Iraq aside, how big a military does the US require?

How big a military does the US need? Since the Pit thread on the Canadian military I’ve been trying to gauge what is an appropriate size of military for a country. The Americans have an incredible sized force. Here’s the CDI link (PDF). I’ve compressed all 4 main branches together.

Note that this is based on 2001 numbers.

Figther Aircraft (Active)		1618
Figther Aircraft (Reserve)		 633
Bombers					 208
Cargo					 610
US Air National Guard			1351
**Total					4420**

Divisions (Active)			  13
Divisions (Reserve)			   9
Bridgades not assigned (Active)		   3
Brigades not assigned (Reserve)		  18
**Total Divisions (1 Div = 3 Brig)	  29**

Nuclear Missle Subs			  18
Attack Subs				  54
Aircraft Carriers			  12
Cruisers				  27
Destroyers				  55
Frigates				28/8
Amphibious				38/2
Sea Lift				 139
**Total Subs				  72**
**Total Ships			      304/10**

This is simply staggering. Even if you take 30% of potential forces out of the equation for repairs etc the numbers the American’s can field is incredible. And it doesn’t even take into consideration the number of bases around the world the US operates. I understand some long term obligations make this necessary. Ones I can think of off the top of my head are the DMZ (~35000 troops) and Kosovo plus the No Fly Zones in northern and southern Iraq.

The Iraq situation aside the question is “Does the US require such a large force?” I suppose a secondary question could be “Given the overwhelming projection of force the American’s possess, does that blind administrations to other tools?”

Hardly. We’ve a tousand other tools when needed. And yes, we do need a force like that. Overwhelming force is our modus operandi. besides, we have a lot of committments around the world. It ain’t the fear of China that keeps North korea from storming the South.

The bases and obligations are a vital part of understanding this. They take this vast military might and, in actuality, spread it pretty thin.

Basically, the active duty military can barely meet its peacetime committments. When a war happens, the forces must be reshuffled, and the Reserve and Guard components must be activated to a great extent.

I’d say that the idea of a North Korean turned into glass if required is what keeps them back. NK aside, where are 11 other active divisions needed? Western Europe? Are they there to prevent the incursions of a Russia that sits as a guest at NATO meetings?

The secondary question isn’t that bad. I’m not saying that US administrations completely forget the other tools of statecraft (the current one might be an exception), but does the ability to put 100,000 of the best equipped and trained troops almost anywhere reduce the relative importance of diplomacy?

And this I suppose is where I’m missing the train. What are these peace time obligations that require 4000 planes, and 14 active divisions?

Lets, for the purposes of this discussion, assume “peacetime” as that period immediately before September 11, 2001.

At that time, the United States had ongoing committments in the former Yugoslavia and the Persian Gulf region. The former was the aftermath of the conflict in the 90’s, of which I played a small part as a young sailor at the time. The latter was due to Saddam Hussein’s recent belligerance, and the more-or-less continuous tension between the U.S. and Iraq following the Gulf War.

We also had a large troop concentration at the DMZ in Korea, and in rear echelon areas behind the DMZ. This was an area of significant tension, but had been one since the end of the Korean Conflict.

These were the areas where American ground and air forces were being directly employed. In addition to this, the United States Navy was using its ships to project power and stand in readiness in areas where the United States had interests. These areas included, for carrier battle groups, the Mediterrenean Sea, the Persian Gulf region, the Indian ocean, and the Pacific. Major exercises were also conducted with Latin American navies and in the North and Baltic Sea region.

To support this effort, a system of bases has been established worldwide. American submarines frequently are resupplied and repaired at La Maddelena, Sardenia, Italy. Meanwhile, the Army and Air Force operations in the Persian Gulf region are supported by logistics and medical operations located at bases in Germany. There are many more.

That’s what requires those planes, army dsivisions, and ships.

Exactly the opposite, I’d say.

The French military has deteriorated to the point that they can no longer accomplish anything except the most barebones peacekeeping mission. They poured billions into an aircraft carrier that, simply speaking, does not work.

How effective were the French in diplomatically restraining American behavior in advance of the Iraq war? They have nothing backing up their words, and could be shown, besides, to be arguing in bad faith.

If there was a failure of diplomacy there, it was a French failure. And their military weakness lessened their bargaining power considerably.


Grey mentioned former-Yugoslavia and Korea in the OP so your repetition doesn’t really answer much unless you match it up to some degree with the stats he posted.

That just begs the question, does the US need such a large force to “project power”. Obviously it’s nice to be able to obliterate most nations with a phone call, but is it worth the money?

The OP says the U.S. has 29 divisions and one division = three brigades – what’s that translate into in terms of men under arms? How many men in a brigade?

There are nominally 5,000 troops in a brigade, and around 15,000 in a division. But once deployed, combat support and combat service support troops are added so that the units become considerably larger, I believe as large as 25,000 troops per division.

An important thing to keep in mind is that, short of an all-out world war, we can’t expect to put 29 divisions in the field at the same time and expect them to stay out there all that long.

For every unit in the field for a long-term deployment, you basically need three to four units back home not deployed: one that just returned from the field that’s fixing equipment, taking on new troops, and getting rested; one that’s in training for a deployment to take over for the unit now in the field; and one or two units that are waiting to move into the on-deck circle, if you will. This 3 or 4:1 ratio allows all members of the military to get time away from the combat zone – 6 months, a year, 18 months, whatever, depending on how long you want to keep a unit deployed overseas at one time.

