Military reform: a substitute for mirrors

The President's economic planners have their task cut out for them. If they fail, so will the Reagan administration and positive conservatism. Military planners should not complicate their tasks.

Yet without doubt US and Western defenses must be increased. If conventional forces are not increased, emphasis must be placed entirely on strengthening US strategic nuclear forces. Yet, as is well known from past experience, strategic forces alone cannot cope with the complexity of today's world. Strategic forces from the backdrop, but it is conventional forces that are the operational tools of foreign policy. These are expensive, costing 80 percent of prorated US defense costs and, of course, even more in personnel.

Fortunately, reorganization -- institutional change within the US Army -- provides a way without additional costs. The US and its allies are outgunned by as much as 3 to 1 in divisions, tanks, artillery, and the like and are numerically inferior in the air and at sea, although the US and its NATO allies actually spend more on their military forces and have more men under arms than the USSR and its Warsaw Pact associates. Imbalances of this magnitude almost by definition imply that something is fundamentally amiss.

The Soviet military is organized differently from our own and subscribes to a different philosophical approach and style of warfare. US general-purpose forces are typified by the US Army and their internal composition and size are largely driven by it. American general-purpose forces -- air, sea, and ground -- presume the protracted battle. The emphasis is on the battlefield itself with its requirements for firepower, cumulative attrition, and sustained logistical support.

On the ground, this has translated into deploying almost all forces on-line, obtaining maximum firepower forward. Combat companies have been made large and capable of absorbing casualties; battalions and divisions have been further enlarged with built-in logistical assets for self-sustaining support.

Soviet ground forces, by contrast, are designed for impact -- many small combat units amalgamated into large numbers of lean divisions for swamping and enveloping an oppnent in an intense but short campaign. Forces are fought along narrow thrust vectors for penetrating and moving beyond the battlefield,m with reserves echeloned in train to exploit developing opportunities. The objective is to collapse the opponent's organizational integrity, not his cumulative physical destruction.

The Soviet military organizes itself to win quickly, while the US military remains organized for a long protracted conflict, even though national policy is otherwise. The result is that the Soviet Army remains on the field to fight a long war should events go awry, while US ground forces are likely to be enveloped and destroyed before the war can become prolonged and relative industrial and population bases brought to bear.

The American military problem (and the costs there- from) is due to its style of warfare.It is a "weight of material" style of warfare. Unit for unit, it is a style of war less effective than a more agile, "maneuver style" of warfare. Moreover, fewer than half as many combat "teeth units can be fielded from any given strength because of large supporting "tail" requirements.

Until this philosophical approach to war is changed, US general-purpose forces will remain high-cost and be priced out of their rightful role in national strategy.

The difficult issue of institutional reform within the US military can no longer be avoided. The US must have more military strength to cope with the forthcoming "window of vulnerability." This window can be closed by throwing more money at it, or by institutional change. The first is painful, nationally; the second, to our military leadership.

Many regard reform as impossible or too difficult, preferring instead to ignore it and pay the price, the latter itself often being interpreted as an indicator of resolve (which has currency in the strategic nuclear but not the conventional domain). In the past, reform may have been difficult; today this is not so. The officer corps itself now realizes that something is fundamentally amiss.

The Reagan administration can align itself with this groundswell and, by working through the chain of command (generals can be replaced but they cannot be ignored), mandate reform. It will of course be a decade before the services can be re-equippped and the full benefits of greater military effectiveness obtained. Much can nevertheless be obtained in the short run, especially for the Army, which is more constrained by doctrine than by equipment.

Reform will reduce the immediate need for sizable increases in defense spending and eliminate it over the long term as the effects of change come on-stream. In the short run, it may be necessary to temporarily reduce recruitment and end strength to begin the process. For the Army, as in the Senate-mandated prescription for the Marines earlier, this could be beneficial for putting its recruitment in order. Increases in divisional numbers would not be affected; this is determined by the equipment in hand and in war reserve stocks, not end strength.

It is thus that military reform is a substitute for mirrors.The Republican promise of tax reduction, more defense, and a balanced budget can be implemented and need not go down as campaign rhetoric.

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