Finding 15 brigades a year

MSNBC is reporting the following:

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Army has plans that would keep the current level of troops in Iraq — about 15 brigades — through 2010, the top Army officer said Wednesday.

The Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, cautioned that people not read too much into the planning, because it is easier to pull back forces than to get units prepared and deployed at the last minute.

So how can this be done if the current effort to keep fifteen brigades in Iraq is causing so much strain and forcing units to compress their reconstitution time while other units are seeing fourteen, fifteen and sixteen month tours of duty? That is a good question.

There are a couple of methods that the US Army will be able to find a little bit of additional breathing room. The largest source of new brigades that are available for deployment is from the deployment clocks resetting on some of the National Guard brigades that have already done one combat deployment to Iraq. Two infantry brigades (1 from Florida, another from Indiana) will be eligible for redeployment starting in the fall of 2008, and then over the next two years, at least an additional twelve National Guard brigades will be available for their second combat tour. So what will happen is the 2009-2010 tour will look a lot alike the 2004-2005 OIF-3 tour where roughly half the combat units were National Guard units. That tour gave the US Army significant breathing room at the cost of wrecking the Guard units.

The next source of new units that are available is from shuffling of slots and organizational requirements that have increased the number of active duty brigades from 33 in 2003 to 42 today. These modular brigades are smaller and place more emphasis on technology than boots. For high intensity combat operations this may not matter, but in counterinsurgency and security missions, manpower is critical. Most importantly, these redesigned brigades tend to have two combat maneuver battalions assigned to them instead of the traditional three maneuver battalions assigned to brigades in 2003. So the force pool of combat battalions in 2003 was roughly 99 combat battalions, to 84 battalions under the new configuration.

There is one caveat to the modularization increase of combat brigades and that is the Army is stretching out the conversion schedule and reducing the total number of National Guard brigades.

Converting a three battalion brigade with support from the division HQ to a modular brigade with two battalions and intergral support elements is at least a year long process, so some brigades will be knocked off the availability list.

The next reasonable spot for more deployable troops is from the converted Stryker intermediate combat brigade teams. The US Army has spent the past couple of years taking a combat brigade off of the available list, shipping all of their equipment to depot, and replacing the configuration with the Styker family of vehicles. Once this happens, the Army trained the reformed units and then they became available again. This process knocked one to three brigades out a year for the past three years. It is pretty much wrapping up right now.

So there are three reasonable sources of where the US Army gains a little bit of breathing room and capability to maintain the Iraq occupation force. However these new units are not enough to allow the US Army to reset back to a one year in, two years out rotation system for a force of at least thirteen Army, and two Marine brigade equivilants. So that means at least several of the units that are going into Iraq with only twelve to eighteen months after their last deployment will do another year in Iraq, and only get twelve to fifteen months of rest before they redeploy back to a combat zone.

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