Academic journal article Parameters

Expanding Brigade Combat Teams: Is the Training Base Adequate?

Academic journal article Parameters

Expanding Brigade Combat Teams: Is the Training Base Adequate?

Article excerpt

In a world where America, its allies, and its partners do not maintain large standing armies, our potential enemies still believe in maximizing military strength. In March 2016, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the "distinct challenge to our national security" posed by Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran, who continue "invest[ing] in military capabilities that reduce our competitive advantage." (1) Much of this investment is in the form of modernized conventional warfighting capabilities. In February 2011, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates observed "when it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect. We have never once gotten it right." (2) He then warned of the challenge of justifying the expense of a larger force given the decreasing likelihood of a "head-on clash of large mechanized armies." (3) Contrast this statement with Secretary Rumsfeld, who famously observed that countries go to war with the armies they have, not the armies they need. (4)

This article considers how, in the event of a great-power war such as the one Gates discounted, the United States might transition from the Army it has, to the one it might need, by doubling the building blocks of Army units, brigade combat teams (BCTs), with particular focus on armored BCTs. The article discusses key training requirements and offers recommendations for simplifying Army expansion, should it become necessary. (5)

Despite several historical examples of Army expansion since World War II, doubling the number of BCTs is complex and without modern parallel. Within current infrastructure, the Army could double the number of trained BCTs, but to do so rapidly would be extremely challenging. Unless the Army significantly changes end-strength and training capacity in the generating force, imposes stop-loss, assumes significant risk with inexperienced leadership, and increases stocks of ready equipment, the ability to generate trained brigades will be limited to a largely sequential and time-consuming process.

Training an Expanding Army

In January 2016, the Congressionally mandated National Commission on the Future of the Army warned "significant reductions in the size of the generating force put the ability to expand the Army at risk." (6) The Commission noted that there was no link between the size of the generating force, any anticipated Total Army Analysis need for an expansible Army, nor a requirement for the generating force to support expansibility. (7) In other words, the lynchpin of expansibility is insufficient, and there is no plan to address it.

The Army must, therefore, consider its goals carefully and align the Total Army Analysis process to right-sizing the generating force--even if the goal is not to double brigades but to reach a specified planned capability. The Army grew by 16,000 soldiers in Fiscal Year 2017 through a combination of increased recruiting and higher retention of senior soldiers. (8) Some portion of that growth may go into the generating force, but the damage caused by the recent loss of trained leadership who could support future expansibility is already done.

The Fiscal Year 2017 Modified Table of Organization and Equipment adopted a triangular brigade structure for the armored BCT (4,184 soldiers) with three maneuver battalions and a cavalry squadron. Each of the maneuver battalions has a headquarters company and three line companies. Two of the battalions are tank-heavy and one is infantry-heavy. The cavalry squadron is comprised of a headquarters, three reconnaissance troops, and a tank troop. (9) About 35 percent of the brigade combat team (1,479 soldiers) are so-called trigger-pullers, including 355 tankers, 340 scouts, and 667 infantry, and 117 armor or infantry officers. (10) The remaining soldiers in the brigade require a similar training process, but analyzing it is outside the parameters of this article. …

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