Pentagon’s plan to eliminate US army division- based force structure unwise

Published 15 years ago -  - 15y ago 8


Following his unprecedented premature retirement of forty-seven US Army generals and with his installation of hand-picked replacements to lead the US Army nearly completed, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is on the verge of moving full bore to begin implementing long-planned reforms including the complete elimination of the Army’s division-based force structure. Rumsfeld and his hand-picked replacement as Army Chief of Staff, General Shoemaker, plan to replace it with a force structure based on dismounted infantry-centric mini-brigade units of action consisting of about 2000-2500 men each more optimized to fight small wars, but less suited to fighting major conflicts.

General Shoemaker recently announced his plan to immediately begin implementing this reformed structure with the 101st Air Assault Division and the 3rd Infantry Division, which have just returned to the US following a long-term deployment in Iraq. Five mini-brigade size units will be derived from each of the two divisions, which will then be ready for action about a year from now presumably for redeployment to Iraq. These mini-brigades will have a smaller compliment of men and fighting vehicles than current brigade combat teams, but will also have limited integrated artillery and aviation assets as divisions do today on a larger scale. The divisions themselves will become similar to Army corps headquarters, which are little more than command and control units for attached subordinate elements. Once the reorganization of these two divisions is complete, General Shoemaker will then report back to Rumsfeld with a recommendation on the size of the Army, presumably a recommendation to reduce it by a yet to be determined level.

At the annual Association of the United States Army conference earlier this month, top Army officials including General Shoemaker confirmed plans to disband all of the Army’s heavy divisions and discard its tanks and tracked vehicles by 2025, without which major wars cannot be won. Shoemaker is also reportedly considering ‘transforming’ one of the Army’s six heavy divisions into a light infantry division by removing all of its tanks and tracked vehicle assets in the near term to provide more optimized units for ongoing occupation and peacemaking duties in Iraq. Given that the 3rd Infantry division, a heavy division is already slated to undergo a major reorganization, it may well be the division selected for transformation from a heavy mechanized force to a light unarmored infantry force. These plans seem to indicate that the Army leadership does not anticipate that major conflicts such as the recent US invasion of Iraq will be waged in the foreseeable future and that Operations Other Than War (OOTW) such as UN peacemaking missions and occupation duties will remain the primary focus of the US Army. Perhaps they concur with Secretary Rumsfeld that all future wars the US military fights will be small wars like Afghanistan requiring no more than 50,000 special forces and light infantry troops supported by airpower. However, if history teaches us anything it is that the US will fight a major war that it did not plan on fighting sometime in the next decade or two. That being the case, any transformation effort that does not recognize that fact and disarms the Army of the weapons that it needs to fight and win major conflicts will inevitably result in the unnecessary deaths of countless thousands of US soldiers in the future.

Army generals successfully defended the Army’s force structure from a two-division cut contemplated by Rumsfeld during the 2001 Quadrennial Review process, but it is doubtful that they will continue to resist such cuts for long in opposition to the autocratic Defense Secretary. Rumsfeld is accustomed to getting his own way and sometimes even resorts to firing those who disagree with him on matters of principle as in the case of former Secretary of the Army Thomas White. The elimination of the Army’s divisions would provide Rumsfeld with cover for his longtime plan to slash tens of thousands of troops from the Army’s payrolls, despite the fact that the Army remains severely overextended in Iraq. It is unable to sustain the current level of deployments forcing the call-up of tens of thousands of Army reservists and National Guard troops to fill the gap. As recently as last year, Rumsfeld and his top confidante for transformation issues, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Steven Cambone, were reported to be continuing to plan to reduce the number of US Army divisions from ten to as few as six for a reduction of up to forty percent. The few remaining Army divisions would then be transformed into an all-wheeled force of motorized light infantry brigades without the tanks or tracked vehicles necessary to fight and win major conflicts which will inevitably arise in the future. Dispensing with the division structure altogether and replacing the Army’s current thirty-three brigades with a slightly larger number of much smaller regimental sized units, each with 40% less personnel than modern-day brigades, would allow Rumsfeld to conceal many of his planned Army personnel reductions as part of the transformation to a brigade-focused structure. Rumsfeld may find a way to bypass the congressional authorization necessary to approve his planned force reductions. A recent poll conducted by the Department of Defense funded Star and Stripes newspaper found that 49% of those questioned described their units’ morale as low and responded that they are “very unlikely” or not likely to re-enlist when their current service obligations are completed.

There is another reason behind Rumsfeld’s plan to eliminate the Army’s divisions. Since the Vietnam war, the Army’s mobilization plan has ensured that the Army would have to rely upon reserve and National Guard units in any major or protracted conflict. This policy, devised by former Army Chief of Staff, Creighton Abrams, was intended to prevent the US Army from being used in no-win wars in the future. Now, this policy is causing the Bush Administration headaches as reservists and their families complain about being sent to Iraq for twelve to eighteen months at a time creating potential political problems for the president’s re-election campaign so Rumsfeld is trying to change it. While doing so will take several years to fully implement, it will make it easier for future Presidents to bog down the US Army in future no-win wars like the one now being waged in Iraq without widespread public support.

Related articles:
Iraq War is Stretching US Army to Breaking Point
Iraq Occupation Returning Army to the ‘Hollow Force’ of the 1970s
Rumsfeld’s War Against the United States Army


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