Total Force in a Global Context

Sept. 1, 1984

Next year, we will mark the fortieth anniversary of the end of the greatest conflict in world history. This spring, we observed the fortieth anniversary of D-Day — the greatest amphibious assault in the history of warfare and the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany. Such celebrations help to focus the attention of all who have some responsibility for the national defense.

It is sometimes difficult to remember what a massive change United States military forces underwent in the years of World War II. William Manchester, in his book The Glory and the Dream, presents a striking baseline:

In 1932, “… the US had the sixteenth largest army in the world, putting it behind, among others, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, Spain, Romania, and Poland. When every $17.85-a-month private had suited up, there were 132,069 Americans in uniform… [M]ost of [then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Douglas] MacArthur’s men were committed to deskwork, patrolling the Mexican border, and protecting US possessions overseas. The Chief of Staff was left with 30,000 troops — fewer than the force which King George [III] sent to tame the rebellious American colonists in 1776.”

At Omaha Beach, more American troops (34,000) went ashore on D-Day than General MacArthur had had available for immediate use some twelve years earlier. At the end of World War II, there were 12,000,000 Americans in uniform.

In the growth that marked that period, America’s Guard and Reserve Forces played a huge role. They have continued that role today — an almost equally critical period — as the United States has faced the largest military arms buildup by a potential adversary in history. In the 1970s, Soviet defense spending increased by forty percent while US defense spending did not even keep up with inflation. US defense expenditures decreased to five percent of national output from approximately eleven percent in the 1950s and nine percent in the 1960s; Soviet military expenditures increased from twelve to fourteen percent of national output. Without belaboring an issue that has been widely reported, this period of change made rebuilding America’s defenses the most critical problem faced in the new decade, and that meant greater reliance on reserve forces.

The Militia Tradition

“One thread that runs through the military history of England is a demand for low-cost protection,” John K. Mahon says in his History of the Militia and the National Guard. “Owners of land bore those costs for the most part, but the lowest strata of society paid their share if they were impressed into service for extensive overseas duty. In England, the complaints of the landholders over the costs of the militia on the one hand and the pressures exerted by the Crown to make them pay those costs on the other hand shaped military policy. Demand for low-cost military security reappeared in the North American colonies.”

The demand for low-cost military security never died in America, except during some periods of war. After each such period, however, America quickly demobilized as many forces as possible and returned to “business as usual.” To some degree, that demand is at the heart of the current debate concerning missions and equipment for the Guard and Reserve.

Simply stated, the argument goes like this: Active forces costs too much; the same level of defense can be provided on a part-time basis and at lesser cost; we need to adopt this or that program to bring about this desirable effect. In short, we want what the early settlers wanted: low-cost protection.

Before we address some of the arguments in detail, a general point must be fixed firmly mind. The extent and nature of military force reflect the purposes to which those forces might be used. The responsibility of the Department of Defense is to identify the obligations taken on by the United States that might require military force, and to structure forces capable of carrying out those responsibilities. The analysis begins with national commitments, objectives, threats, and policy requirements. These are translated, ultimately, into doctrine, force levels, weapon systems, etc. Thus, the first parameter that planners must acknowledge is the commitment that our forces fulfill. A “solution” that undermines the ability to carry out those responsibilities is fatally flawed, irrespective of any other advantages it might possess, including cost.

United States military forces must prepare for war efficiently in order to prevent war from happening. At the same time, those forces must be effective enough to fight and win, should it become necessary. This fundamental dichotomy of purpose is a major influence on the formulation of the military forces.

Cheaper — Sometimes

Reserve forces are cheaper, in some instances, than active forces. They are cheaper in at least two ways. First, the cost of retirement compensation for reserve forces is less than for active forces, because reserve personnel retire at a later period in life. This article is not the place to argue the current retirement system. But it is important to remember that the retirement system s a management tool, designed to accomplish specific purposes in the composition of our military forces, and to recognize the special nature of military service. Some potential savings associated with reserve activities arise from the necessity of having a fair and equitable retirement system for the active force.

The second — and key — factor in determining whether reserve units could perform a given mission at a lower cost is activity rates. If an activity rate during peacetime is at a high pace requiring heavy daily training demands and is manpower-intensive, this unit mission is usually not assigned to the reserve forces. The concept of the citizen-soldier is that he be given a military mission that is not peacetime-intensive but one that is a definite wartime requirement, even though in today’s Air Force some citizen-soldiers perform active Air Force peacetime missions. Thus, in most instances, the citizen-soldier trains to a more specific function than that required of his full-time military counterpart. This specific training results in fewer training hours and, as a result, the reserve units’ costs are lower.

