Counting Noses: Current and near future brigade availability

The Opinionated Bastard in comments to Friday’s post about Murtha and Lind said the following:

we have 3,000,000 people in uniform. Don’t you think we could scrounge up 50,000 if we needed to make up the 92,000 in Iraq?

This is an incorrect statment and a naive statement at the same time. I will first deal with the inaccuracy, for that is minor, and then the naivity. According to Global Security, the FY 05 end strength for the entire DOD is 2,923,966 individuals, of which 680,466 are civilians and therefore not in uniform. The uniformed personnel are roughly 2.25 million inidivuals, including active duty, National Guard, and Reserves, but excluding the IRR.

If we want to talk about Iraq force levels then we need to remember that this number also includes Air Force and Navy slots, of which the overwhelming majority of individuals are not trained in anything useful for ground combat operations or urban policing. Air Force and Navy manpower can be and has been used for stevedore service and basic muscle work in order to free up Army and USMC manpower from the combat service support structure to move to combat or combat support units, but the elasticity of ability is low. Therefore you need to exclude a good deal of the Air Force and Navy from the relevant manpower calculations (I assume 75% USN, 85% USAF are not transferrable to ground support operations past muscle/deep rear logistical support(ie Kuwait)) That drops the pool of manpower by 770K to roughly 1.48 million individuals. Now we also need to knock out the USMC fixed wing air components as being a source of useful manpower, or roughly another 40,000 Marines right there, so down to 1.44 million.

Knock off roughly 500,000-600,000 individuals who are needed to run the schools, training systems, theatre and national command level platforms, and everything else that supports forward operations and all of a sudden you are down to roughly 950,000 individuals who could deploy to Iraq, from which you need to draw another 50,000 above projection. That should not be that hard — just need to find 6% efficiencies.

Well actually it is, especially if you want to let your units and people have time to recover and you keep your promises to your National Guard units. Of that 950,000, there are roughly 94 combat maneuver brigades/regiments (43 Army, 15 ESB NG, 8 USMC, 3 USMC Reserve, ~19 regular National Guard Brigades). So let’s just go through the brigades, remember that the manpower slice of a brigade going into Iraq is roughly 8,000 average total manpower (combat + support), but the incremental change is roughly 5,000 soldiers/brigade. I am assuming that the 17 brigades that are scheduled to be in Iraq from Q3-05 to Q3-06 are out of the count, so we drop to 77 brigades available. The three brigades in Afganistan that are due to rotate out are also unavailable, so we are down to 74. Next, of the 15 ESBs, at least 14 of them have already been mobilized for a combat tour from 1/03 to the present. The expectation is that these units only mobilize once every five years, so the ESBs are fundamentally tapped out, so we are down to 65 brigades. I am also assuming that at least one USMC Reserve regiment has eaten up its mobilization time, so down to 58. I am also assuming that one brigade will be in the former Yugoslavia, one brigade in Korea, and three brigades deploying into Afghanistan for that rotation, or we are down to 53 brigades available with another one removed as it is returning home from the former Yugoslavia. Now we are down to 52 brigades.

Now if we are to assume that the DOD wants to maintain something closer to a 1 in, 2 out policy (the most used units are elements of the 1st Armored Division and the 82cd Airborne, at roughly 2 in, 3 out, but 1:2 is a decent approximation), that means the units that are currently in Iraq today and are coming to the end of their tour from which they are either in the process of rotating home or will be by March 1, 2006 will also be unavailable. That is another 17 brigades +/- a little bit (how to count the chopped battalions of the 82cd Airborne and some Marine MEUs is another issue entirely), so we are down to 35 available brigades. That still seems like a lot, but we subtract another 4 brigades as we apply the same 1:2 standard for Afghanistan forces and the Yugoslavian contigency, or a drop to 31 brigades.

Well, there are only six brigades already earnmarked from these 31 brigades, so moving another five or six brigades forward should not be that hard, right?

Well yeah, it is getting pretty damn hard, for of those 32 brigades, roughly 17 brigades are standard National Guard brigades, so we are down to 15 brigades of active duty or Marine Corps Reservists. I do not easily forsee a widescale political swelling of support of mobilizing the 4th line units for an unpopular war. After Katrina, the governors are going to be extremely protective of their units and they’ll have public support. This is a politicl judgement here, but I think that I am right. These brigades may be available in ones or twos for Iraq (see the 42cd Infantry Division in Iraq at the moment), but most likely are only available for Yugoslavia/Sinaii, or other safer deployments.

So now moving onto the 15 brigades, of which 6 are committed to Iraq, at least one and potentially two are shutdown to convert to and train with the Stryker configuration through FY-06. So there are seven brigades unaccounted for that need to constitute the strategic reserve, train, modernize, and be available to respond to contigencies, seen and unforeseen. The Marines will probably contribute two regiments and support elements to the next rotation, but that is about it.

There are three basic ways that the US can significantly increase its force presence in Iraq past next summer. The first is for Bush to take the politically painful step of federalizing the entire National Guard over the course of two years(first units called for duty April 1, 2006 to deploy Jan 1 07, the last ones to be called up April 1 07 for deployment Jan 1 08. That frees up 15 or so brigades, and thus allows for some freedom of action for roughly 18-24 months while the active forces have time to reconstitute and recovery for operations in 2007 and 2008. The ESBs will start coming online in 2008 with two brigades hitting the start of their availability cycle again, so by 2011, all fifteen brigades will be deployable again.

The second option is to cut other operations. Right now there are roughly five brigades and support elements forward deployed/combat deployed that are not in Iraq, and these deployments claim roughly 13 brigades worth of manpower. There are three brigades in Afghanistan, and a brigade each in Korea and the former Yugoslavia. A battalion or a third of a brigade is in the Sinaii. The last two deployments are mainline National Guard responsibilities right now. Reducing the deployments to Afghanistan or Korea frees up combat ready forces, but can we expose those places? I don’t think so.

The final option is to monkey around with the deployment schedules. On a short term basis, this is a pretty good option as an extra month here, or a week there can provide significant troop strength bumps without imposing significant costs. However, cutting the ratio of rest:combat deployed time any further threatens retention, recruitment, training and material readiness.

The above is why I argue that the deployment orders that have already been announced are not the signs of victory, but an acknowledgement of reality. There are not any troops available without significant costs. I do not expect those costs to be paid.


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