January 06, 2011

How Many Forced Entry Brigades Does One Army Need? (Updated)

Here's a question for the readership as we try and wrap our heads around the proposed cuts to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. (I'm not smart enough to comment on the proposed cuts to the U.S. Navy and Air Force, respectively. Go here for comments on the former.) I was surprised to read this quote from Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Greg Newbold in the Times concerning the cuts to the USMC's Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle:

“We’ll just pray that we don’t have to go into harm’s way in the next 10 years."

Really? I have to confess that Lt. Gen. Newbold is one of my favorite retired general officers. I got to know him when he was serving on our board of directors and really respect his service, integrity and intellect. But the first thing I thought when reading this was, Holy cow, do we really need more forced entry capabilities?

I did the math in my head while riding on the Metro this morning and counted four brigades in the 82d Airborne, four brigades in the 101st Airborne (Air Assault), one brigade (4th) in the 25th Infantry Division (Airborne) and one brigade in Europe, the 173rd Airborne, in addition to the 75th Ranger Regiment. That's 11 brigade-sized elements capable of conducting forced entry operations in the U.S. Army alone. How many airfields are we going to need to seize? And would we have conducted as many amphibious landings in the Second World War if we had rotary-wing platforms as we do today?

My beloved U.S. Army made it through the proposed cuts in the defense budget relatively unscathed, so maybe I should keep my big mouth shut, but if I were a congressional staffer, the above is one of the questions I would be asking.

Readers, please sound off in the comments section of this post -- especially if my thinking is wrong-headed here.

Update: Some great comments here. Over the Twitter Machine, @ndubaz notes that what I am really talking about is forced entry capable brigades. He is correct. Another commenter wonders if I have lost my sanity: of course these brigades are not interchangeable, right? Again, correct. The 75th Ranger Regiment most obviously differs from the others, as does the 101st Airborne from the 82d Airborne. But I lumped all these brigades in for a reason -- the nuances in capabilities will not stand out to your average congressional staffer in the same way they will to, say, one of the many officers who have served in the 101st, the 82d and the 75th. Finally, Gulliver linked to this must-read piece by (Marines) Bob Work and Frank Hoffman. That piece, though, rests on the assumption that "Retaining the ability to project power and conduct landing operations
into hostile territory remains strategically important to American
global interests." Needless to say, that's an assumption that even folks to the right (or is it left?) of Andy Bacevich might contest -- especially given other capabilities within the ground forces.