A plan to grow the Army and Marine Corps over the next decade could mean the resurrection of units disbanded during the force reductions of the 1990s, according to Pentagon sources. And it might require major equipment purchases. In his January State of the Union address, President George W. Bush proposed adding 92,000 troops to the Army and Marine Corps. According to the Pentagon, that would grow the active Army from the current 512,000 to 547,000; the Army National Guard by 8,000 to 358,000 and the Army Reserve by 1,000 to 206,000. The Marines would gain 22,000 people at a rate of around 5,000 annually.
The new troops would be a “shock-absorber,” in the words of one Marine general, and should mitigate the impact of repeated long deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush’s proposal coincided with another proposal to deploy an extra 22,000 soldiers and Marines to Iraq to combat sectarian violence in Baghdad and the Sunni insurgency in the country’s western desert.
While most pundits welcome larger ground forces, there are questions about how the new troops will be organized and equipped. New troops could form new units or simply reinforce existing ones.
“For the most part it would be new units, since the Table of Organization and Equipment that defines different types of units is invariant with respect to the total end-strength of the service,” contends John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, a think-tank based in Alexandria, Virginia.
Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Carl Ey confirms Pike’s assertion, saying the 34,000 new active-duty soldiers are enough for “up to five or six brigades.” The names and traditions of disbanded Brigade Combat Teams might be dusted off for the purpose, he adds. “There have been plenty of BCT flags retired in past.”
As for which divisions the brigades might be assigned to, “That’s not really an issue,” Ey says, pointing out that in recent years many of the active Army’s 10 divisions have added brigades as part of a sweeping “modular” reorganization of the service’s force structure. New brigades would fall in on existing divisions.
The new brigades will help Pentagon planners reach force-structure goals they recently abandoned due to cost. During the early stages of modularization several years ago, Army planners hoped to reach totals of 48 active and 34 National Guard brigades, but settled for 42 and 28, respectively. With the new soldiers, 48 active brigades is a realistic prospect, but there will be just enough new Guardsmen for perhaps two brigades. The Army Reserve will most likely fill in undermanned units with its modest allotment of 1,000 new soldiers.
At least one wonk says the National Guard should stand up new Stryker units in addition to the one Stryker brigade it’s slated for. “The Army thinks so highly of the Stryker that it is converting six brigades or more than 15 percent of its combat force structure into these units,” Daniel Goure of the Washington, D.C.-based Lexington Institute wrote in January. “The National Guard, with 28 combat brigades [previously] planned, gets about four percent. The National Guard should have at least two – and possibly four – additional Stryker brigades to match their capabilities to that of the Active Component.”
The Marines, for their part, are still figuring out what to do with the extra people. The political process surrounding the increases is “moving faster than we anticipated,” says Captain Jay Delarosa, a spokesman for Marine Corps Headquarters in Quantico, Virginia. He says an announcement on force structure will be made in February.
Equipping the land forces’ new troops will require tens of thousands of firearms, thousands of armored vehicles and trucks and countless minor pieces of kit. But which types of weapons the Army needs depends upon the types of brigades the service wants. Heavy brigades use M-1 Abrams tanks and M-2 Bradley fighting vehicles. Light brigades need mostly up-armored Humvees. Stryker brigades employ the M-1126 Stryker wheeled vehicle. The Army possesses sufficient reserves of tanks and Bradleys to outfit a few heavy brigades, but only Strykers and Humvees are currently in production and therefore available in large numbers. Assuming it remains on schedule, the Future Combat Systems family of networked armored vehicles might be ready in time to equip the last of the Army’s new brigades around 2010.
The Marine Corps will continue buying new copies of older weapons in addition to small numbers of high-tech new weapons, according to Commandant General James Conway. In recent years the Marines have restarted production of wheeled Light Armored Vehicles to supplement the latest tracked Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles.