Recently, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel held a somber press conference at the Pentagon in which he discussed the results of the Strategic Choices Management Review he ordered several months prior. In light of shrinking budgets, he said the so-called SCMR offered two choices: bad and worse. The ‘bad’ was reduced capacity; the ‘worse,’ reduced capability. In the former the Army would fall from its 2010 high of 570,000 to as low as 380,000 and in the latter the U.S. military “could find its equipment and weapons systems…less effective against more technologically advanced adversaries.” Fortunately, even in this era of constrained budgets, these two dire options are not the only ones available: there is a way to reform and reorganize the U.S. military within the constraints of smaller budgets that not only doesn’t put national security at risk, but actually increases combat power, especially that of the army.
It seems counterintuitive to suggest that the U.S. could produce a smaller force while increasing its fighting strength. Yet for the reasons outlined in this article that is precisely what we argue. In order to facilitate the most effective and efficient Department of Defense, we contend it is beneficial to first revise the National Military Strategy. This revision will more effectively support the president’s overall National Security Strategy. Reorienting the DoD into a set of forces that are actually joint in execution will strengthen the American military and thus enhance overall national security.
In support of the president’s four strategic objectives, we recommend a complimentary four-point military strategy:
· defend the American homeland, vital national interests, and friendly nations;
· maintain open access to the global lines of communication in the domains of air, land, sea, space and cyber;
· prevent any state, or combinations of states (or nonstate actors) from dominating by force of arms the European-Asian land mass or allied nations;
· support peaceful relations between nations and foster greater understanding among international militaries.
In combination with the standing powers given the executive and legislative branches of our government in the Constitution, this strategy provides great flexibility in ensuring the defense and security of the United States. There is a notable characteristic of this strategy, however, that distinguishes it from the current version: it does not advocate using military power to compel other peoples, races or religions to conform to Western views and governing structures.
To better advance American prosperity in the future, we must jettison the flawed notion that our nation’s security interests can be achieved by carrying out lengthy military occupations of foreign lands and attempting to transform their cultures into something palatable to Western tastes.
We contend the United States should respond with emphatic, even vicious military action when conditions warrant. But for the benefit of our nation and in pursuit of a more peaceful international order, we believe it is time to rebalance the application of military force to more closely align with American values and demonstrate appropriate strategic restraint. That means having a strategy that accepts war as a last resort and not a policy option of first choice. Such a reorientation is not a retreat from world affairs, but rather a return to the values and strengths that made us a great nation.
Towards True Joint Operations
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey is trying to use the influence of his office in constructive ways. On June 20 the Chairman wrote in Foreign Affairs that “we should leverage the services’ distinctive cultures and competencies to make the joint force even more networked and interoperable. This will be the best way to prepare for the full range of missions that the armed forces must perform today and will likely have to perform in the future.” We heartily agree with the Chairman.
But we must soberly recognize that the Joint Staff has existed in its current form for over sixty years. If in the second decade of the twenty-first century the U.S. military is still insufficiently joint in the execution of operations, the time has arrived to reform and reorganize the Department of Defense toward joint operations in both word and deed.
Each service needs its own unique doctrine to be sure, but must be expressly organized, trained, and equipped to conduct joint-force operations; the United States can no longer afford services that operate independently of each other and all too frequently compete against each other. A refined military strategy, accompanied by a reformation of the Department of Defense will help produce a true and effective set of forces that execute joint operations.
The Macgregor Transformation Model (MTM)
In an earlier speech, Secretary Hagel pointed out that “America must always have a strong, capable, and ready military, a military that is always prepared to defend our national interests. But fulfilling that obligation now and in the future will require us to fundamentally reshape defense institutions that were designed for different strategic and budgetary realities and times.”
The secretary is right. But simply making the current force smaller and less capable won’t accomplish those appropriate objectives. We need to reshape each of the services—the army in particular—into a formation that can excel even in existing budgetary realities and optimized for likely future operating environments. The Macgregor Transformation Model (MTM) is a transformative vehicle that can best accomplish the secretary’s imperatives.
In 1997 Douglas Macgregor published the first of two books on Defense and Army reorganization. The books describe a comprehensive DoD-wide reform plan in which the Army and Marines are reorganized into truly plug-and-play deployable modules, synchronized into plans and capabilities of the Air Force and Navy. Updated recently to account for the President’s 2012 decision to rebalance in Asia and the reality of reduced federal budgets, the MTM enables the Army in particular to reduce its overall size yet increase its combat power and strategic flexibility. One of the key features of the MTM is that the type and distribution of its air, sea, and ground formations are perfectly suited to the refined strategy recommended above and expressly designed to operate as a set of forces in genuine joint operations.
