1941 was the last time the Army really was at home. After World War II, most soldiers came home but only to be demobilized. The remainder of the Army was doing occupation duty and patrolling the borders of the Free World. In the post-Cold War era the Army shifted its posture from one based on forward deployment to one centered on expeditionary operations in support of a power projection strategy. But there were relatively large formations still based in Europe and Asia. Moreover, events overseas, particularly in Southwest Asia, kept the Army heavily deployed abroad for most of the last 20 years.
Now it appears likely that by the end of 2014 the Army will have come home. Not surprisingly this is a difficult situation for the Army's leadership to accept. When it was last truly at home, the Army’s end strength was 270,000. Equally important, there is not much excitement in a garrison Army or a lot of work for it to do. It simply waits. It must be very hard for an Army that has been at war for a decade, doing remarkable things and demonstrating incredible skills and heroism, to contemplate a future of relative inactivity. In addition, having come home, when the Army must again deploy overseas, it is likely to be in response to an imminent or even ongoing conflict of major proportions. This will require, in turn, large scale mobilization, possibly a return to the draft, the creation of new formations and lots of time.
The Army is doing everything it can to highlight its ability to address the challenges the U.S. is likely to face overseas and by so doing avoid being homebound. There are lots of discussions in Army leadership circles about “phase zero” operations, activities it can perform “left of the bang” and the creation of regionally aligned forces. These initiatives reflect the Army’s interest in, some might say infatuation with, what it calls the “human domain” in strategy and doctrine.
Briefly put, the Army’s argument is that the objective in war is influencing the behavior or affecting the will of a target government, population or group; destroying targets and seizing terrain are merely means to that end. It follows that if behavior or will can be changed prior without the need to engage in hostilities, perhaps even before a crisis develops, this is a very cost-effective use of military power. The Army asserts that a significant overseas presence and continuous global engagement offer opportunities to shape regional security environments, build trust, improve partnerships, enhance deterrence, influence behaviors and, ultimately, affect will.
Maybe. But it is difficult to demonstrate the causal link between phase zero activities and a reduced requirement to engage in conflict, what the Army calls “phase three” or “right of the bang.” This is particularly the case when the focus is on prevention of civil unrest, terrorism and insurgencies. Moreover, it is hard to differentiate these peacetime activities from the work of the Department of State. Also, much of the influence achieved through peacetime overseas presence and global engagement has to do with the recognition by those whom the Army seeks to influence that “over the horizon” there resides an Army (and a Joint Force) fully capable of destroying targets, seizing terrain and imposing limits on unacceptable behavior.
It is with respect to future capabilities to achieve decisive results in the event of conflict that a homebound Army is most challenged. Army experiments have demonstrated that it lacks the ability to rapidly project significant land power at extended distances. The Army at home rather than forward deployed will require additional time to stage into theater before conducting decisive operations, unless it alters force structure, lift and logistics capabilities so as to make itself much more deployable. An Army that needs to stage forward will require additional air and missile defenses. In either case, an Army at home will require significant new investments to make it capable of projecting decisive land power. The idea that an Army at home is cheaper than one forward deployed is in error.
The Army is just beginning to grapple with the implications of coming home for its organization, training and equipment. For example, how will the Army square its belief that it needs to be able to project power globally and rapidly and operate from austere bases with its desire to acquire the 60-70 ton Ground Combat Vehicle? What about the Army’s rejection of the mobile MEADS air defense system and its insistence on sticking with the heavy and more difficult to deploy Patriot system? More broadly, if the Army focuses on rapid strategic maneuver based on lighter forces and prepositioned equipment sets, how will it differentiate itself from the Marine Corps?
I can just see the bumper sticker: The U.S. Army – America’s other Marine Corps.