That’s pretty important for an all-volunteer military, and that’s why the US needs more troops than it expects to actually fight wars with.

I’m afraid the conditions of the OP make the question rather difficult to answer, but let’s put it this way: The US wishes to maintain the ability to, if needed, fight a hypothetical land war against a hypothetical regional power, and then hold that ground for, say, 2-3 years, without having to totally abandon other committments.

I think this site will give you an idea of how much a sustained conflict in a medium-sized country would take:

As it indicates, there are only 3 active-duty brigades that are not either deployed, just getting off deployment, or otherwise occupied.

Here are the carriers:

Bottom line is that that military isn’t as big it looks. The difference is that most of the other developed countries have decided not to have militaries capable of projecting force. As Mr. Moto said, having a such power expands rather than constricts the possibilities of diplomacy.

Let us imagine there’s a tiff between Germany and Egypt, and Egypt decides they want to impose a huge tarriff on shipping through the Suez Canal for all Germany-bound cargo. The options Germany has are: 1) pay it, 2) go around Africa, costing billions 3) say “pretty please.” The inability to project power gives them no other options. If it were France instead, they have the nuclear option; but that’s rather imprecise. In the real world, of course, they both have option 5) Call the US, who can park the Kitty Hawk off Alexandria and cough loudly; and it is the existance of this option that ensures such a situation will not happen.

If the US were to stop being the guarantor of peace, it would mean other countries, would have to re-arm in order to protect their own interests, which might arguably be better for the US, but would certainly be dicier. The US Navy makes safe the sea lanes that are vital to Japan’s survival. If the US Navy shrinks or disappears, Japan must increase their own, in turn making China, the Koreas and others very nervous and making them build up their militaries, and tensions run high in a region of the world where war would be a disaster for everyone.

Most do not realize how big our military really is! Here’s an eye-opener:

Funny that no one mentioned the political implications of reducing the military. Less toys means less contracts… and less money going through Washington.

Pork Barrel politics and the military contracts that help elect officials are I feel a major reason why the USA is the only western country that didn’t reduce military spending after the Cold War. (China is the only other major country increasing their military budget in fact.)

I think the US should operate more like they did in Afganistan... relying on local or allied troops mostly. Using high tech stuff to keep a step ahead... not with wide ranging and dispersed military commitments. Even Iraq could have been invaded using less US troops if diplomacy had been given proper consideration. A wide coalition would have meant more allied and some Arab tanks and troops. Might not have been much... but it would still have been 1 or 2 US divisions less. If you consider that they woundn't have to be rotated... that means in fact 2 or 4 less divisions required in the Army.

BTW Terrorism doesn’t require a regular army to fight against… Iraq isn’t about terrorism. In fact less defense expenditure isn’t contradictory to current “threats”.

Sure, but look where that course of action got the Romans! :stuck_out_tongue:

Large enough to protect our import supply.

Indeed. Which must make it awkward for you to consider that there is no bigger champion of a small military than Donald Rumsfeld.

I don’t. Afghanistan was a joke of a military operation. While it achieved the main goal of pushing the Taliban out of power, it left 70% of the country in the hands of warlords, and allowed the Taliban to regoup and control most of the south of the country. The government completely lacks the ability to project its power beyond the main cities to that 70% of the population that is rural are. The second Western troops are pulled out is the second the government collapses. Additionally, we have seen the failure of using nationals to hold territory in Iraq, as troops refuse to perform their duties.

We simply can’t rely on using locals to do our evil bidding. If we are going to play at being an imperial power, we need to put the boots on the ground and do the dirty work. The other problem with relying on local nationals is the “blowback” factor - the likelihood of the army that we train and supply to turn on us, like it did in Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran and and and…

The problem with the US military in the past is how immensely large it is, and the extreme cost of deploying it. The military travels with a tremendous support contingent, an army within itself.

So you don't want to rely on the natives... and you also think the US should put boots on the ground but its too expensive to do so ?

Afghanistan in fact is in the hands of the warlords... but whose hands is Iraq in ? Its a hard issue. Order vs Control. US troops can't stay in Iraq forever.

The U.S. maintains the capability to fight a ‘two front war’. This is important, so that the U.S. can maintain an effective deterrent even while engaged in another major conflict.

If the U.S. military was significantly smaller, then it would be hamstrung, and the world would be a more dangerous place. When something like the Gulf war ties up U.S. military assets, you’d run the risk of violence in the world escalating as leaders with various grievances take the opportunity to attack enemies while the U.S. is incapable of responding.

This may prevent the U.S. from being able to do things like the Iraq war - and even if you strongly disagree with that war, think about a time when another one comes along that you DO agree with. If you want the U.S. military to be able to fight wars or suppress violence in the world when the political leadership decides it’s important, then you have to consider the effects of that war on the country’s ability to maintain the peace elsewhere in the world.

A lot smaller than at present. The size of the military is what allows war-mongers like our current President to undertake international adventures on a whim. There’s no reason why we should deliberately keep enough men under arms to fight two wars. That is insanity, both fiscally and politically.

The Founders speak:

The Constitution, Section 8, enumerating the powers of Congress:

?To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;"

Alexander Hamilton, commenting on the above clause in Federalist No. 26:

?They [the Congress] are not AT LIBERTY to vest in the executive department permanent funds for the support of an army, if they were even incautious enough to be willing to repose in it so improper a confidence.?

George Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796:

“Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.”


The Constitution:
The Federalist Papers:
George Washington’s Farewell Address: