Specter of a “Hollow Force” Called Into Question

02.03.12 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and other officials have warned that if U.S. military spending is cut significantly, the unacceptable result would be a “a hollow force incapable of sustaining the missions it is assigned.”

But a new critique from the Congressional Research Service suggests that the use of the term “hollow force” is inappropriate and unwarranted.

“Historically, there were two periods– post-Vietnam and again in the 1990s– when the term ‘hollow force’ was used to describe the U.S. armed forces.”  It referred to “forces that appear mission-ready but, upon examination, suffer from shortages of personnel and equipment, and from deficiencies in training.”

But a close review of the circumstances that generated a hollow force in the past does not support the use of the term today, the CRS said.  “Most of the conditions that existed in the 1970s do not exist today.”

Among other things, defense procurement spending has surged in recent years to enable significant modernization of military forces.

“Even if modernization funds become more limited in future defense budgets, overall budget data suggest the Services would enter this period after having invested in modernized forces about as substantially as in the weapons-driven buildup of the 1980s.”

“CRS has calculated that when recent amounts for weapons modernization are compared to amounts in the mid-1980s, the total inflation-adjusted dollar value of relatively modern equipment available to forces today (i.e., equipment purchased within the past 10 years) appears relatively robust.”

“Given these conditions, it can be argued that the use of the term ‘hollow force’ is inappropriate under present circumstances,” the CRS report said.

A copy of the new CRS report was obtained by Secrecy News.  See A Historical Perspective on “Hollow Forces,” January 31, 2012.