The Army is coming out of a decade of war beat up and strapped for cash.
The force that arguably did most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and suffered the most casualties, now finds itself in a new conflict.
It has begun a round of soul-searching and bureaucratic battles to determine its place in the Obama administration’s new military strategy, which celebrates the global striking power of air and sea forces and downplays the chance of another major land war.
After spending huge amounts of money on equipment to fight terrorists, the Army has none to truly modernize itself with new core platforms such as attack helicopters and battle tanks.
“We have an opportunity to take this experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and really achieve dominance on the ground, just like the Air Force achieved with the F-22 and F-35 and the Navy has achieved with its modern fleet of carriers,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales.
“But for whatever reason, the Army is going to go into the future with no major platform modernization that I can see. It’s entirely likely that my grandchildren, should they choose to go in the Army, will be fighting with equipment I was using when I was a captain.”
The Army’s share of the total defense budget grew significantly over the past decade. The nation’s largest military branch spent billions of dollars on the health care and salaries of its soldiers, and the active roster ballooned from 480,000 to more than 570,000.
More billions were spent on the never-ending quest to protect soldiers by providing superarmored vehicles, special body armor, and bomb-detection and sophisticated surveillance gear.
Today, as the fog of war is clearing, the Army sees that something is missing. Though upgraded with new technology, its front-line combat systems are stuck in the post-Vietnam, Cold War era of the 1980s. Its budget is set to stay around $134 billion next year, with procurement falling by $1.3 billion from $19.5 billion this year.
As money moved out of procurement and into counterterrorism, the Army’s future moved to the casualty list.
‘List of failed programs’
The next-generation Comanche helicopter has been canceled. The Army will continue to rely on the OH-58 Kiowa scout and AH-64 Apache.
There is no planned successor for the M1 Abrams tank.
The Army’s ambitious Future Combat System (FCS), a mix of land and air combat assets, is gone because of delays, cost overruns and budget constraints.
The George W. Bush administration killed the Crusader artillery piece as too Cold War-ish, despite Army arguments that it would deliver precision strikes to protect land forces.
The Future Combat System once stood as the Army’s future, with its artillery piece, infantry carrier, light tank, and air and ground sensors designed to dominate the battlefield. But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates scrapped most of it, saying he wanted more money spent on current wars, not future ones.
“There is no analogy for this in any other service,” Gen. Scales told The Washington Times. “Army modernization died when FCS died.”
The Army scorecard: No new tanks. No new combat helicopters. No new artillery. And, possibly, no new tactical vehicles.
“The Army is zero for four in its big-ticket programs,” said Gen. Scales, who headed the Army War College, which molds officers for senior rank. “You can just go down the list of failed programs.”
Some retired officers are whispering the word “hollow,” the infamous label imprinted on the Army in the late 1970s after budget cuts left combat units existing virtually in name only.
They also are a bit bitter, noting that it has been the Army that has spilled the most blood in Iraq and Afghanistan, only to see it rewarded with a personnel cut of 80,000 soldiers and with little hope of true modernization.
‘Use it up, wear it out’
Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, whose infantry career included command of a combat division, told The Times that modernization advocates are “absolutely right,” but the time is not.
“The tank, the Bradley, the Apache — they’re all old platforms,” said Gen. Dubik, now an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. “But given the financial situation the county is in right now, my personal opinion is that modernization should wait and we should spend the money on personnel cost and readiness and not on modernization.
“In an objective sense, we should have replaced them 10 years ago. But once the financial crisis is over and we are in a better financial footing, then it is time to revisit.”
Even the few major systems left in the Army’s budget face an increasingly skeptical Congress.
Some lawmakers are questioning the need to buy two new troop carriers, the $40 billion Ground Combat Vehicle to replace the M2-3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and the $54 billion Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, to succeed the ubiquitous all-terrain Humvee.
As the top Army procurement brass sat at the witness table on March 27, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, told them that those two new vehicles are projected to double or triple the cost of adding improvements to the ones that they would replace.
“I do want to ask our witnesses today whether the higher costs of those two new vehicle programs are justified by increased capabilities they will buy, as opposed to sustaining current programs for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Humvee,” said Mr. Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Armed Services air/land subcommittee.
The Army took another blow last month. Andrew Krepinevich, an influential military futurist who has advised Congress and the Pentagon, issued a paper arguing that now is the time to wear out what the troops are using while beginning a search for a truly advanced family of vehicles.
“Given prospective resource constraints, the ground forces should seek to ‘use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without’ whenever possible,” wrote Mr. Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who runs the Center for Strategic Budget Assessment.
He said the Army’s future battles are likely to be on so-called “nonlinear” battlefields with no defined front lines. The enemy is increasingly able to secure precision anti-armor weapons that require the Army to constantly update vehicle defenses.
For that reason, instead of fielding a new generation of vehicles, he and analyst Eric Lindsey wrote, “the ground services should do the opposite, pursuing recapitalization and off-the-shelf solutions whenever possible, upgrading existing systems as much as possible.”
The next big idea
Gen. Scales took umbrage at Mr. Krepinevich’s “wear it out” procurement plan.
“This, to the service that has suffered the most in terms of dead and wounded, hugely disproportionate to any other service, to me is just unconscionable,” he said.
At the least, he said, the Army needs the new infantry carrier capable of taking a squad into battle while defeating future anti-tank weapons. It also needs a new mobile howitzer to attack enemy encampments.
What the Army lacks, Gen. Scales said, is a big idea on the scale of the Army’s Air/Land Battle plan of the early 1980s. President Reagan and Congress bought into it, ushering in procurement of mainstay systems such as the Bradley, the M1 tank, the Apache, and the Patriot air-defense missile whose improved versions arm soldiers today.
Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, an author and revolutionary thinker on Army warfare, has another view on what the next big idea should be.
He advocates the Army breaking down its current battlefield formations; join the Marines, the Navy and the Air Force in joint scenario planning; and then develop the weapon systems to match the contingencies.
“I think we are talking about an institution that has successfully resisted any serious reform and reorganization for 20 years, and the current outcome is the result,” he told The Times.
“The Army four-stars have sent a clear and unambiguous message ever since the end of the  Gulf War that the Army is a single-service war fighter, and that it has no interest in any form of integrated operations that would diminish Army general officer command and control of Army forces.”
Army leaders say that when it comes to new vehicles, the service cannot wait for the next transformation or a better deficit picture.
“The Bradley does not have the maneuverability and the protection for our rifle squads that we believe we might encounter for those adversaries that would employ hybridlike tactics against us,” Army Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, director of the Capabilities Integration Center, told Mr. Lieberman’s subcommittee.
He said insurgents have made significant advances in armor-penetrating weapons since the 2004 battle for Fallujah, Iraq, where Bradleys protected M1 tanks.
“If we did that again today, given the advances that we’ve seen in [enemy weapons], we would lose a lot of people,” he warned senators.
But Gen. Dubik said the Ground Combat Vehicle is not futuristic enough.
“My belief is we should either suspend it altogether or reduce the plan, because if we use technology that’s present right now, what we’re going to produce is going to be very similar to what we have,” he said.
“The money would be better spent improving what we have now and investing in the research and development to get something different from the Bradley. If we spend the money now, we’re going to get basically the same thing, because the technology is what it is.”