Attrition: Grow The Army


January 8, 2008: One of the criticisms of the way the war in Iraq was fought was that there were not enough U.S. troops available. Many in Congress demanded that the size of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps be increased. The generals were not keen on this, as they knew that, in the long term, they would need the money more for new technology that would reduce the need for troops. The navy and air force are already going through a massive downsizing because of this. It's hitting the army as well. In any event, it would take the army and marines years to turn those additional troops in combat ready units. As we have seen in Iraq, the generals were right. But in the short term, the generals have to do what Congress wants.

About a year ago, a compromise was reached. The U.S. Army will add 74,200 soldiers.Most (87 percent) will go to the active forces, increasing the size of the active duty forces by 13 percent. This will mean expanding many bases, and a lot of reorganizing. To let everyone in (or out) of the army know how this will play, the army has set up a web site at, that explains it all.

This site also shows how the army has changed, or at least been moved around, in the last five years. In that time, the army has also been going through a reorganization. At the end of the Cold War, the army had 800,000 troops, and sixteen divisions (55 brigades, including independent brigades). That was cut during the 1990s, to 500,000 troops, ten divisions and 33 brigades. A recent reorganization added ten brigades. The addition of 65,000 troops to the active army will increase the number of combat brigades by six, to 49. This will all be completed by 2013.

The current army organization is different from what it had fifteen years ago. The army is a leaner organization, with more support services outsourced to civilian firms, and a larger proportion of troops in combat units. The reorganization of the last few years created a new "brigade-centric"organization. Twenty new combat brigades were created. The new force of 77 active duty and reserve brigades could, it is believed, provide a twenty brigade force in a combat zone indefinitely. There would be enough brigades to rotate them in and out of the combat zone, allowing time for rest and training back in the United States.

The reorganization made the brigades, not the divisions, the primary combat unit. The new brigades have more support units permanently attached, and can be more easily sent off to fight by themselves. In the past, doing this involved quickly adding a lot of support units to the brigade. The new organization made small support units part of the brigades, and, more importantly, the brigades train using these support units and learns to work well with them. The divisions still exist, but operate more like the corps has for the last two centuries (coordinating the actions of a few divisions and only having a few support units under its command.)

Divisions now have four (instead of the traditional three) of the new brigades, but can control more (or fewer) brigades if they have to. Each of the new brigades (or BCTs, for Brigade Combat Teams) has 3,500-4,000 troops (depending on type). There are three types of BCTs; light (infantry, including paratroopers), heavy (mechanized, including tanks) and Stryker (mechanized using wheeled armored vehicles.) The reorganization increased the number of active duty combat brigades from 33 to 43. This is done by reorganizing the combat units of each division into four brigades, instead of the current three.

There are several independent brigades as well. New weapons and equipment (especially satellite based communications and battlefield Internet software) enable the army to get the same amount of combat power brigade, using fewer combat troops. The army transferred over 40,000 troops from combat-support jobs to the combat brigades. The actual number of infantrymen and tanks didn't change, but the number of communications, maintenance and intelligence support did. For example, increased use of robots, sensors and computerized vidcam surveillance systems makes it possible to do the same amount of work in combat, with fewer troops. A lot of these new ideas, and equipment, is being tested in Iraq and Afghanistan, and most of these items work well in combat.




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