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Building an Army of 125,000 Spartans, Part II – Responding to the Critics

Note: This is a mirror of an excellent article from RealClearDefense. We’re re-posting it here, with attribution, to encourage wider dissemination and protect against it disappearing. No authorship or claim is implied. This is a follow-up to the original article mirrored here.

By J. Furman Daniel, III
March 24, 2014

One of the great things about making a provocative argument is that you get plenty of responses. Two weeks ago, I wrote a think piece about the advantages of creating a small, elite force that could serve either as a rapid response force for small scale operations or as the cadre for a rapidly expanded army in the event of a major power war. Since then, I have received a wide range of responses ranging from full-fledged agreement, to thoughtful engagement with my points, to openly hostile personal attacks on my education and character. My reaction to all of these comments has been the same−I must have struck a nerve!

My piece argued for a radical transformation of the Army, including a steep 75% cut to active-duty personnel to 125,000. To compensate for this downsizing, the Army should adopt a multifaceted-approach to increase the quality, flexibility, and combat power of the force. This approach would entail stricter recruiting and promotion selection standards, significantly higher pay, greater emphasis on education and training, lengthier enlistment terms, longer deployments, a no-tolerance policy for criminal and disciplinary infractions, an increased use of private contractors for non-combat roles, and a rethinking of our reliance on the National Guard and Reserve.

In what follows, I will attempt to briefly address some of the most common responses to my work; clarify some of my points; and reaffirm my claim that given the budgetary restrictions of the time, that a small elite force would be the best choice among a panoply of bad options.

1. I’m Glad I Got a Discussion Going

I firmly believe that U.S. grand strategy is at a crossroads. The choices we make today will have “long-tailed” impacts on the future and the consequences for guessing wrong could be catastrophic. One of the most difficult elements of crafting an effective long-term strategy is to carefully consider a wide range of options. To that end, I am extremely proud that I have gotten people to discuss the merits and faults of my argument. In short, I would strongly prefer to be heard and “wrong” than ignored and “right.” We must make difficult choices on our national defense, and I believe that there is no better way to arrive at the optimal strategy than an informed and rational debate. Mission accomplished.

2. Thinking in These Terms Is Useful, Even if You Ultimately Reject the Argument

When thinking about strategy, it is essential to understand both the risks and rewards of potential options. I have proposed a plan that would carry significant risks (increased reliance on contractors, less redundancy, greater pressure on the men and women in uniform, civil-military dynamics, etc.), but would also provide the potential for significant rewards (cost savings, greater combat proficiency, greater institutional knowledge, continuity, and professionalism, etc.).

Many of my critics have made excellent points in claiming that the risk exceeds the rewards. I believe that the value of thinking in these terms is that it provides both warriors and policy makers with the opportunity to reevaluate what is valuable and what is not about our current force structure. It is perfectly reasonable to conclude that a larger force is preferable to the smaller force that I proposed, but I want my critics to carefully consider why their preferred option is better as well as the risk that their alternative entails.

3. Yes, I Know This Will Never Happen, But I Do Believe It Should

Many have claimed that I was not sincere in my argument or that I was hopelessly ignorant of the realities of defense bureaucracy. Not true on both accounts. Let me say for the record that I believe that, despite its risks, this is the best strategy given the budgetary and strategic realities of the time. As to the claim that such a plan would never happen given the deeply entrenched impediments to enacting such a bold plan, I concede that full implementation of such a radical transformation is extremely unlikely. I am not an idealist when it comes to politics. As Bismarck said, “politics is the art of the possible,” not the ideal. However, despite the practical limits of implementation, I do believe current budgetary restrictions could serve as an unexpected opportunity to transform the Army into something better, and for that reason alone it is worth carefully considering my alternative.

4. We Already Have a Civil-Military Problem

One of the most common and heartfelt criticisms of my work has been that it would create a problem in civil-military affairs. While I am sensitive to this critique, I do not believe that my alternative would necessarily be worse for two reasons. First, I believe that there already is a gap between civilians and their military and this gap appears to be growing. Second, this proposal has the potential to reverse or even invert the gap by bringing in a largely untapped group of elite members of society. By instituting a greater degree of social prestige and meritocracy, it is possible to more evenly distribute the burden of national defense across a more representative cross-section of American society.

5. I Want to Keep the Best in the Force, Even If That’s Elitist

A related criticism is that my proposal is elitist. Perhaps it is, but I am not sure that this is a bad thing. Every American should want their military to recruit, develop, retain, and use its human capital to the fullest, regardless of the force size. Given our current end strength, I believe that we are doing an admirable job at this. But in my alternative we would need to do better. One way of mitigating the risks of my proposal would be to make an increased bet on the physical, moral, and intellectual strength of our people. If our military is to be the envy of the world, it is appropriate to expect our troops to be elite−even if that is easy to dismiss as “elitist.”

