Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

An Army in Search of a Mission to Fit Its Size

Our Army is really struggling to define its mission and its force structure going forward. With the president and defense secretary having ruled out sizing the force to fight a sustained counterinsurgency, and with intelligence assessments rendering implausible the need for a quick-trigger large-scale land war, the Army is in a bind. It doesn’t want ...

Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

Our Army is really struggling to define its mission and its force structure going forward. With the president and defense secretary having ruled out sizing the force to fight a sustained counterinsurgency, and with intelligence assessments rendering implausible the need for a quick-trigger large-scale land war, the Army is in a bind. It doesn't want to reclama the strategy, but it has yet to offer an argument that justifies the 490,000 active-duty end strength in its Future Years Defense Program. So it is experimenting with amphibious deployments in the Pacific -- but America already has a land force optimized to that role and it's by no means clear the Army can best the Marine Corps at its core competency. If the strategy requires more amphibious capability, why not plus up the Marine Corps instead of retool the Army?

That's the argument in a post I wrote for War on the Rocks, a blog that debates defense issues. While the Ryan-Murray budget deal takes some of the pressure off in the near term, the Army really needs to find a persuasive mission for such a large and expensive active-duty force, because if the administration budgets to its strategy, Army end strength will come dramatically down. If I were betting my own money, I'd wager the Marine Corps will enthusiastically support the argument for an expanded expeditionary force and then take the Army's lunch money.

Our Army is really struggling to define its mission and its force structure going forward. With the president and defense secretary having ruled out sizing the force to fight a sustained counterinsurgency, and with intelligence assessments rendering implausible the need for a quick-trigger large-scale land war, the Army is in a bind. It doesn’t want to reclama the strategy, but it has yet to offer an argument that justifies the 490,000 active-duty end strength in its Future Years Defense Program. So it is experimenting with amphibious deployments in the Pacific — but America already has a land force optimized to that role and it’s by no means clear the Army can best the Marine Corps at its core competency. If the strategy requires more amphibious capability, why not plus up the Marine Corps instead of retool the Army?

That’s the argument in a post I wrote for War on the Rocks, a blog that debates defense issues. While the Ryan-Murray budget deal takes some of the pressure off in the near term, the Army really needs to find a persuasive mission for such a large and expensive active-duty force, because if the administration budgets to its strategy, Army end strength will come dramatically down. If I were betting my own money, I’d wager the Marine Corps will enthusiastically support the argument for an expanded expeditionary force and then take the Army’s lunch money.

Kori Schake is the director of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a former U.S. government official in foreign and security policy, and the author of America vs the West: Can the Liberal World Order Be Preserved? Twitter: @KoriSchake

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