US Foreign Policy

An Un-Hollow Force: Readiness in the FY15 Budget Request

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The debate about the defense budget suffers a fundamental disconnect: even as the national conversation focuses on deep cuts, the actual force remains the most awe-inspiring military force in the world. Some of that disconnect stems from blurring the distinction between a smaller force and a hollow force. While a hollow force-a force that claims capabilities on paper but in reality isn’t ready to execute-is without doubt a bad thing, it is not inevitably an outcome of a smaller force. In fact, a smaller force makes a hollow force less likely. And the president’s recently released  budget request takes significant steps to prevent a hollow force.

The specter of a hollow force arose in the 1970s when the force, especially the Army, claimed a certain force structure but the actual units were short people, parts, and training, all exacerbated by the drugs and social inequity the Army was suffering from post-Vietnam. General Shy Meyer rightfully called out this hypocrisy in congressional testimony. But what General Meyer left out is that the Army itself had decided to add an extra three divisions to its force structure and compounded the problem by focusing on funding the Big Five: a new Army tank, a new infantry combat vehicle, a new attack helicopter, a new transport helicopter, and a new antiaircraft missile. These acquisitions absorbed funds that might have gone toward training and people. Coupled with the budget drawdown of the 1970s and the personnel turbulence, these choices led directly to the hollow force.

Today’s military is without a doubt getting smaller-the Army will be the smallest since before World War II. But being smaller does not inevitably mean the force has to be hollow. In fact, being smaller makes it easier to avoid becoming hollow as there are fewer units to man, train, and equip.

To read the full commentary, click here.


This commentary appeared in Council On Foreign Relations on March 19, 2014.

Photo by US Air Force via Flickr

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