Challenges, Risks of Force Expansion
By JOHN A. PANNETON, National President
The president’s call for an additional 92,000 troops, including
27,000 for the Marine Corps and
65,000 for the Army, is an important
step forward for the future strength of
the U.S. military. Our ground forces are
stretched thin, and the world is not
becoming a safer place. But those who
link the proposed increase to a near-term solution to the nation’s defense
problems are going to be disappointed.
The increase will require at least
five years to complete. Moreover, the
way forward is riddled with managerial and political obstacles to a genuinely successful rise in end-strength.
Under the president’s plan, the
authorized size of the Corps would rise to 202,000, and
the Army to 547,000. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
and other commitments around the globe have demonstrated how quickly even U.S. forces — large and well-trained — can be woefully stressed by extended conflict
and extraordinary international commitments. Given
the determination of our terrorist enemies, the current
wars are unlikely to be our last in this quarter century.
Marine and Army troops alike are being rapidly
returned to overseas deployments, with consequent
reductions in “shore” assignments with their families.
It is a matter of time until that affects retention and
enthusiastic support from family members.
The conflicts already have underscored the need for
more support forces, such as military police, corpsmen
and training specialists. In addition, the nation’s commitments abroad seem destined to grow in the years
ahead. More naval forces recently were dispatched to the
Middle East as a blunt warning to Iran, which appears
determined to carve out a major regional role for itself
to the detriment of U.S. interests. More forces will be
needed in Africa to forge new friendships, train friendly
militaries, counter terrorists’ inroads and, over time,
form the kinds of alliances that kept the peace in Europe
for half a century. The need for a strong U.S. presence in
Asia will continue for the foreseeable future.
In Congress, support for the president’s end-strength
plan appears solid on both sides of the aisle. But bringing
fresh troops onboard is only one element of the huge task
ahead. They have to be trained and led
by gunnery sergeants, captains and
colonels. The middle management of
the Marine Corps cannot be expanded
quickly. Its sergeants and junior officers have to be trained and nurtured
from within, a process that takes
years. That is one reason why the
leadership of the Corps intends to
increase the force gradually. End-strength is to rise to 194,000 by 2009,
for example, and to 202,000 by 2011.
The costs will be substantial.
Manpower already accounts for 60
percent of the Marine Corps budget.
The 2008 total will be $13.7 billion,
and the rapidly rising costs of health
care and retirement will drive the long-term price of
force expansion even higher. The expense of housing
and weaponry also will rise.
The proposed expansion comes with a huge caveat
attached: It must be accompanied by a political commitment that will endure through at least one presidential
election and five sessions of Congress. That is rare in
Washington. But Republicans and Democrats must buy
into the expansion now and stick with it, or else our
forces will be placed at risk. Nothing would be worse for
morale and readiness than increasing end-strength only
to have troops “riffed” from the force and the infrastructure reduced once again four or five years hence.
A larger force is needed. But the means to achieve
that end are complex and challenging. We are confident that the nation’s political leadership will approach
the task with the care and forethought requisite to
achieve the desired results.
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