View Full Version : Why is the Military at a Breaking Point?

04-11-07, 03:10 PM
William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security
Why is the Military at a Breaking Point?
Washington Post, DC

I don't question that our military is at a breaking point, I just question why.

We are experiencing record defense budgets and outlays, and yet we have exhausted our troops and worn out our gear.

We have 2.2 million men and women under arms in the active military and reserves and yet we have had a hard time sustaining 150,000 troops in Iraq, and are struggling to increase that force by just 20,000?

The political message these days is that with defense spending as a share of the gross domestic product at near record lows, the American people have somehow failed to contribute enough.

The Bush administration similarly trumpets an increase in the end strength of the army and Marines, as if a huge concession is being wrested from an uncooperative citizenry.

I say we just aren't getting enough bang for our bucks, and a huge part of the problem is a military institution that is so bloated with support and dominated by a new industrial contractor class that it is increasingly challenged to produce combat power.

By the end of the "surge" next month, the total number of U.S. military forces in Iraq will peak at some 170,000 men and women, a ten percent increase over the 150,000 or so troops that the United States has sustained in country since 2003.

The number of U.S. troops in Iraq previously peaked in November 2005 at 161,000, according to Pentagon documents. Before the announcement of the surge in January, U.S. forces had declined to some 130,000.

With 2.2 million men and women in the active armed forces, reserves, and National Guard, plus some 650,000 civilians working directly for the Defense Department, how it that we are barely able to sustain one-tenth of the number of those in uniform in Iraq?

It isn't as if the United States continues to sustain gigantic forces in Europe or South Korea, as it did during the Cold War, thus draining combat forces that would otherwise be "available" for other contingencies. Not only are those deployed U.S. forces about one-tenth the size that they were at their peak, and one-sixth their size at the end of the Cold War in 1990, but brigades from Germany and South Korea have regularly been rotated into Iraq.

And even if we include all 260,000 military personnel overall in the Middle East theater in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the Horn of Africa, at all bases, including air force units and Navy ships, the numbers don't add up.

Is that the answer? That it takes 2.1 million employees of the Defense Department - and countless additional hundreds of thousands of contract personnel - to sustain less than 300,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen in combat?

Part of the answer, at least to me, is revealed in the presence of those 125,000 contractors in Iraq, contractors who are engaged in security, transport, and the sustainment of U.S., Iraqi, and coalition military forces (13,000 coalition "troops" and 130,000 plus Iraqis in uniform).

I'm not talking about some Halliburton conspiracy here. I'm just remarking on the logistical and support "tail" that is necessary to sustain the so-called "tooth."

Overall in the Defense Department, supporting "defense agencies" already get more than 16 percent of the defense budget. And, of course, with the services, various "supporting" functions, from bands to duplicative war colleges to research and development eat up the lion's share of the money.

I don't mean to demean any of those people, but you have to wonder when the technologies needed to fight - such as counter-IED technologies or basic personnel protection gear - doesn't flow readily into the theater despite all the brains, the dollars, and the effort.

In the end then, if the forces on the front lines - the army brigades, the Marine Corps expeditionary units, the air wings, even the navy ships - are increasingly deemed lower on the readiness scale and stretched too thin, it is because of the overall organization of military and the fact that those who actually do the fighting are themselves spread too thin in an otherwise overfed organization.

Congress is on the one hand rushing to increase the size of the armed forces while it is at the same time threatening to remove the irritant (Iraq) that on the surface creates the military's sustainment crisis.

What it needs to do instead is examine whether the military and its supporting cast are any longer structured for the real world we face.