- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2008


Anthony H. Cordesman

In the short term, the solution is obvious. Reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq as soon as conditions permit, transfer some forces to Afghanistan, and give as many U.S. men and women in uniform time with their families and a chance for career development in the U.S.

The key to any realistic solution to the problems of overdeploying a limited all-volunteer military is to understand the true scope of the problem. Our forces are too small for the challenges we face, and the immediate need to reduce active and reserve deployments to levels that will allow the U.S. to recruit and retain the high quality of well-educated men and women needed in today’s forces is only part of the problem.

Regardless of what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan, the next president will also inherit massive problems in the U.S. force structure that go far beyond overstretching military manpower. Today’s manpower plans are not fully funded in U.S. defense programs and budgets. We already are seeking increases in strength we do not yet intend to fully pay for.

Every one of our military services has unaffordable procurement and research programs that can never be delivered at the promised time and with the promised effectiveness. Operations, maintenance and the other aspects of readiness are equally underfunded, including what the military calls “reset: replacing all of the equipment and stocks used in the war. In fact, it’s clear that billions of dollars worth of equipment is now so worn that it will have to be replaced and not reconditioned or repaired.

So what is the solution? The most important step is a comprehensive effort to shape the most practical and affordable overall force plan, procurement plans and manpower plans we can. We need to reach a consensus between the president, the Congress and the American taxpayer over what adequate force levels cost, over spending plans that offer at least five years of continuity for core programs, and over the strategy and force posture we will actually fund.

In the process, we have to properly fund our current wars rather than underresourcing conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq, by underreacting even when we get into trouble, and by trying to treat the endemic problems in an overstretched force through stopgap measures like annual “supplementals.”

The end result may cost much closer to 5 percent of our GDP than the 4 percent or less we have paid in recent years and now plan to pay in the future. No matter how we improve our current force and manpower plans, it simply is not possible to do more and more with less and less. For far too long, “defense reform” has not meant efficiency, but trying to do too much with too little.

At the same time, we cannot solve overstretch by giving defense a blank check, or trying to implement equipment development and modernization plans that are triumphs of hope over experience. At a minimum, paying for adequate force size will have to come at the cost of painful program cuts and slips in procurement in every service. Cost containment in other areas is critical to paying for war fighting and an adequate force structure and readiness.

Other solutions are needed. We must adjust the structure of each service to reduce deployment strains and ensure that everyone shares the burden. We need to complete the changes in the U.S. Army that are creating new types of brigade combat teams and a more deployable force. We need to examine the current force structure of the other services to ensure that deployment burdens are properly shared and we need to zero-base our current manpower plans to find a new balance of active and reserve forces that puts less strain on those who serve.

We need to review what may be overdependence on contractors in ways that do not produce real savings or effective services. It may well be that cutting contractors and paying for more military is now a better answer.

We need to create a governmentwide program that gives civilians in other agencies and departments adequate incentives to serve in the civilian side of conflicts, and in roles like aid teams. This means funding suitable reserves of experts, and contingency funds for other departments and agencies that allow immediate funding of the civilian partners that are now critical to winning our wars.

Finally, we need to put far more emphasis on training and supporting allied and host country forces in missions like Iraq and Afghanistan, and on doing so from Day One, rather than waiting years for insurgencies to gather momentum and then trying to build local force too slowly too late.

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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