6. In a “Big War,” We’ll Need to Expand the Force Anyway

In the unlikely event of a war with another great power, U.S. policy makers will be presented with a series of bad options: 1) use nukes; 2) use the Air Force and Navy as a standoff force; or 3) vastly increase the size of the Army and Marines much above current levels and fight a protracted ground war. In the first two options, a small force may be ideal as a rapid strike force or as special operators in hostile territory. In the third contingency, the small, elite force would serve as the core leadership cadre to build around. Junior NCO’s would become platoon sergeants, senior NCO’s would become junior officers, and every level of the officer corps would be required to perform tasks well above their current grades. While this would be no easy task, it would be a small part of a much larger and disruptive national mobilization effort and our long-service veterans would provide an invaluable element of institutional knowledge and continuity around which to build a large conventional force.

7. Attrition is a Non-Starter

Many of my best informed critics have voiced fears of an excellent, but ultimately brittle force that would be unable to endure significant losses in the event of a major war. Despite my historical sympathies for the Battle of the Mons analogies and the decimation of the small professional British Expeditionary Force, this is largely a non-starter with me. Unless national survival is on the line, I do not see the American public accepting military adventurism or high losses in the foreseeable future, no matter what the force structure may be. Barring such a massive commitment to a war of great national interest, it would seem like a much better use of our limited resources to create a professional class of soldiers who are well trained for the more limited contingencies that they are likely to face.

8. National Defense Is the First Priority of Any Nation

Another well-meaning criticism of my work is that by seeking to elevate the role of warriors to the highest level of social prestige, I am placing too much emphasis on the role national defense in our modern society. I could not disagree more. While I do not wish to live in a garrison state, I do believe that national defense is the greatest good and highest calling. Without national defense, nothing else is possible. Rule of law, arts, sports, culture, politics, and all of the things I hold dear are bought and paid for by the dedication and courage of our warriors, it is right and just to recognize this fact and act accordingly.

9. Troops Should Be Paid Better Than Doctors and Lawyers

I am not ignorant enough to believe that money can fix everything or that it is the primary reason why people are willing to risk their lives for their country. What I do believe is that if we seek to create social prestige, attract new people, retain our best, and ask even more from our men and women, we should properly compensate people for this difficult task. Money talks to people outside of the force and gives them more reasons to want to be a part of it. Duty, comradeship, loyalty, and longer service terms will keep them in the force once they are there. I want NCOs to be paid more than doctors and lawyers because they are doing a harder job, and the consequences for them screwing up is much higher. No, money will not fix everything but it is a good start.

10. I Actually Really Love the Army!

The only criticisms that I have taken personally is that I am hate the Army or am somehow against the troops. This is personally insulting and nothing could be farther from the truth. All I am proposing is to increase pay, benefits, standards, social status, provide job security for those in the force, and make them as skilled, educated, and combat proficient as possible. I wish somebody would “hate” me like that.

11. Yes, I Know the Sparta Analogy Is Imperfect

While I am not a classicist, I have read more than 50 books on ancient Greek warfare, visited the ruins of Sparta, and been to multiple ancient battlefields including Thermopylae. I fully appreciate that the analogy to Sparta is problematic on multiple levels including: the brittleness of the Spartan force, the civil-military troubles of the ancient city-state, the lack of an enduring cultural legacy, the reliance on slave labor, and the fact that the primacy of military considerations created an insular and suspicious Spartan national identity. While imperfect, I hoped that using this popular historical analogy would spark people’s imagination and be the starting point for a discussion of American strategic interests rather than an end to itself.

When writing this piece, I purposely chose to forgo what I believed to be a more apt and current analogy, that of the interwar German Reichswehr. I made this decision because I firmly believe that despite their military genius and efficiency, they were complicit to the rise of the Nazi regime and that their vile association with Adolf Hitler would be an even greater distraction from the positive points I was trying to make. For an excellent primer on how the interwar German Army turned the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty and the Great Depression into a strategic asset, I would recommend the excellent works of James Corum and Robert Citino (here and here).

Despite the flaws of both of these analogies, I believe that American defense planners should carefully consider the merits of a small professional force−even if they ultimately reject my analysis. The stakes in this debate are extremely high and I am glad to have contributed at least some small part to the discussion.

