its lack of readiness to meet mission requirements. This readiness-adaptability spectrum is depicted in figure 2. Where a military force falls on the spectrum is relative to the adversary it’s measured against. For instance, if all tactical units are better manned, trained, and equipped relative to the adversary in question, but overmatched by a ratio of 3:1 then the nation is not ready for conflict without assuming excessive risks. This is the difference between tactical formations ready to engage in combat and military forces ready to wage war on behalf of the nation.


readiness 2
Figure 2: Readiness-Adaptability Spectrum



Readiness efforts strive to ensure that the force requires as little adaptability as possible in such scenarios. Ideally, the various readiness components (i.e., tactical and strategic readiness LOEs) combine to create an emergent property greater than the adaptability required to meet the mission’s demands.

At the risk of reducing readiness to a mathematical equation, the formulaic view of readiness efforts presented below helps to explain the difference between the additive and multiplicative logic of readiness:

  1. Strategic Readiness LOEs + Tactical Readiness LOEs = Readiness Efforts (Readiness activities)
  2. Strategic Readiness LOEs x Tactical Readiness LOEs = Readiness of the Force (Emergent property)
  3. Operational Environment – Readiness of the Force = Adaptability Required

While achieving readiness is not as simple as the above equations, the formulaic view attempts to put the force’s readiness, the LOEs, operational environment, and required adaptability in a logical arrangement. Just as tactical units must adapt when there are shortfalls in their tactical readiness LOEs, failure to account for these elements requires strategic adaptation which can include substantial national resources.[6]

The readiness framework in figure 1 provides a lens to assess how a nation can adjust along the strategic readiness LOEs to reduce the level of adaptability required by the force. The US defense community largely comprehends the TRLOEs. The following paragraphs focus on how SRLOEs have affected military forces throughout the duration of different conflicts

Force Structure LOE

The wrong force structure can inherently make the force unready to meet the demands of assigned missions. Therefore, considering force structure separate from readiness can prove problematic in making an overall assessment.[7] Rather, it should be integrated into a comprehensive readiness framework. For the purposes of the proposed framework, force structure consists of three elements: joint force mix, active/reserve combination, and formation type.

The joint force mix is simply how a military determines the desired amount of forces per service. While that sounds simple enough, the services are primarily interested in readying their own forces. The underlying assumption to this approach is that each service can pursue its own readiness interests and, when conflict arrives, align to produce a joint mix of synergistic capabilities able to defeat an opponent. The inverse is incorporating diverse sets of capabilities into a single service to manage their readiness. The underlying assumption in that logic is that the services will prioritize and resource all capabilities adequately. On December 20, 2019, President Donald Trump signed into law the creation of the United States Space Force.[8] Similar to the US Air Force’s separation from the US Army to focus on the air domain, the administration determined that the US should adjust the joint force mix to avoid assuming the latter risk by establishing a force solely oriented on the space domain. This is not to make the case for or against the US Space Force. Rather, it is to demonstrate that the joint force mix, whatever its makeup, has an influence on readiness in general and force structure in particular.

The joint force mix is further divided into an active/reserve combination based on the nation’s willingness to accept risks in “readiness for when” by allowing a portion of the joint force to remain largely unready. Failure to get this combination right can result in a requirement to adapt beyond reasonable expectations. This was most evident in the Vietnam conflict. Then Chief of Staff of the Army, General Creighton Abrams, realized the active force’s limitations to respond to contingencies outside of eastern Europe during the Cold War. Lacking the ability to bring to bear the full weight of the active and reserve components, the army suffered under the individual replacement system. This system required units to adapt significantly as they strove to conduct on-the-job training for replacements while conducting operations.

Rounding out the force structure readiness LOE are the formation types that span both the joint force mix and active and reserve components. Individual ships, carrier air wings, fighter squadrons, brigades, and battalions are a few of the commonly referenced formation types across the services. The tactical readiness LOEs measure the readiness of these formation types and, in the aggregate, give a sense of the overall readiness of the force. The US Army came to the conclusion that the divisional structure would not suffice to the meet the demands of the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) cycle that supplied troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, the brigade combat team (BCT) became the standard formation type to meet the demands of the Army’s needs.


Modernization LOE

Experts and senior ranking officers have stated that modernization is tomorrow’s readiness.[9] That helps to simplify thinking on readiness, but that very statement makes it a part of readiness rather than its own distinct category. Increasing force structure without modernization builds a larger unready force. Modernization upgrades the force by procuring technologies designed to get ahead of pacing threats. It provides part of the material solution to the question, “ready for what.” Tactical units cannot materially modernize their own formations. To divorce this fact from readiness suggests that generating readiness with outdated equipment will suffice to meet the demands of assigned missions. While numerical superiority, better training, and chance can overcome modernization shortfalls in certain contexts, forces with outdated equipment must depend on their ability to adapt as their primary recourse in battle.[10]