Acknowledging generally that the reserve forces are economically performing missions with lower activity rates than their active counterparts does not address the critical issue. The critical issue is: How do we determine when we have reached the optimum force balance between the active and reserve components This question can best be examined by looking at some operational factors that must be considered by our military programmers when they are tasked to prepare their plans for congressional review.

Programming the force

The composition of our military forces is not developed by accident or in response to congressional pressures. Our task in the Department of Defense is to look at the threat posed to this national by potential adversaries and to develop a military force structure designed to counter that threat. Among numerous factors that must be weighed when making force-mix decisions, three factors require close examination here: readiness, deployment timing, and forward deployment.

In most cases, the readiness of a unit is a question of resources and time. Almost any unit can be brought to high readiness if given enough of both. In most cases where a unit is less than fully ready, it is because of either a general shortage of resources or a conscious decision not to provide enough personnel and equipment — on the assumption that the unit can be brought to full readiness after a decision to mobilize, but before the unit is scheduled to deploy. In any case, DOD policy is that units that are scheduled to fight first are the first to be brought to full readiness, regardless of component.

Of the four elements of readiness (equipment, supplies, personnel, and training), training is the only one for which the reserve components have an inherent disadvantage. A reserve unit, by its nature, cannot train full-time in peacetime, and, in many cases, training facilities (such as firing ranges and maneuver areas) are too distant for a weekend trip. If a unit’s wartime mission is so immediate that it requires training beyond the time available to a reserve unit, it should not normally be in a reserve component. It must also be realized, however, that the combination of experienced personnel and modern training techniques can overcome some of the disadvantage of limited training time. This is especially true when the necessary skills are transferable from the private sector, e.g., doctors and pilots, or are individual skills rather than team skills.

The second major factor is the deployment schedule. A reserve unit generally takes longer than an active unit to assemble for deployment once a decision to mobilize has been made. The extent to which this is true depends on several factors, such as geographical dispersion of unit personnel and whether the unit is collocated with its equipment. In addition, there is sometimes a need for training prior to deployment, which consumes time as well. Therefore, a unit placed in the reserves must be able to match its deployment capability to its deployment requirement. Availability of strategic lift must be factored into this analysis. Obviously, this is also true for active units, but assembly time is not as large a problem in that case. It should also be noted that there are many selected reserve units scheduled to deploy very early — earlier than some active units.

Forward Deployment

The third factor to be considered is forward deployment. A unique factor in the military’s current threat analysis lies with the substantial conventional force structure of potential aggressors poised on the borders of our allies. The sheer size and the capability of these forces require us to join our allies in combining our force structure with theirs to offer a deterrent force to a common aggressor. Our airlift and sealift capability are not size to allow us the historic luxury of time to respond to a conventional attack against our allies.

Currently, we are working with our allies to standardize weapons and fuels to make broader use of these common resources. Further efforts to explore means to preposition equipment and supplies that could be used by mobilized NATO reserves could provide an exceptional increase in allied capability and decrease our mobility timing requirements substantially. (More about this issue later.) At present, nearly thirty percent of active-duty military personnel are stationed overseas in foreign countries, in US trust territories, in the states of Alaska and Hawaii, or aboard ships. There is extremely limited potential for reserves to fill any of this requirement because of the limitations on duty time.

A notable exception is the filling of the tactical airlift and close air support requirement in Panama by rotating Guard and Reserve personnel to the assignment every two weeks. While this is a successful program, it does involve a fairly large number of Guard and Reserve units, which means that only a few such deployment requirements can be met in this way.

A by-product of our forward-deployed forces in the requirement to maintain active-duty forces in CONUS to support personnel rotation to and from overseas units. While no unit exists only for this purpose, there is a necessity to provide a rotation base to preclude overly lengthy and frequent overseas assignments. Some of this requirement can be met with the CONUS-based auxiliary and support forces, but it is also necessary to maintain a broader base of combat skills for overseas rotation. Therefore, the impact on the rotation base must be carefully considered when converting a unit from the active to the reserve component.

There are other factors to consider in force-mix decisions, such as the impact on recruiting and retention. Moreover, the value of the active forces in assisting the training of the reserve components must be weighed. Without delving into these issues, it is safe to say that they combine with the considerations discussed above to make proper force-mix decision-making a complex task.

Reliance on Reserves

In these critical times, thoughtful Americans are embarked on a fundamental rethinking of military matters. Such thinking has always been reported in military academic journals and attracted attention on Capitol Hill; what is new is that the subject has become a national debate, with reports routinely appearing in news media that did not previously evince much interest in military matters.

