Leadership: June 21, 2001

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The new secretary of the army has raised the possibility of eliminating the division and just having brigades (organized into corps as needed.) Every decade or so since 1880, someone in government has proposed eliminating the division (10-20,000 troops) as the main land combat unit and replace it with the brigade (4-6,000 troops). The division organization was invented late in the 18th century as the largest unit containing all arms (infantry, artillery and cavalry) and able to operate independently. Actually, the Romans invented this type of organization (calling it a Legion) over two thousand years ago. But the idea was lost for over a thousand years until the 18th century. Before the division came along, there was the corps (or army), which controlled a bunch of brigades. Actually, there have always been independent brigades (with some armor, artillery and support troops) over the last century, but someone periodically come up with the idea of having nothing but brigades. The idea is always based on the premise that warfare had gone through some revolutionary changes and masses of troops would no longer be needed. This has not happened, but for over a century, it has always been right around the corner. And probably always will be. This illusion persists because large numbers of troops fighting in a small space means high casualties. While the density of troops per square mile has been going down for the last two centuries, there are still situations where you got a lot of people shooting at each other in a relatively small area. Eliminating the division and turning each brigade into a mini-division will cost more, in terms of troops, money and equipment. There are efficiencies of scale with the division. Some suggest that many of the support units be concentrated at the corps level, leaving the brigades relatively lean in that department. But the Russians tried that during World War II, and dropped it after the war. This latest proposal will provide a lot of work for the consultants and not much else.


 


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