Marine Corps modernization during the interwar period illustrates why readiness should include modernization rather than consider it a separate and distinct category. The Marines’ pursuit of material solutions to complement doctrinal developments during the interwar period led to its modernized approach to amphibious warfare. The Marines’ lessons from the Banana Wars of the 1920s recognized the value in communication’s ability to synchronize air and ground operations. Throughout the interwar period the Marines continued to develop this capability. However, training this synchronization and capability with obsolete equipment to put Marines ashore would have put them in a difficult position to answer Betts’ question of readiness for what. The Marines relentlessly pursued training with the Navy to demonstrate the need to modernize the fleet with adequate landing vessels such as the Landing Ship Tank and Landing Ship Dock. Simultaneously, the Higgins’ Boat and Alligator represented innovative means to move forces from ship to shore. Without these modernization efforts, the Marines would have been forced to rely on increased force structure to overwhelm Japanese island defenses.[11]

Service Institution LOE

The third component of strategic readiness is the institution. One could argue that the institution serves as the fourth element of force structure, but its role in providing strategic guidance and its relative autonomy to oversee tactical readiness efforts (i.e. training, personnel, and equipment) warrants its own LOE. The service institution’s LOE employs a doctrine, organization, training, material, leadership and education, personnel, facilities, and policy (DOTMLPF-P) model to inform force structure and material modernization while driving human modernization through training and doctrine updates. Moreover, it serves as the nexus which transforms the nation’s citizenry into combat power when the country has the will and ability to mobilize for war.

During the run-up to World War II, the US Army did not possess the infrastructure or process to grow the ground force. This fact represented a strategic readiness shortfall in the institutional LOE. To reverse this trend, the Roosevelt administration initiated national mobilization.[12] As a result, Army General Headquarters (GHQ) and its four field armies made up the Army’s institutional readiness LOE. Under the leadership of Lieutenant General Leslie McNair, GHQ’s field armies oversaw the tactical readiness LOEs to train and equip corps and divisions in accordance with the Victory Plan. McNair and his small staff planned and assessed corps and below maneuver exercises, integrated mechanization, and modernized the force.[13]

Force Projection LOE

Regardless of a force’s structure, modernized equipment, and training, it remains largely a deterrent for invasion unless moved to a point where it can influence political objectives beyond the nation’s borders. For the purposes of the proposed readiness framework, the force projection LOE’s subcomponents include movement (to port if required), embarkation (if required), movement, debarkation, and movement to destination. Bases, airfields, and ports serve as power projection platforms that enable the strategic mobility triad of prepositioned stocks, sealift, and airlift assets deliver forces to theater.[14] Not all nations can afford to have all three legs of the triad and, in many cases, do not require it. What is most important is that the force projection concept matches the available facilities and assets to sustain deploying the force structure over the duration of the conflict.

On April 2, 1982, the United Kingdom found itself in the precarious position of projecting British combat power over 8,000 nautical miles to the south Atlantic to reassert its control over the Falkland Islands. Although the Royal Navy successfully deployed a fleet of vessels and the landing force to the conflict zone, it was only able to by requisitioning a myriad of British-flagged private merchant ships.[15] Fortunately for the expedition, merchant ships were available due to the UK’s economic slump coming out of the early 1980’s recession at the time. Had this not been the case, the ocean liners SS Canberra and Queen Elizabeth II transporting the 3rd Commando and 5th Infantry Brigades along with the other 62 merchant ships may not have been readily available to move the 14,000 British troops. This is indicative of inadequate force projection readiness and how the UK had to strategically adapt to meet the shortfall. Ultimately, the British prevailed, largely due to Argentine failings to provide adequate sea and air protection for their ground forces rather than superior strategic readiness efforts by the British.

Sustainability LOE

On May 30, 1982, Iraqi bombs struck a Turkish oil tanker transiting the Persian Gulf.[16] The Iran-Iraq War had expanded to include non-military targets. Iran’s attack represented an assault on the fifth strategic readiness LOE; sustainability. The sustainability LOE measures the state’s ability to sustain its chosen force structure, and subsequently, that portion of the force structure it has elected to deploy to a theater of operations. The sustainability LOE’s two components are available funding and the ability to generate stockpiles of war material.

Funding and stockpile generation determine a nation’s strategic reach. Whereas the US military defines operational reach as the distance and duration across which a force can successfully employ its military capabilities, strategic reach represents the duration a state can sustain its war effort combined with the force projection LOE mentioned above. In her book, How States Pay for War, Rosella Zielinski suggested that states have four ways to finance their war strategy: taxation, printing money, and internal or external financing (borrowing), while observing that a state’s war financing strategy may evolve based on how the war develops.[17] The method or combination of methods chosen depends largely on domestic and foreign politics of the time and reside outside the purview of most nations’ defense establishments. Similarly, those in uniform can only influence, rather than control, the availability of war material. These aspects represent clear reasons why it is nations, rather than militaries, that wage war. However, to fully account for national military readiness, funding and supplies must be accounted for in the framework if strategic adaptation with regards to sustainability is to be avoided.