Author: J. Furman Daniel, III is a Visiting Assistant Professor of International Affairs in the George Washington University Security Policy Studies Program.

Building a U.S. Army of 125,000 Spartans

Note: This is a mirror of an excellent article from RealClearDefense. We’re re-posting it here, with attribution, to encourage wider dissemination and protect against it disappearing. No authorship or claim is implied.

By J. Furman Daniel, III
March 06, 2014

Defense cuts are coming. The only question is how much. As it has grappled with the fiscal realities of sequestration, the U.S. Army has sought to define its mission in a post-war environment. The Pentagon’s latest budget request would reduce Army end strength to 440,000. While this reduction has caused a great deal of consternation in some quarters, this is not nearly enough.

In this age of budgetary and strategic uncertainty, the best course of action is to radically transform the Army by cutting the number of active-duty personnel by more than 75% to 125,000. To compensate for the resulting downsizing, the Army should adopt a multifaceted-approach to increase the quality, flexibility, and combat power of the force. This approach would entail stricter recruiting and promotion selection standards, significantly higher pay, greater emphasis on education and training, lengthier enlistment terms, longer deployments, a no-tolerance policy for criminal and disciplinary infractions, an increased use of private contractors for non-combat roles, and a rethinking of our reliance on the National Guard and Reserve.

Many people become afraid when the size of the Army shrinks. This is good news! Cuts to Army end strength are already happening. Again, good news! The bad news is that these cuts do not appear to be part of a cohesive strategy and may provide only temporary budgetary relief. What is worse is that these haphazard cuts may be damaging Army core competencies for decades to come. Some of our best warfighters are already leaving the military and there are very real concerns about our readiness, combat proficiency, military education, and troop conduct and morale. This rudderless erosion of our force must stop.

The Army’s most flexible and effective weapon is the individual soldier. Properly managed, a drastically smaller Army would sacrifice little in the way of warfighting capability and would be uniquely adept at managing contingencies on either the low or high ends of the conventional spectrum. Such an elite force could act as an expert special operations and counterinsurgency component, capable of rapid deployment in the event of a hybrid regional contingency. Alternatively, this force could serve as the core leadership cadre for a rapidly expanded force in the event of a major war.

Despite the many challenges, this strategy can and should be implemented through a five step process which emphasizes: 1) selection and recruitment; 2) retention; 3) training and education;  4) professionalization; and 5) returning the National Guard and Reserve components to their traditional roles.

Selection and Recruitment

For this plan to work, the new Army requires the best 125,000 warfighters, thinkers, managers, and public servants possible. Attracting acceptable candidates will require competing with the industries that lure America’s best and brightest after college. This means much higher pay: $100,000 per year for an E-5, $200,000 per year for an O-1, $500,000 per year for an O-6, etc.

But attracting candidates is just the beginning. The new Army’s selection process must be truly rigorous. On the most basic level, this means drastically raising the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) and physical fitness test (PFT) minimums. Selection for basic training and officer candidate school (OCS) slots should resemble Harvard admissions rates, and the physical rigors of basic training and formation should be closer to NFL training camps. A “no tolerance policy” should be instituted for criminal backgrounds and high school dropouts. All candidates should pass a thorough background check and psychological examination that screens for character, leadership ability, mental toughness, and resiliency.

For the officers, this process must be even more difficult. Much like the Old Army of 100 years ago, there should be a rigorous admissions test for all officers, and completion of ROTC or a service academy should not guarantee a spot in the active duty force. While this process would eliminate some excellent potential leaders, its elite nature would attract many previously untapped applicants and would create an unrivaled esprit de corps within the select few who earn their enlistments and commissions.

Retention

To retain the best, this plan requires combining significantly longer enlistments and commissions with a multifaceted approach to pay, benefits, and personal development. Warriors should commit to 10-year enlistments and 15-year commissions. In exchange for these longer service terms, the Army should recommit itself to providing greatly improved pay, food, healthcare benefits, dependent care, housing, career transition, and retirement options. The fact is that these services are relatively cheap and would be increasingly necessary if we are to ask even more of our service members and their families. Additionally, the added costs of increased pay and support would quickly be recouped through longer service terms, which would lessen the need for recruitment and initial training and formation. If we retain our best and avoid the rest, we can save money even as per-soldier personnel costs rise.

Training and Education

Training is essential to this plan. For such a small force to be prepared for any contingency, it will demand constant training across multiple military occupational specialties (MOS). The new Army should aspire to have every soldier in its elite ranks jump qualified, max out the PFT, shoot expert with their weapon, and refine their competencies through multiple trips to national training centers. Moreover, every soldier should be able to perform the jobs of those above and below them in the chain of command.

