Stretched Thin: Army Forces for Sustained Operations by Lynn E. Davis, J. Michael Polich, William M. Hix |, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Stretched Thin: Army Forces for Sustained Operations

Stretched Thin: Army Forces for Sustained Operations

by Lynn E. Davis, J. Michael Polich, William M. Hix

Can the Army sustain its current tempo of overseas deployment without reaching the breaking point?


Can the Army sustain its current tempo of overseas deployment without reaching the breaking point?

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Stretched Thin

Army Forces for Sustained Operations
By Lynn E. Davis J. Michael Polich William M. Hix Michael D. Greenberg Stephen D. Brady Ronald E. Sortor

Rand Corporation

Copyright © 2005 RAND Corporation
All right reserved.

Chapter One


The Problem: Intensive and Frequent Operational Deployments

Recent events have seen a growing demand for use of the nation's military forces, both for overseas operations and homeland security. The increased pace, driven by the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, has led to more frequent and lengthy deployments of units and soldiers across the entire U.S. Army. In those operations, units are deployed to the theater for an extended period (usually, one year or longer), replacing an existing unit and in turn being replaced when it returns to its home station. The resulting rotation pattern means that much of a unit's time is devoted to deployments or to recovery from a previous deployment and preparation for the next one. Because the scale of operations is very large-at this writing upward of 16 Army brigades are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan-the effects reverberate throughout the force.

With these new and very demanding calls on Army forces, the nation faces some novel questions. Are the Army's active and reserve forces the right size to meet these demands? In particular, does the Army have the right number and types of combat units to sustain high levels of overseas deployments while still maintaining ready units for other possiblecontingencies? Still more specifically, but highly germane to the debate: How much does the rapid rotation cycle of deployments stretch the Army's units and soldiers? This report addresses these questions and analyzes alternative ways in which the Army might respond.

The Effects of Intensive Deployments

Intensive deployments lead to two key problems that the Army needs to manage: effects on units and effects on individuals. For units, rotational deployments reduce the number of units ready at home for contingencies that could arise quickly. They also disrupt other unit training activities, particularly cycles of unit training in which combat units develop their skills and collective capabilities to prosecute major conflicts. These cycles typically begin with small-unit exercises and culminate in large force-on-force exercises at home station or combat training centers. In an environment dominated by repeated overseas deployments, units are often unable to complete such training. Failing to accomplish wartime training also affects the development of leaders in the enlisted and officer corps. Finally, to the extent that units experience personnel turnover after a deployment, the unit is no longer ready for another rotation similar to the one they just returned from. Deployments thus reduce the readiness of the force to meet all types of emerging contingencies.

Deployments also create turbulence for individual personnel, with several important ramifications. First, deployments take soldiers away from their homes and communities, thus reducing quality of life for both soldiers and their families. If sustained over the long term, this may reduce morale and hinder the sustainability of manpower levels by lowering retention rates. Second, deployments impose additional workload for preparation, planning, and maintaining units that are on the move. For example, staff planners and support functions are stressed by "split-base" operations in which part of the unit is overseas while another part is still at home station. Third, turbulence inevitably causes some soldiers to be away from the unit (and from its home-based training facilities) while the unit is conducting collective training. Thus, some training is accomplished without all the soldiers who will eventually be needed for in-theater operations.

Using the Active and Reserve Components

These problems affect both the active and reserve components, and they show no signs of abating. In fact, trade-offs between using the active component (AC) and the reserve component (RC) have figured prominently in recent public debate about the nation's military posture. Especially for initial phases of operations, the Army often prefers to use the AC. Over time, however, this heavy utilization of AC units creates problems. The more the AC is used, the less time AC units have at home for recovery and training, and the fewer ready units will be available for other missions. To ameliorate the problems, the Army can turn (and has turned) to its RC, but similar problems emerge there, and new problems are added. For example, to be deployed overseas soldiers in the National Guard must be mobilized and afforded special training, which can be lengthy. The preparation period adds to the time that National Guard soldiers are away from their homes and civilian jobs. For all these reasons, the Department of Defense (DoD) has sought to limit intense utilization of the RC, articulating a policy that seeks to limit reserve mobilizations to no more than one year in six years over the long term.