As a part of the national debate, attention has been focused on American military doctrine and strategy, on weapon systems, on methods of procurement, on allocation of resources, and on the organization of the national defense establishment. Given their long and distinguished history, it was inevitable that attention would also be focused on America’s Guard and Reserve forces. How to mix active and reserve forces has been studied on numerous occasions, in response to numerous requests, by a variety of Air Force groups.

In the midst of this national debate on military matters, we must break through out traditional ways of thinking and be willing to reexamine our basic assumptions. Let me present one example, in limited detail, of the type of rethinking that is required. Since World War II, United States forces have been present in Europe to deter Soviet expansionism. We have been there as a partner with our European allies. Throughout those years, there have been some disagreements among the NATO allies as to the level of participation by different countries. Many countries have found themselves constrained — or have perceived themselves to be constrained — in their spending for and their support of our common defense effort.

Similarly, we have debated in the United States how best to fulfill our commitments to NATO. From time to time, proposals have been made to reduce the number of American troops in Europe, or to reduce American dependents in Europe, or to transfer a greater share of the defense load to our allies, or some combination of the above. Each year, we demonstrate our capability to return our forces to Germany in the Reforger operations. One of the constraints on programming the force that was discussed earlier was the requirement to lift our forces, both active and reserve, to Europe.

When studying this issue, one is struck by these statistics: The United States has nine-tenths of one percent of its total population in active service, which is higher than that of Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, or Japan. As a percentage of population, these other countries place far more reliance on their reserve forces than does the United States. The accompanying chart shows the relative reliance by the United States and other countries on reserve forces. The United States, in y view, needs to increase the total number of our forces, both active and reserve. But, more important, perhaps the solution to the conventional force balance n Europe lies in greater reliance by NATO on additional European brigades that are “cadre-manned” by European reserve personnel with arms and equipment supplied by the United States and European nations.

Franklin Roosevelt called upon America to be the “Great Arsenal of Democracy”; perhaps it is time to look at the idea again.

Euro-Neutral Examples

Experience suggests that our European allies may perceive themselves as unable to increase their spending on military matters and may feel they cannot provide greater reserve forces. While those countries are certainly in the best position to determine what is in their own national interest, it might be instructive to examine the curious case of the Euro-neutrals.

Look, for example, at four European neutral countries — Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, and Finland. Their active-plus-mobilization forces (excluding para-military forces) as a percentage of population are, respectively, 12.8%, 9.6%, 10.2%, and 15.4%. If we focus on four selected NATO countries (Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway) and we perform the same analysis, the respective figures are 2,5%, 1.8%, 1.9%, and 4.9%. In short, these neutral countries have forces, available for rapid mobilization, averaging some twelve percent of the population. The NATO countries average somewhat less than three percent. No NATO country approaches the Euro-neutral figure. The best performer, Greece (with six percent), fails by half.

The second striking comparison is in the percentage of gross national product devoted to those military forces. For the four neutral nations, the averages are 1.2%, 3.2%, 1.9%, and 1.5%. For NATO countries the figures are 3.3%, 2.4%, 3.4%, and 2.9%. In short, more participation is generated by less expenditure in the Euro-neutral countries.

Now, there are clearly differences that do not emerge in this kind of analysis. Comparative evaluation of capabilities, weapons systems, tactics, doctrine, etc., would identify both deficiencies and strengths that should be factored into the equation. Nonetheless, it is equally clear that if the NATO nations were able to generate reserve forces at only half the rate of the Euro-neutrals, the total numbers would be impressive. Properly equipped and trained, such reserves would constitute a great resource, should conflict arise in Europe.

Consider the following reasons why our European allies and the European neutrals may be able to make even better use of reserve forces. The first has already been alluded to: Such forces are practically contiguous to the area in which they might be used, with all the assorted savings and efficiencies that arise from proximity.

Second, most of these countries do not have worldwide responsibilities, such as those exercised by the United States. Accordingly, they may procure mission-specific, geographically limited, defense-only weapon systems. By mission-specific, I mean relatively simple (and thus cheaper) systems designed to perform one mission. By contrast, the United States must procure weapon systems that, in some instances, have both strategic and tactical roles, or are designed for a multiplicity of roles. By geographically limited, I mean systems designed to operate in one location taking into consideration the prevailing topography, weather, etc., where the weapons will be used. B contrast, the United States must be prepared for efforts around the world, which dictates more complex and more expensive systems. By defense-only, I mean that the weapon systems can be less complicated than those required for force-projection or deep-attack missions.

