Structuring the Active and Reserve Army for the 21st Century Section 3 of 7
December 1997

Chapter One


The United States maintains a large military organization to carry out its two-pronged national security strategy: remaining engaged abroad as a world leader and enlarging the world's community of democratic societies. Within the military, the Army is responsible for providing, training, and equipping the bulk of the land forces to carry out that strategy. Although the Army has shrunk in the past 10 years, it is still large. Today's Army contains over 1 million active-duty and reserve soldiers and commands an annual budget of approximately $60 billion. The mission for those soldiers has changed dramatically in the past decade. No longer is their goal to deter or defeat the forces of the Soviet Union and its allies in a war in central Europe. Instead, they must be able to fight less formidable foes (perhaps more than one at a time) anywhere in the world.

Although the size of the Army has changed over the past decade, its composition has not. The nearly 1-to-1 ratio of active-duty to reserve soldiers has remained roughly the same.(1) The question now is whether the Army's current makeup is well suited to its current mission. That issue is the subject of an ongoing debate whose resolution could have potentially far-reaching ramifications.

What Determines the Size of the Army?

The U.S. Army has missions at both the federal and state levels. The Department of Defense establishes the size and composition of all three parts of the Army--the active Army, the Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve--based primarily on the forces needed to carry out the federal missions. However, the National Guard also has a constitutionally mandated state mission to provide military support to civil authorities.

The Clinton Administration has conducted two reviews of the military capability needed to implement U.S. national security strategy: the Bottom-Up Review under former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and the Quadrennial Defense Review under current Secretary William Cohen. Both reviews produced similar results.(2) They concluded that conventional forces, including all of those in the Army, must have the capability to fulfill three federal missions:

Of those missions, the first one would most likely place the greatest demands on the Army. At its peak, Operation Desert Storm involved more than 300,000 Army troops. By contrast, the current peacekeeping operations in Bosnia involved at their peak only one-tenth as many U.S. soldiers. To provide overseas presence, the Army has approximately 64,000 troops permanently stationed in Europe and 27,000 in South Korea. (At least some of those troops are also available to take part in regional conflicts and peacekeeping operations that occur nearby.)

Besides playing a role in federal missions, the Army National Guard fulfills the constitutionally mandated requirement to provide state militias to maintain civil law and order. National Guard units report to state and territorial governors in peacetime.(3) They are at the governors' disposal to quell domestic unrest or provide disaster relief. Typical missions for the Guard include riot control, such as in Los Angeles in 1992, and relief and cleanup after natural disasters, such as Hurricane Andrew in Florida (also in 1992).

How Is the Army Structured?

The total Army, with more than 1 million people in uniform, is made up of several different but overlapping components (see Table 1). The major distinction is between full-time (active-duty) and part-time (reserve) soldiers.(4) Other differences are based on the roles that soldiers play. Deployable units are designed to be sent overseas in case of emergency, whereas nondeployable units are assigned tasks at their home base that preclude them from deploying. Combat forces focus on fighting, whereas support forces perform a variety of functions to support combat troops. In order to determine how many and what kind of forces the Army needs to carry out its missions, it is necessary to understand how the Army is organized.

The Active and Reserve Components

Although the Army includes a large active-duty force--more than 491,000 soldiers at the end of 1996--the majority of its military personnel are part-time soldiers in the reserves. The reserve component numbered 596,000 soldiers at the end of 1996, with 370,000 in the National Guard and 226,000 in the Army Reserve.(5)

Members of the three organizations perform distinctly different missions in peacetime. Soldiers on active duty are always on call to respond to orders from the Commander in Chief. The National Guard and the Army Reserve are both part-time forces--but whereas the Guard reports to the governors during peacetime, members of the Army Reserve are federal soldiers. The Reserve was created early this century to put a pool of people (primarily doctors) at the President's disposal who could be activated quickly during a national crisis. At that time, some question existed about whether members of the National Guard could be deployed out of the country on federal missions. During the past several decades, however, court rulings and legislative changes have removed almost all impediments to Presidential call-up of National Guard units. Unless they volunteer for federal duty, members of either the Guard or Reserve must be called to active duty by an executive order before they can be assigned to federal military tasks outside the scope of regular training duty.(6)

Even though reserve personnel outnumber active-duty soldiers, the bulk of the Army's resources are spent on its active-duty forces. The service's 1997 budget devoted $38 billion to the pay, operations, and maintenance of active-duty forces, compared with only $9 billion for reserve forces. The fact that part-time soldiers cost so much less to maintain than full-time soldiers has led some people to argue that reserve forces provide an inexpensive insurance policy against an unknown future.