During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Iran experienced insufficiencies in the sustainability LOEs that, when combined with Iraq’s poor tactics, resulted in stalemate along their shared border. The tanker war initiated by Iraq reflects Baghdad’s frustration with the Ayatollah and the Iranian Supreme High Command’s unwillingness to capitulate in the face of superior military technology and economic support from foreign powers. Both Iraq and Iran depended on oil exports as the single commodity to fund their war efforts. Understanding this, Iraq turned to targeting a component of Iran’s sustainability LOE; oil tankers transiting the Gulf, to force culmination of the Islamic Republic’s strategic reach. However, Iraq’s lack of a sound strategy attributed to its failure to gain a decisive advantage. Conversely, Iran’s inability to afford adequate supplies and equipment at the national level left its tactical formations unprepared for Iraq’s offensive. As a result, Iran chose large and frequent human waves as its strategic adaptation to repel Iraqi forces.[18] Reliance on strategic stockpiles by tactical formations suggest that national level readiness be elevated above the idea that readiness is measured only by tactical formation manning, training, and equipping.


The observations provided in the vignettes suggest that a nation’s military readiness goes beyond taking the accumulated assessments of all tactical formations. Much like the British General Staff’s understanding of what it means to increase force structure without modernizing did little for military readiness relative to the Wehrmacht, today’s readiness dialogue needs a framework to focus the discussion. Integrating the SRLOEs of force structure, modernization, institution, force projection, and sustainability in a comprehensive readiness framework can help focus resources in areas that reduces adaptation requirements at the point of need.

The proposed readiness framework seeks to reify the idea of military readiness by placing the various elements of readiness at the appropriate level and context. What this framework is not, is a silver bullet proposed by the author in an attempt to solve all readiness woes. Rather, it seeks to get smarter and more experienced professionals to look at the possibility of developing a comprehensive readiness framework. Such a framework, whatever its form, would give civilian leaders, the profession of arms, and the defense industry a foundational understanding to prepare forces to compete and contend with adversaries.


[1] Richard K. Betts, Military Readiness: Concepts, Choices, Consequences (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1995), 54.

[2] Kathleen Hicks, “Defense Strategy and the Iron Triangle of Painful Tradeoffs,” Defense360, June 21, 2017, accessed August 26, 2018,

[3] Russell Rumbaugh, Defining Readiness: Background and Issues for Congress (Congressional Research Service, June 2017), Summary.

[4] US Department of Defense, Joint Staff, DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2018), 173.

[5] Feickert and Kapp, 23-25; Todd Harrison, “Rethinking Readiness,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Fall 2014): 43.

[6] Feickert and Kapp, 23-25; Todd Harrison, “Rethinking Readiness,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Fall 2014): 43.

[7] US Department of Defense, Joint Staff, National Military Strategy (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2015), 7-9; Winslow Wheeler and Lawrence Korb, Military Reform (Westport: Praeger Publishers), 2007, 169.

[8] Jim Garamone, “Trump Signs Law Establishing U.S. Space Force,” DOD News, December 20, 2019, accessed June 26, 2020, Explore/News/Article/Article/2046035/trump-signs-law-establishing-us-space-force/.


[9] Kathleen Hicks, “Defense Strategy and the Iron Triangle of Painful Tradeoffs,” Defense360, June 21, 2017, accessed August 26, 2018,

[10] Betts, 33.

[11] Williamson Murray and Allen Millet, Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 84-85; Bradford Wineman and Jonathan House, US Marines in the Banana Wars, US Army Command and General Staff College, H200 Book of Readings, Fort Leavenworth, KS: USACGSC, September 2017, 125.

[12] Michael G. Carew, Becoming the Arsenal: The American Industrial Mobilization for World War II, 1938-1942 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2010), 223.

[13] Mark T. Calhoun, General Lesley J. McNair: Unsung Architect of the U.S. Army (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2015), 219.

[14] US Department of Defense, Joint Staff, Joint Publication (JP) 3-35, Deployment and Redeployment Operations (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2013), ix-xx.

[15] Arthur Smith, “Logistics in the Falklands War,” JMVH, accessed May 14, 2020,

[16] “Strait of Hormuz Assessing the threat to oil flows through the Strait,” Robert Strauss Center, August 2008, accessed May 14, 2020,

[17] Rosella Zielinski, How States Pay for War, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016), 5-6, 9.

[18] Hiro Dilip, The Longest War: The Iran-Iraq Military Conflict, (New York, NY: Routledge, 1991), 91, 96.

About the Author(s)

MAJ Philip Neri is a field artillery officer in the 4th Infantry Division. He has served in the 3rd Infantry Division, 7th Infantry Division, 7th Special Forces Group, and 10th Special Forces Group. He holds a BS in Aerospace Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, an MBA from Pennsylvania State University, an MA in International Relations from King’s College London, UK, and is a graduate of the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies.



Thu, 09/23/2021 - 9:11am

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