Complicating Factors

Greater reliance by European nations on reserve forces would not be without problems. There are at least two problems associated with any such proposal. The first would be that such a proposal might be perceived by our European allies as somehow diminishing our commitment to European defense. While such a reaction is understandable, it is not the basis of the proposal. It simply recognizes the realities of the situation we face in European defense.

The second problem is in interoperability in NATO. Those who have followed this issue are aware of the difficulties that already exist in increasing standardization among the various NATO forces. Rather than being a barrier to this proposal, this might provide another tool for increasing standardization. Additionally, greater production of weapon systems by European countries would produce some economies of scale in production that would strengthen both the individual nations and the Alliance. Other savings associated with weapons procurement have already been alluded to.

There is nothing new about calling for greater participation by European countries in their own defense. A long line of authorities has addressed this issue over the years. Some of the argument has been based on strategic grounds, some on economic grounds. The proposal in this article is not intended to add to the finger-pointing, and I hope it is not used for that purpose. My purpose is simply to focus on the facts that confront European and American planners.

The Duke of Wellington thought the greatest attribute of a commander was his ability to know what was on “the other side of the hill.” In Central Europe today, the other side of the hill is filled with lethal, mobile weapon systems manned by a trained and deadly enemy.

Faced with this fact, our analysis must include all possible ways to combine the efforts of all participants in the most effective and efficient way. Greater use by our NATO allies of reserve forces is one way to increase conventional deterrence and greatly complicated the job of Soviet and Pact planners.

Nontraditional Approaches

I referred earlier to the process through which national objectives are translated into military forces. Military forces may be evaluated only in the context of the national objectives that they are created to accomplish. The defense of the United States is inextricably bound up in the defense of Europe. Therefore, Air Reserve Forces members are intimately involved with all areas where they might be called to serve. Clearly, NATO is such an area.

I also referred earlier to the necessity to break through our traditional ways of thinking. The historical background of the mixture of active and reserve forces which has been presented emphasizes that Total Force is neither a new idea nor an idea limited to a single country.

Dr. Mahon made clear the extent of this fact in American history: “There has never been a moment in the history of the United States when responsible leaders assumed that the professional military forces, existing in peacetime, would b able to wage war unassisted.”

The time has come to think of Total Force in a larger context — in the context of the major alliance that has, for thirty-nine years, kept the peace in Europe and permitted the economic growth European countries have experienced.

Just as reliance on reserve forces is, for some purposes, cheaper for the United States, such a program, aggressively pursued and adequately funded, could greatly strengthen European countries at limited expenditures. Such a program could create a “North Atlantic Total Force,” whose contributions could be enormous to the security of all NATO members.

Citizen-Soldiers at Crécy

On August 26, 1346, an English force under the Earl of Derby met a French force at Crécy. The English force was outnumbered two to one. Military history fans know the result. When the battle ended at midnight, the French had lost more than 1,500 lords and knights and an estimated 10,000 other troops. According to one authority, the French suffered more casualties than the English had troops. The English had lost two knights, one squire, forty men at arms and archers, and a “few dozen” other troops. The difference lay in technology, specifically the longbow, which the English had developed to a high art and which the French scorned. As the French tried to advance, they were met by swarms of arrows fired by technologically superior longbows. The range of those weapons — their “standoff” capability in twentieth century parlance — commanded the battlefield. The striking power of the arrows — the “throw-weight.” If you will, of the Hundred Years War — was so great that arrows pierced both armor and wearer. The French forces suffered a great disaster.

Because we cannot match our adversaries person for person, we rely today on technology to give us a competitive edge. But there is a second lesson, separate from technology, to be drawn from Crécy. The archers who destroyed the French that day were commoners, called (or forced) to military service. Crécy demonstrated that citizen-soldiers could face and defeat their “betters” — a result which increased reliance on them by kings and countries for the subsequent 600 years.

We will probably never find the perfect solution to the puzzle of mixing regular and reserve forces for the common defense. But each administration, and each generation, will continue to work the problem, recognizing that in the solution is our protection as a free people.

What we can count on throughout that process is the willingness of free of free men and women to rally to arms, for the reasons recognized by the great eighteenth century English jurist Sir William Blackstone: “In Free states…no man should take up arms but with a view to defend his country and its laws; he puts not off the citizen when he enters the camp; but it is because he is a citizen, and would wish to continue so, that he makes himself for a while a soldiers.”

Tidal W. McCoy is Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower, Reserve Affairs and Installations. A graduate of West Point, he served as a field artillery officer in command and staff assignments in the US, Europe, and Vietnam. He has held several high-level positions in DoD, including service as Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense and as Director of Policy Research in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Prior to assuming his present position, Mr. McCoy was Assistant for National Security Affairs for Sen. Jake Garn of Utah.