Thus, difficulties, costs, and downsides are inherent in using either the AC or RC too intensively to support deployments. The problems have come into sharp focus as recent operations led to positioning large numbers of units amounting to more than 150,000 personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, it seems prudent to assume that the level and pace of activity will remain high for some time, perhaps years. This leads to a central policy question, which is the subject of this report:

How can the nation use both the AC and RC to meet future overseas rotational demands over the long term and provide sufficient ready units for other operational contingencies, while maintaining adequate training opportunities for units and keeping individual deployment times to reasonable levels?

Analysis Strategy

To address the above question, we developed an analysis strategy that was guided by the experience of the recent past but also flexible enough to let us vary several key parameters to see how results would change. Our strategy considered three types of conditions that might change, as depicted in Figure 1.1: the scale and nature of operational requirements for overseas rotations; the Army active and reserve force structure; and policies governing employment of active and reserve forces.

As shown in Figure 1.1, the analysis will consider various changes in these conditions and then will assess how those changes would affect two key outcomes: the amount of time that units have at home between deployments4 and the number of ready units the Army has available at any time to serve other national purposes. Below we explain the analysis strategy and the types of variations that we will treat.

Operational Requirements

All discussions of future military requirements are shrouded in uncertainty. Guidance from DoD seeks to move military planning from traditional threats (preparing for conventional wars) to what are termed the "strategic challenges" presented by irregular threats (terrorism, insurgency), catastrophic threats (attacks with WMD), and disruptive threats (breakthrough technologies in the hands of enemies) (The National Security Strategy, 2002, p. 4). Translating these strategic challenges into operational requirements is just under way within the Defense Department. The most recent defense planning guidance has called for sizing U.S. military forces based on a construct described as "1-4-2-1." This guidance calls for the ability to accomplish these missions: defend the U.S. homeland and territory against external attack; deter aggression and coercion in four critical regions: northeast Asia, the east Asian littoral, the Middle East and southwest Asia, and Europe; swiftly defeat the efforts of an adversary in two overlapping wars while preserving the option to seek decisive victory in one of those conflicts; and conduct a limited number of lesser contingency operations. Whether this construct remains appropriate in the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq is a matter of debate, introducing another uncertainty in future force planning. The Chief of Staff of the Army in early 2005 described his planning requirement: "to be able to deploy and sustain 20 brigade combat teams" (U.S. Senate, 2005).

In the course of our analysis, we will recognize all these uncertainties, but we begin by varying the magnitude and characteristics of future Army requirements for recurring overseas deployments. We will examine cases in which the number of brigades deployed overseas at any one time ranges from a low of 8 brigades to a high of 20 brigades. We will also consider the types of units that may be required in these deployments, such as heavy units (containing armor or mechanized elements), Stryker brigades (more-mobile elements based largely on wheeled vehicles), and infantry units.

We recognize that requirements for recurring overseas deployments are only a part of the defense planning space. For example, additional antiterrorism operations could arise. Hostile nation-states could undertake aggression that the United States would need to deter or repel. Homeland defense and homeland security operations could impose greater demands for Army forces. In actual execution, however, the immediacy and urgency of recent overseas rotations have meant that their requirements had to be satisfied first. In effect, forces were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq even though their readiness and availability for some other missions was affected.

Our analysis follows the same path: We will posit the size of overseas rotational deployment requirements and then determine what forces remain in a sufficient state of readiness to be useful for other purposes, whether they be in Korea or the Middle East, the war on terrorism, homeland defense and security, or other combat or stability operations.

Force Structure

A second major uncertainty in the future policy environment involves the supply of Army units available for overseas deployments. This supply is changing as the Army undergoes a transformation from a combat structure based on divisions and brigades into a new structure that places more emphasis on brigade-size elements, which are expected to be more numerous after transformation is complete.

This report focuses on requirements for large combat formations, specifically brigade combat teams (BCTs). The initial deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan came from an active Army that contained 33 such brigades. This we term the "baseline force," that is, the force that existed as of early 2004.

