Friday, November 7, 2014

Readiness Reminder

All of the services have undergone cuts to equipment and manning and will undergo additional cuts as the budget limitations continue.  To a greater or lesser degree, all the services have come up with rationalizations that the new, reduced manning levels are appropriate for their roles and missions.  I find that type of rationalization reprehensible but that's not the point of this post.  The Marines are, perhaps, the notable example of coming up with an almost entirely new rationale for explaining and accepting deep cuts.  Regardless of whether you believe that sequestration is a good thing or bad and whether you believe the new rationales or not, the point is that all the services have emphasized that the resulting equipment and manning levels are still appropriate and that the services stand fully ready to defend America.

What’s not loudly stated is that it’s not just equipment acquisition and manning that has been impacted by budget constraints.  The resulting forces are hollow and readiness is getting worse.  For example, in 2013 the Army cancelled the rotations of seven brigades through their highly realistic Combat Training Centers.  Similarly, the Navy has cancelled the deployments of individual ships and entire groups.  Remember that as part of deployment workups, the ships and groups undergo training – training that does not occur if the ship or group does not deploy. 

It’s not just ships, either. Non-deployed air wings have been reduced to minimal flight levels.  There are no non-deployed air wings that are fully trained and ready to surge. 

So, while the Navy (or any other service) may claim that their numbers are still adequate, the reality is that those numbers are undertrained and not ready – the definition of a hollow force.

There’s nothing deep about this post – just a reminder that equipment and manning are only two aspects of the overall military might picture.  Readiness, or hollowness(?), is even more important and we need to keep that in mind as we discuss numbers and deterrence and Pacific Pivot and whatever else.


  1. The UK suffers the same problem to greater degree and mainland Europe is crippled by it.
    In constrained times, the hope becomes to save headcount at all costs, hoping for more money tomorrow, which never arrives.
    Instead if 5 combat ready units, you end up with one or two combat ready and 7 or 8 little better than raw recruits, possibly worse, the recruits will have actually operated the equipment in the last few months.

    I haven't done the numbers but I have a suspicion that the ceremonial troops who ended up in the Falklands war took a few kickings from inexperience. Two botched flanking moves, one resulting in serious losses to enemy air spring to mind

    1. The welsh guards battalion took almost as many losses as the first and second parachute battalions combined

  2. CNO ... Your post is spot on, readiness is taking a beating. However, all the services still salute smartly and continue like all is well. Unfortunately, this is the culture of the Armed Forces, do more with less ... we are our own worst enemies.

    I say this, because rare is it that an operational commander of any rank willing to stand up and say, "we can not get there from here", or "I can not do the mission". If they do hint to this, generally it is seen as a loss of confidence and a new commander comes along who can get it done.

    Our culture does not support saying no ... But until it does, real readiness will suffer but look good on paper, folks will profess efficient and novel ways of doing more with less; but you are right, the force is becoming hollow.

    About the only real indicator of this that I ever see is people, "voting with their feet" and leaving the service. Too many back-2-back deployments and deployments that are too long. The good people are walking away from the service, because the are constantly asked to do more with less.

    Good post, and a tough state of affairs, will not get better until the appropriate amount of money is applied to the force to properly equip and train; not happening anytime soon.


  3. Interesting article related to meeting the demand signal and readiness...

  4. CNO you raise a good point and has others have noted already, a problem which is not limited the US.

    To me the heart of the matter is a choice between reducing strength vs quality when faced with budget cuts over an extended period.

    The easy answer is always to cut training, maintenance and ammunition buys. Which directly affect your readiness issue. You get the benefit that you keep your force size, which can(hopefully) be made ready quickly if required. The downside is these units are less effective during the period of budget cuts, and the longer you put off the training and maintenance the more it costs to bring your force back to being a combat capable one.

    While this makes sense if your funding is cut for a year or two, but what if the funding cut is over a long term what then?

    From the outside looking in, it looks like those making these decisions are doing so under the hope that sequestration will somehow, magically go away tomorrow. That is why they think everything is ok.

    If your funding levels are reducing over the longer term I would argue you better served with a smaller fleet, but one which your budget can fun so it is actually combat ready, then a larger but not functional one.

    Note obviously if you reduce your strength too much you at some point you must eventually reach a point where you can can't complete your mission. That said it is also true that if you reduce your training to point your marines start to look like an Iraqi militia you also can't complete your mission either.

    The way I see it the budget is still big enough for all the services to continue to offer a fully capable war fighting capability. But if we try hold on old ideas of what our forces should be we risk spending more for less.



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