Other Distinctions in the Army's Force Structure

Besides the active and reserve components, the Army can be divided into two parts based on the forces that fight wars and those that equip, train, and sustain fighting forces. Indeed, each of the Army's three organizations is composed of both warfighting forces and forces that are part of headquarters or of the training and sustainment base. Warfighting forces make up the bulk of the Army's personnel and comprise all those assigned to units that can be deployed to a conflict overseas. Those deployable units can be further subdivided into combat units and support units.

Deployable Versus Nondeployable Forces. Almost three-quarters of the Army's total personnel are assigned to units that can deploy overseas to fight in wars (see Table 1). Those units include the soldiers who drive tanks, fly helicopters, and repair trucks in the field. Most of the remaining one-quarter of the Army is assigned to units that perform support functions at their home base, such as training soldiers, developing new weapons, or administering day-to-day operations. Those units constitute the "institutional" Army (they are sometimes referred to as Table of Distribution and Allowances units). A small fraction of Army personnel--about 12 percent of the active Army and less than 6 percent of the service as a whole--is not assigned to any unit, either deploying or nondeploying, but consists of people who are temporarily in school or in transition between units. Those soldiers are also considered unavailable for deployment overseas.

Table 1.
Planned Distribution of Active, Guard, and Reserve Forces in the Army at the End of 1998
(By number of authorized personnel)
Active Army National Guard Army Reserve Total

Deployable Units
Combat units 176,000 175,000 0 351,000
Support unitsa 136,000 152,000 139,000 427,000
Subtotal 312,000 327,000 139,000 778,000
Nondeployable Units
Institutional unitsb 124,000 40,000 69,000 233,000
Otherc 59,000 0 0 59,000
Total 495,000 367,000 208,000 1,070,000

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office based on Ronald E. Sortor, Army Active/Reserve Mix: Force Planning for Major Regional Contingencies (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 1995); and General Accounting Office, Force Structure: Army Support Forces Can Meet Two-Conflict Strategy with Some Risks, GAO/NSIAD-97-66 (February 1997).
NOTE: Total force levels are based on the President's budget request for 1998 and exclude cuts recommended by the Quadrennial Defense Review.
a. Forces not assigned to major combat units such as divisions or brigades.
b. Units in the Army's Table of Distribution and Allowances.
c. Includes trainees, transients, and students.

The percentage of deployable forces varies in the Army's three organizations. The active Army has just 63 percent of its personnel assigned to deployable units, compared with 89 percent for the Guard and 67 percent for the Army Reserve. Those differences result partly because the reserve component relies on the active Army for such institutional functions as developing and purchasing equipment, formulating doctrine, and performing other administrative tasks, and partly because members of the reserves remain assigned to their units even when they are temporarily unavailable, such as when they are attending school.

Combat Versus Support Forces. Not all of what the Army refers to as warfighting forces actually fight. Indeed, most of the Army's warfighting--or, more accurately, deployable--forces do not engage directly in combat (see Figure 1). Units that would deploy overseas for a regional conflict come in two general types: combat forces (such as armored, infantry, and mechanized infantry brigades and divisions) and forces outside those combat brigades and divisions that provide support for them (such as engineering, transport, and medical units). Slightly more than half of the soldiers assigned to Army combat brigades and divisions are in the active component; the rest are in the Guard. (The Army Reserve has no combat units.) The preponderance of support personnel, by contrast, are in the reserve component.

Figure 1.
Army Forces Planned for 1998

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office based on Ronald E. Sortor, Army Active/Reserve Mix: Force Planning for Major Regional Contingencies (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 1995); and General Accounting Office, Force Structure: Army Support Forces Can Meet Two-Conflict Strategy with Some Risks, GAO/NSIAD-97-66 (February 1997).
NOTE: Does not include cuts recommended by the Quadrennial Defense Review.