Education is the second element of this investment in warfighters. We need to send all of our force back to school. Rather than a box-checking exercise for promotion, education should be an essential element of our strategy for professional development. Because we do not know where our force will be sent and what type of missions will be required of them, we need to ensure that our entire force has a broad general education that includes language, strategy, writing, technical skills, and medical training. When combined with training, education acts as a force multiplier. In the new Army, every soldier will be both a broadsword and a Swiss Army Knife.

Professionalization

The ultimate goal of the new Army is unparalleled professionalism, a truly select guild of warfighters garnering the highest respect of any profession. “Tiger moms” should be talking their 1.8 children out of medical school and into OCS. Much like ancient Sparta, our military should be the highest calling within our own society and the envy of the world.

Returning the Guard and Reserves to Their Intended Mission

To compensate for this dramatic reduction in the active duty force, it will be essential to recast the National Guard and Army Reserve as a true reserve force. In both a historical and strategic perspective, this is nothing new. The reserve component has traditionally served to retain excess capacity and skills for severe, but unlikely contingencies. In the event that we may need them to either protect the homeland from a domestic threat or to rapidly expand the size of the conventional force in the event of a great power war, these components will serve as a key element of national defense. Barring such scenarios, policy makers should be wary of using these forces as a “second army.” Indeed, much of the strain on the force during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has come as a result of using the Guard and Reserve in missions that that too closely mirrored that of the active duty army. By changing the identity of the active duty force, it will become easier to return these elements to their intended place as an actual reserve force.

Avoiding a “Hollow Force”

Given these uncertain times, the Army needs to be better than ever before. Concerns about the potential for a “hollow force” are real, and avoiding that reality demands a bold strategy. Rather than shrink piecemeal, the Army should be proactive and choose to focus on retaining and elite group of warriors rather than a more “balanced” generic force. While the risks of this strategy are high, a truly flexible and professional force is the best single way to transform a budgetary necessity into a strategic asset. Cut numbers and invest in warriors, and the future is bright. To do this, the U.S. Army needs to go on a diet, go back to school, and reinvent itself as an elite professional force. We should make these chosen few warriors the envy of our society and the world.

Author: Furman Daniel, III is a Visiting Assistant Professor of International Affairs in the George Washington University Security Policy Studies Program.

Training Review: VDI’s Protective / Evasive Driving (PED) Course

Topic: Mobility, Automobile

Instructor/System: VDI is a specialty driving school headquartered in Englishtown, New Jersey, USA, but which also conducts mobile trainings worldwide and has some number of global affiliates teaching their methods. VDI was founded by Tony Scotti and is now run by Joe Autera — two recognizable names in the security / executive protection field. Per VDI, Scotti developed the VDI methodologies in the 70s in Bogota, Colombia, at the time a hot spot of kidnappings occurring in and around cars as people traveled from home to work and back. Their course offerings include protective/evasive driving, SUV and armored SUV modules, surveillance detection, and a five-day-long “Best Practices for the Solo Practitioner” course.

Content: VDI’s Protective/Evasive Driving (PED) program is a three day long course designed for “professional security drivers, executive chauffeurs, and protection specialists.” VDI goes on to claim that the PED class is a “must have” for executive protection and security folks, and this seems to be true: our class was almost entirely people currently working in exactly these fields. Read More

Training Review: Shivworks / SouthNarc – Armed Movement in Structures (AMIS)

Topic: Shooting, Pistol

Instructor/System: Shivworks is the one-man training operation run by Craig Douglas aka SouthNarc. Craig was a law enforcement officer in Mississippi for 21 years, including work with SWAT and undercover with narcotics — hence his original nom de guerre. Shivworks offers multiple classes around lone operator survival, perhaps most famously ECQC, his Extreme Close Quarters Combat class. Per Craig, the goal — of Shivworks, of tactical training — is that “you want the handgun skills of a USPA Grand Master, the empty hand skills of an MMA fighter, and the verbal agility of a stand-up comic.”

Content: The Shivworks Armed Movement in Structures (AMIS) class is a two-day course that addresses one task and starts from one assumption. The one task is how a solo operator, armed, can safely move through — “clear” — a structure with an unknown number of armed opponents inside. The starting assumption is that the task “sucks” and since there’s no perfect way to do it, you just try to make it “suck less.” Read More

Training Review: TMACS / Pat McNamara’s Combat Strength Training (CST)

Instructor/System: Pat McNamara is a 22 year US Army veteran, having served both with vanilla Special Forces and, for thirteen years, with 1st SFOD-D — Delta Force — before retiring as a Sergeant Major in 2005. In the training world, he’s primarily known for his firearms and combat tactics training, under his TMACS brand, but he also offers a class on his approach to physical fitness and readiness. Now in his early 50s, he remains a physical powerhouse and endless font of energy and enthusiasm. He is the author of Sentinel: Become the Agent in Charge of Your Own Protection Detail which covers some of the same topics as the class reviewed here.

