“General, don’t ever let this happen again. Don’t ever let it happen again.” Those words of caution by a World War II paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne Division during a 75th anniversary commemoration of D-Day in Normandy, France, resonated deeply with then Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley. Now, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Milley repeatedly emphasizes that the United States must prevent great power war in what Calls for the National Security Strategy 2022 a “decisive decade” that “will shape whether this period is known as an era of conflict and discord or as the beginning of a more stable and prosperous future.”
Given the serious rhetoric, reports of potential cuts of 10% to 20%. in the army’s special operations forces — a primary force for they struggle in the “gray zone” to achieve U.S. goals outside of armed conflict — appear to be out of alignment with U.S. goals. While it is important to weigh the potential strategic implications of these reductions, it is equally important to recognize that they are just the latest manifestation of a misalignment between US defense strategy and resources. This misalignment forces the Army to make short-term decisions to respond to budget constraints that impair the joint force’s ability to execute US defense strategy.
The National Defense Strategy 2022 describes the most complex strategic environment the United States has faced in decades. The joint force must overcome the People’s Republic of China, prevent the “acute threat” of Russia and remain vigilant against the “persistent threats” of North Korea, Iran and global violent extremist organizations. The 2018 National Defense Strategy Committee estimated that to execute the 2018 NDS – the core principles of which the 2022 NDS maintains – US defense funding would require 3% to 5% of real annual growth.
But between 2019 and 2023, the defense budget was more than $200 billion down what was necessary to achieve real growth of 5%. The 2024 defense budget request is an increase of 0.8% in real termsbut it will be a reduction if inflation remains above 2.4%.
The Army has faced the most serious fiscal challenges of the joint force. Assumptions that the United States will likely fight short, high-tech wars primarily in the air and at sea, rather than protracted land wars, have led to over-risky budgets for US ground power and joint power. Between FY19 and FY23, the Army lost nearly $40 billion in purchasing power, and the year 24 demand represents a A decrease of 3.3%. in real terms from the previous year.
The Army’s end strength has fallen to its lowest level since 1940 to meet budget constraints while maintaining readiness for tonight’s fight and keeping modernization on track. Secretary of the Army Christine Warmuth has is indicated that, in part due to current recruitment shortages, more force structure cuts are on the horizon.
These trends would be less alarming if the historical record of all major US wars over the past eight decades were not so definitive of the Army’s central role in combat. During World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military averaged about 60% of its forces developed in theater of combat and about 70% of wartime deaths.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom that land forces play little role in the Indo-Pacific region, the Army’s share of combat and casualties in the United States’ three major land wars in the theater was in line with wars fought elsewhere. The war in Ukraine demonstrates that while the The nature of war is constantly evolvingthere is no substitute for ground forces in enforcing political will.
Even in times of relative peace, the military accounts for about two-thirds of the world’s needs for US combatant commanders. For example, after Russia invaded the Ukraine, the Army provided about three-quarters of the additional US forces deployed to bolster NATO allies in Eastern Europe. Additionally, the U.S. Army National Guard and Army Reserve have been instrumental in training U.S. partners and allies, enabling global operations with logistical support and crisis response at home, whether for COVID-19 or natural disasters.
Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell is he is reported to say: “Show me your budget and I’ll tell you your strategy.” A budget that disproportionately cuts the service that routinely faces the heaviest demands in both peacetime and wartime is divorced from the goals of the ambitious National Defense Strategy. One temptation could be to drastically reduce US commitments – in the Middle East, Africa or even Europe – to close the resource gap. But this ignores the increasingly interconnected nature of geopolitics, misses strategic competitive space, and reduces the potential for security degradation that later requires a more significant U.S. engagement when vital interests are threatened. There are few reductions without risk to either the budget or global force posture.
To preserve American security, Congress should ensure that the military budget receives 3% to 5% real annual growth, combined with necessary investments in US air, sea, space and cyberspace. If this is truly a “decisive decade,” the military budget must reflect that urgency. A joint force capable of converging the capabilities of each service in combat domains is a force that potential adversaries will not seek to fight. To mention Milley: “The only thing more expensive than deterrence is to fight a war, and the only thing more expensive than to make a war is to make one and lose one.”
Retired US Army General Robert Brown is the president and CEO of the Association of the United States Army. He previously served as commander of the US Army Pacific.
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