Size of Army Units. The Army's deployable forces, both combat and support, are organized into units of varying size. A division contains between 11,000 and 18,000 soldiers and is the unit most commonly used to describe an army's combat forces. For instance, the U.S. Army is generally characterized as including 18 divisions--10 in the active portion and eight in the Guard (see Table 2). In another example, the Bottom-Up Review described the Army combat forces needed for one major regional conflict as equaling four to five divisions.(7)

Table 2.
Major Combat Units in the Army
Active Army National Guard

Combat Units
Divisionsa 10 8
Separate brigades and armored cavalry regiments 3 18b
Total Combat Brigades 33 42
Total Personnel Assigned to Combat Unitsc 176,000 175,000

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office based on Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Annual Report to the President and the Congress (April 1997); Ronald E. Sortor, Army Active/Reserve Mix: Force Planning for Major Regional Contingencies (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 1995); and General Accounting Office, Force Structure: Army Support Forces Can Meet Two-Conflict Strategy with Some Risks, GAO/NSIAD-97-66 (February 1997).
a. A division typically includes three combat brigades.
b. Fifteen of the brigades are designated as enhanced readiness brigades.
c. Authorized positions.

Another common unit of combat forces is the brigade, with 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers. A division typically includes three combat brigades, but combat brigades can also exist independent of a division. One prominent example is the armored cavalry regiment, an independent brigade whose role is to act as modern cavalry. Indeed, the National Guard includes almost as many separate brigades as ones attached to divisions.

Three brigades, although not organized into a division, are often said to be equivalent to a division in combat power. However, three separate brigades do not equal a division in either personnel or overall capability. That is borne out by the fact that although the Guard has more combat brigades than the active Army (42 compared with 33), the active Army has more soldiers assigned to its combat units. The reason is that the active Army has more divisions than the Guard, and each division contains several thousand soldiers in addition to those assigned to the combat brigades.

Both divisions and brigades include support and administrative personnel as well as the combat personnel who drive tanks or fire weapons. Those support personnel are assigned to combat-support and combat-service-support units, such as headquarters, military police, helicopter, engineer, air-defense, intelligence, field artillery, finance, medical, and transport units. (However, this report refers to all personnel assigned to combat divisions and brigades as combat forces.)

The Army also has thousands of such support units that are not assigned to a combat division or brigade in peacetime. In the event of war, they would be attached to an even larger administrative organization, such as a corps, which commands two to five divisions, or a theater army, which includes two or more corps.

Designing the Army

Many factors go into shaping the Army. The country's national security strategy and the military capability considered necessary to carry it out establish the requirements for combat forces. In the absence of other considerations, those requirements would in turn determine the number of forces needed to support the combat units. Combat and support units between them make up the deployable force. With the size of the deployable force set, it would be possible to establish the size of the necessary administrative structure and, hence, of the entire Army. How often and how quickly forces were needed would then determine whether they were placed in the active component or the reserve component.

That simple outline is fraught with complications, however. Budget constraints limit the overall size of the Army and influence which forces are in the active component and which are in the reserves. Politics and the demands of governors for state missions also shape the Army, particularly the size and composition of the National Guard.

In this study, the Congressional Budget Office uses four criteria to look at how well the Army's forces match the missions it is assigned. First, are those forces large enough to meet the requirements that the Army has established to carry out the Administration's national security strategy? Second, are they balanced appropriately between combat and support units? Third, how quickly can the Army's forces deploy in response to crises overseas? And fourth, can the Army afford to maintain and equip its forces in these times of constrained budgets? After assessing the current force structure based on those criteria, this study examines the Army's plan for its forces and compares that plan with several alternative approaches to meeting the Army's force requirements.

1. The active component, which made up 51 percent of the Army in 1986, now makes up 46 percent.

2. See Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, Report on the Bottom-Up Review (October 1993); and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review (May 1997).

3. Territories other than states that maintain an Army National Guard include the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

4. In this study, the term "reserve" refers to all members of the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve (including full-time members and those part-time members who drill regularly in peacetime and are known as selected reservists).

5. In his report on the Quadrennial Defense Review, Secretary Cohen recommended reducing the size of the Army by 15,000 active-duty troops and 45,000 reserve troops--presumably from the authorized 1998 levels shown in Table 1. The report did not specify when those cuts should be made or how the reserve reductions should be distributed between the National Guard and the Army Reserve, although later deliberations within the Army yielded more information. The Army's plans are discussed in detail in Chapter 4.

6. The Secretary of the Army (rather than the President) can call up individual reservists for 15 days of active duty in a given year, but that period is normally required for annual training.

7. Aspin, Report on the Bottom-Up Review, p. 19. The more recent Quadrennial Defense Review did not alter that assessment, although it did predict that the requirement would change as the effectiveness of U.S. and enemy forces changed.

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