The centerpiece of reorganization for the Army is the combat group, which is smaller than a division but larger than a current brigade. There are five main categories of combat groups: Light Recon Strike Group, Combat Maneuver Group (CMG), Strike, C4ISR, and Sustainment. At the institutional level, MTM achieves improvements through organizational reform, reducing overhead by flattening echelons of command and control, and placing greater emphasis on protected mobility and firepower in tactical formations than is currently the case.
By reorganizing the force from a brigade-centric formation to a combat group-centric one, the MTM would allow the Army to reduceits current size of approximately 551,000 troops to as low as 420,000 and yet in the end produce a force that has greater combat capability, costs less to operate, is more sustainable over the long term, and is more strategically and operationally responsive to joint-force operations. MTM readiness cycles ensure there would be at least thirty-five thousand troops in the ‘ready to deploy’ window. Thus, the President would always know how many and which units can react to a no-notice emergency. Those units would already be tied to specific air and sea transportation assets, and their deployment timelines—even when blindsided by an unexpected event—could be executed within days. The MTM thus provides both significant strategic and tactical improvements.
In World War II the U.S. Army produced such an organization for mechanized maneuver combat on the plains of Western Europe. The combat commands of the armored divisions were robust, hard-fighting brigade battle groups often commanded by a general officer. They reflected significant American organizational adaptation that started shortly before the war started, but increased once American forces engaged in ground combat in North Africa, Italy, and then Western Europe. The Army Air Force also combined with these ground formations by integrating air-delivered firepower that was coordinated by Air Force officers riding in the lead tanks. These combined air and ground formations were the spearhead that penetrated the German defensive line near St. Lo, France in late July 1944 and exploited that penetration into the operational and strategic depth of the German army.
In the five years following the end of World War II, U.S. Army generals decided that the armored divisions were no longer needed and instead reorganized the army into largely a light-infantry force (similar in troubling ways to what is happening today). Although a light-infantry-based army may have made sense, narrowly, for occupation duties in Germany and Japan, it was clearly not the right force to fight a relatively sophisticated enemy, as the North Korean invasion of the South in the summer of 1950 soon showed.
Consider a future scenario in which the North Korean state collapses, requiring a fighting occupation of the North by South Korea and assisted by the United States military using air and naval striking power, combined with ground operations by the army. One can only imagine how a light-infantry-based army would fare in such a lethal combat environment. A replay of what actually happened to the U.S. Army in 1950 would be a real possibility in this future scenario
We postulate that with the organizational and structural changes advocated in this essay, the U.S. Army could drop 150,000 troops from its 2010 force structure and produce a notably stronger force. That may sound to be “too good to be true.” The fundamentals are actually quite sound, but there are few who may independently have the experience to independently assess our claims. We therefore recommend that over the next six months Congress do two things:
First, it should charter a study by the Congressional Research Service or Government Accountability Office to conduct an independent analysis to ascertain the organizational structure, force design, cost savings and operational effectiveness of MTM.
Second, concurrent with the organizational analysis, it should conduct a separate series of simulations to assess the combat capability of the force as compared to existing scenarios used with current force constructs.
If the results of the study come back favorable, we recommend the Secretary of Defense consider executing a five-year implementation plan, resulting in a stronger Army specifically designed to contribute to joint-force operations.
Our country is in an era of constrained budgets and will likely remain there for a number of years. Like virtually all other components of the federal government, the Department of Defense will have to pare back expenditures. Current plans call for the U.S. Army in particular to simply get smaller; without a new structure that means it will be less capable. If Macgregor Transformation Model reorganization is initiated in the next year, the United States could soon have an army of 420,000 that is less expensive, sustainable in an era of constrained budgets, but with more combat power and strategic flexibility than the 2010 version that had 570,000 troops. We urge Congress, therefore, to begin conducting studies and simulations at the earliest possible date.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Department of Defense.
Admiral (ret) Mark Fitzgerald completed a 37 year career with his last assignment commanding NATO Joint Forces Command Naples and US Naval Forces Europe/Africa. A Naval Aviator, he is currently Chairman of the Association of Naval Aviation, Vice Chairman of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation and is a defense consultant.
Lieutenant General (ret) David Deptula is a thought leader on defense, strategy, and ISR, having planned and executed humanitarian relief to major combat operations. Currently Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies, he is also a senior scholar at the US Air Force Academy, consultant, and board member at a variety of public and private institutions.
Colonel Gian Gentile is a serving army colonel. He presently is an associate professor of history and directs the military history program at West Point. In 2006 he commanded a combat battalion in west Baghdad, and he holds a PhD in history from Stanford University.