Is the U.S. Military Getting Smaller and Older?
(Source: Center for a New American Security; issued March 14, 2017)
By Steven Kosiak
Concerns about the adequacy of the U.S. military frequently focus on two issues: whether its force structure has gotten too small, and whether U.S. forces are being modernized too slowly and are too dependent on an aging weapons inventory. While this report offers some partial answers to these questions, its goal is less to provide answers than to raise the level of discussion.

The report is organized into four sections, focused respectively on:
--Historical trends in the size of the U.S. military’s force structure and the pace of its modernization efforts.
--The main drivers of these trends.
--The impact of these trends on U.S. military capabilities.
--Shortcomings in the U.S. military’s traditional approach to sizing, shaping, and modernizing its forces that may have left it with smaller and older forces than could have been sustained within historical funding levels.

More than anything else, the goal of this report is to make clearer the degree to which historical trends in the U.S. military’s force structure and modernization plans are largely the result of policy and programmatic choices made by Department of Defense (DoD) and service leadership.

Contrary to a widely-held belief, and notwithstanding the influential role played by Congress and some other key actors, the size and shape of today’s forces are not simply a by-product of budgetary or other pressures beyond DoD’s control. For good or ill, the trends described in this report largely reflect trade-offs made by senior U.S. defense leadership. Among other things, this conclusion suggests that to the extent there are concerns about the current U.S. approach, more than anything else, charting a different course in the future will require a shift in the decision-making of that leadership.

Overview of Trends in Force Structure and Modernization

Measured in terms of personnel and major weapons platforms, the size of the U.S. military has been on a generally downward trajectory for decades. The path has not been simple, uniform, or smooth, and there have been important exceptions in certain areas. Nevertheless, the overall trend is unmistakable and, viewed from a long-term perspective, quite consistent.

In the mid-1950s, after the Korean War drawdown the U.S. military consisted of some 2.9 million active-duty troops. By 1975, after the Vietnam War drawdown it stood at about 2.1 million. After the end of the Cold War, it fell to some 1.4 million troops. And today, the U.S. military is manned by some 1.3 million active-duty service members.

Click here for the full report (28 PDF pages) hosted on the Amazon AWS website.


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