Content: McNamara’s “Combat Strength Training” (CST) course is a one-day class on how to obtain and maintain physical fitness and readiness. The word “combat” in the title reflects two things. First, that the basic functional attributes developed are relevant to combat, specifically in terms of movement in the transverse plane, which McNamara believes is sorely underdeveloped in most combat athletes. Read More

Training Review: InSights Training Center’s General Defensive Handgun

Topic: Shooting, Pistol

Instructor/School: InSights Training Center is a shooting and tactical training school founded by Greg M. Hamilton. The school offers classes to military, law enforcement, and civilians in the Seattle, Washington area. While the school employs numerous instructors, Greg himself was the instructor for the class being reviewed here. Greg was a US Army Ranger and Special Forces soldier but also had his foot in the competitive speed shooting world and trained with folks like John Shaw at Mid-South. He’s definitely a bit of a wizard with a handgun but, much more importantly, he’s also trained numerous other people to be top-tier competitive shooters. Greg is brash, extremely cocky, and overflowing with opinions, but he has such a deep mastery of his subject matter that whether you like him or not, you’ll listen. He’s also a military history buff, so if you share an interest in the minutiae of 20th century war, you’ll find an eager interlocutor.

Content: The InSights General Defensive Handgun (GDH) course is a two-day course taking people with basic gun familiarity / competency and exposing them to concepts relevant to a “self defense” shooter. It’s a mix of simple-but-important practical shooting exercises interspersed with Read More

Training Review: Jared Wihongi and Marc Denny’s Tactical Clinch

Topic: Close Combat, Unarmed

Instructor/System: This course is co-taught by Jared Wihongi and Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny. Jared is a Pekiti Tirsia Kali (PTK) practitioner with some broader background in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Thai boxing, and working door as a bouncer. He’s been a police officer, including SWAT, and now makes a living as full-time combatives instructor — a telling note, given how little money there is in martial arts. Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny is one of the founders of the Dog Brothers, a group borne out the Filipino martial arts community who, a few decades back, decided to don fencing masks and hockey gloves and lay into each other at full force to learn “what would really work under fire and what would not.” Read More

Training Review: BSR’s Security Driving Course (SDC)

Topic: Mobility, Automobile

Instructor/System: BSR is a specialty driving school located at Summit Point Motorsports Park in Summit Point, West Virginia. BSR has been around for decades and teaches classes to the US military, law enforcement, government agencies, and civilians. Beyond their military work, BSR also provides training for the Department of State’s Worldwide Personal Protection Services (WPPS), the AFPAK Hands folks, etc. Lee Chewey, a retired Delta operator who’s gone on to be involved in a lot of security operations and security training work globally, is the Director of Training. Their course offerings include off-road driving, evasive driving, surveillance detection while mobile, and vehicle commandeering. They also offer some firearms courses. Being co-located at Summit Point gives them great asphalt tracks for the evasive driver training, as well as ample space for the off-road work and easy access to suburban West Virginia for the surveillance detection work.

Content: BSR’s Security Driving Course (SDC) a three-day course compromised of one additional day prepended onto BSR’s two-day Evasive Driving Course (EDC). Read More

Training Review: BSR’s Evasive Driving Course (EDC)

Topic: Mobility, Automobile

Instructor/System: BSR is a specialty driving school located at Summit Point Motorsports Park in Summit Point, West Virginia. BSR has been around for decades and teaches classes to the US military, law enforcement, government agencies, and civilians. Of note, BSR provides training for the Department of State’s Worldwide Personal Protection Services (WPPS) and the AFPAK Hands folks. Lee Chewey, a retired Delta operator who’s gone on to be involved in a lot of security operations and security training work globally, is the Director of Training. Their course offerings include off-road driving, evasive driving, surveillance detection while mobile, and vehicle commandeering. They also offer some firearms courses. Being co-located at Summit Point gives them great asphalt tracks for the evasive driver training, as well as ample space for the off-road work and easy access to suburban West Virginia for the surveillance detection training.

Content: BSR’s Evasive Driving Course (EDC) is a two-day course designed to teach evasive driving skills to people who are concerned about being targeted for attack while in transit via automobile. Read More