During 2004, however, the Army began to transform its overall combat structure in a way that is intended to create a more modular and flexible force. This transformation will reduce the size of divisional elements, move some of those elements into the BCTs, and create more brigades, called brigade combat teams (unit of action) (BCT [UA]), by the Army. The current plan calls for creating at least 43 active transformed brigades in place of the 33 BCTs that previously existed. To reflect this potential growth in assets, our analysis will portray results based on two cases: using the baseline force composed of traditional BCTs and using the transformed force composed of transformed brigades.

The transformation of AC forces is already under way and is expected to produce ten new transformed brigades by the end of 2006, with the full conversion of all BCTs to transformed brigades due in 2007. The transformed brigade, according to the Army, is a "stand-alone and standardized tactical force of between 3,500 and 4,000 Soldiers." The National Guard is also expected to transform but in a somewhat different way. As we will discuss in Chapter Three, the RC transformation will not result in larger numbers of transformed brigades, but it will change the mix of heavy, medium, and infantry units. As we consider the potential role of the National Guard, our analyses will reflect the plans for RC transformation. The Army is also planning to resource 12 Army expeditionary packages to provide an efficient and continuous supply of combat and support soldiers for combatant commanders while providing predictable unit deployment schedules for soldiers and their families (Department of the Army, 2005c).

In our analysis, we have accepted the expectation that the Army will eventually have 43 transformed brigades and that each will be capable of performing the same tasks as a previous BCT. We will also assume that the personnel strength of the transformed brigades will be roughly equal to the BCTs and that the resources will be available to create and sustain those manning levels and capabilities. However, for several reasons it may be prudent to anticipate a situation that falls somewhere between the results that we portray for the baseline and transformed forces, at least in the near term. For one thing, the interim level of transformation-attaining a fully equipped set of 43 transformed brigades-is scheduled for 2007. If delays are encountered in the meantime, fewer transformed brigades will be available even after that date is reached. In addition, many specifics of the transformation plan are in flux, particularly the size and composition of support elements that may be needed to deploy with the combat brigades. The eventual capability of the transformed forces may depend on how these elements are organized and, importantly, whether sufficient resources (manpower and funds) are available to constitute them. Finally, the resource issue, if it becomes a limitation, may in turn limit the number of maneuver transformed brigades that the Army can afford.

AC and RC Employment Policies

In addition to changes in requirements and structure, the Army has goals for using the various components, but these too the Army may wish to alter. We will examine three types of policies that exert profound effects on the readiness and utilization of deploying units: the duration of active and reserve overseas tours; the frequency of mobilization for RC units; and the amount of preparation time that RC units need before deployment.

Each of these policies poses its own set of choices and trade-offs. For example, in recent years the Army has planned to deploy AC and RC units for one year-that is, a unit spends a continuous 12-month period in the overseas theater performing an operational mission before returning to its home station. In practice, some AC deployments have been extended to meet operational exigencies.

For the combatant commander, longer tours reduce turbulence and increase the experience of units in the theater. Congressional and other observers have sometimes urged that all deployments be shorter, perhaps lasting only six months. We will analyze the effects of varying both AC and RC deployment durations.

Another key policy is the frequency with which RC units are mobilized. DoD has stated as a planning goal its desire to mobilize RC units in such a way that they spend, on average, only one year mobilized out of every six years. Again, in practice this has proven difficult to achieve for some types of units, and we will examine how variations in this parameter affect outcomes.

Finally, an important limitation on using RC forces is the amount of preparation, training, and recovery time the units require when they are mobilized for a deployment. Most RC brigades have required about six months to prepare for deployment to Iraq. Because any time for these "overhead functions" reduces the time they are available to serve in theater, we will analyze the effects of reducing preparation time to determine whether new policies involving training and additional resources aimed in that direction would yield substantial benefits.

Assessing Outcomes

Our analysis will evaluate variations in the three conditions described above in terms of two key metrics: AC time at home between deployments and the number of ready AC brigades available for other national needs. (Continues...)

Excerpted from Stretched Thin by Lynn E. Davis J. Michael Polich William M. Hix Michael D. Greenberg Stephen D. Brady Ronald E. Sortor Copyright © 2005 by RAND Corporation. Excerpted by permission.
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