Atrophied Military Courts Disaster
When a military chief of staff warns that his forces are at “high risk” of not being able to perform their mission in defense of the nation, it should be big news. General Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, delivered just such a warning to Congress on Thursday, and yet it received almost no coverage outside the defense industry press.
That’s a big problem. Attention needs to be paid to what General Milley is saying because it’s not hyperbole. “On the ‘high military risk,’ to be clear, we have sufficient capacity and capability and readiness to fight counterinsurgency and counterterrorism,” Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “My military risk refers specifically to what I see as emerging threats and potential for great power conflict and I am specifically talking about the time it takes to execute the task … and the cost in terms of casualties.”
Those “emerging threats” are already here, especially in the form of Russia, which has rebuilt its armed forces and has shown them off in wars in both Ukraine and Syria. “The chief admitted he believes the US military is out-ranged by Russian ground-based, direct- or indirect-fire systems, tanks and artillery,” Defense News noted.
While American airpower can make up some of the difference in ground-based systems, the U.S. Air Force is also far too small to meet all of its commitments. And even if we had more aircraft, they could not compensate for the lack of soldiers and combat-ready units.
Milley noted “that only a third of the Army’s Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) are ready to deploy and only a couple of those are ready to deploy immediately.” There are also far too few troops to meet existing commitments.
The army is due to drop to 450,000 active duty soldiers along with 335,000 in the National Guard and 195,000 in the Reserves. Actually, unless sequestration is repealed for next year, the army’s active-duty component would fall to just 420,000, which is far below any reasonable red line. And even if sequestration cuts are held off, the army will still be short 220,000 soldiers — including 50,000 active-duty soldiers — of what it needs to meet its commitment, Milley testified.
It would not be cheap to get the army the soldiers it needs; every 10,000 active-duty troops cost $1 billion. But it would be far more costly to not be ready to meet our basic security commitments, from fighting ISIS to deterring Russia. If there is one thing that U.S. history should have taught us, it is the price of unpreparedness. It makes conflict more likely and, when war does come, it makes it more costly especially in casualties early on.