AbstrAct: The US Army is under pressure. If trends persist, it will
soon shrink to its smallest size in nearly 70 years. While there are
sound arguments for the current drawdown, reasonable policies can
still yield unintended consequences. In particular, we argue Ameri-
can landpower helps make America’s conventional and nuclear se-
curity guarantees credible. Since these guarantees stabilize alliances,
deter aggression, and curb nuclear proliferation, landpower’s relative
decline could have serious implications for the broader security situ-
ation of the United States.
The US Army is under pressure. Shifting strategic priorities, espe-
cially the rebalance to East Asia, necessarily emphasize naval and
air power.1 Budget constraints make it tempting to substitute
manpower with technology.2 Domestically, Americans have little appetite
for putting “boots on the ground” after years of war in Afghanistan and
Iraq. Beyond geography, economics and politics, an even more potent
threat looms: many strategists believe precision weapons are revolution-
izing warfare in ways that diminish landpower’s usefulness.3 Although
armies have often been the most important source of military power,
because they alone have the ability to defend, conquer, and occupy terri-
tory, precision weapons threaten to turn that capability into a liability.4 As
the argument goes, on future battleelds, slow-moving armor, artillery,
and infantry units will have nowhere to hide as precision-guided muni-
tions (PGMs) rain down upon them.
American defense planners have responded to these trends by shift-
ing resources away from the Army.5 There are certainly sound arguments
1 See Aaron L. Friedberg, Beyond Air-Sea Battle: The Debate Over US Military Strategy in Asia
(London: Routledge, 2014); Andrew Krepinevich, Why AirSea Battle? (Washington, DC: Center for
Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, February 19, 2010); Andrew Krepinevich, Maritime Competition
in a Mature Precision-Strike Regime (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments,
2014); T.X. Hammes, “Offshore Control: A Proposed Strategy for an Unlikely Conict,” Strategic
Forum, no. 278 (June 2012): 1-14; and Sean Mirski, “Stranglehold: The Context, Conduct and
Consequences of an American Naval Blockade of China,” Journal of Strategic Studies 36, no. 3 (2013):
2 Robert O. Work and Shawn Brimley, 20YY: Preparing for War in the Robotic Age (Washington,
DC: Center for New American Security, January 2014).
3 On how PGMs would alter warfare, see Thomas Mahnken, “Weapons: The Growth and
Spread of the Precision-Strike Regime,” Daedalus 140, no. 3 (2011): 45-57. For an alternative view,
see Stephen D. Biddle, Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 2004).
4 John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2001):
5 By scal year 2018 the active-duty Army will complete its planned end-strength reduction from
565,000 to 450,000 soldiers. “Army Announces Force Structure, Stationing Decision,” Department of
Defense News, July 9, 2015, http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/612623. The Army
National Guard’s end-strength is set to decrease by 15,000 by 2017. “Army Guard to see reductions,
changes in personnel and force structure,” National Guard Bureau, November 6, 2015, http://www.
the efficAcy of LAndpower
Landpower and American Credibility
Michael Allen Hunzeker and Alexander Lanoszka
© 2016 Michael Allen Hunzeker and Alexander Lanoszka
45(4) Winter 2015-16
behind the current drawdown, including the Asia-Pacic Rebalance
and a strong aversion to large-scale counterinsurgency. Nevertheless,
even reasonable policy decisions can sometimes yield unintended con-
sequences. Specically, we argue as geopolitical priorities, technological
advances, and budgetary constraints undercut American landpower,
allies and adversaries may increasingly question America’s conventional
and nuclear security guarantees. Since these guarantees stabilize alli-
ances, curb nuclear proliferation, resolve security dilemmas, and deter
aggression, landpower’s relative decline could have serious implications
for the broader security situation of the United States.
We proceed as follows. We rst explain why landpower makes
American threats and promises more believable. It does so in two ways.
The rst is well understood: ground troops signal the United States has
“skin in the game.” However, strategists have largely overlooked our
second observation: American troops reassure allies because allies think
American troops can punish, compel, and ultimately defeat an unde-
terred adversary.6 Put simply, forward deployed soldiers and marines
are more than just trip-wires and hostages. Allies do not have faith in
American commitments because American troops might die; they have
faith because American troops can kill and win. If deterrence and assur-
ance were simply about having “skin in the game,” America could signal
its commitment on the cheap by deploying unarmed conscripts.7
We also identify three policy recommendations that ow from our
analysis. First, the United States should halt further cuts to Army force
structure. Our analysis suggests the United States must retain a sizable
forward-based presence in Europe and East Asia. Although budget cuts
make it tempting to replace forward-based troops with rotational train-
ing and prepositioned equipment, attempts to reassure allies “on the
cheap” are unlikely to work in a world where precision and anti-access/
area-denial (A2AD) threats make it hard to introduce ground forces
once the shooting has begun. Moreover, events in Iraq and Syria demon-
strate the United States must retain its ability to wage counterinsurgency
operations despite its desire to avoid them.8 Second, the Joint Force must
prove to American allies it has a doctrine that allows it to seize and hold
ground in an A2AD threat environment. It is not yet obvious that the
United States can reliably introduce and resupply ground forces against a
rst-rate opponent with robust A2AD capabilities. Third, the Army must
similarly develop a viable war-ghting doctrine and associated tactics,
techniques and procedures (TTPs) to operate in a PGM-dominated
environment. Incremental adaptation might sufce to keep American
landpower relevant, but wholesale innovation may prove necessary.
The Challenges of Making Security Guarantees
Security guarantees, including multilateral alliances like the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization and bilateral defense treaties (e.g., Japan),
6 US Army Training and Doctrine Command, The US Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex
World (Fort Eustis, VA: US Army Training and Doctrine Command, 2014): 16.
7 Though the United States did intentionally let families live with forward deployed troops dur-
ing the Cold War to enhance the tripwire effect of those forces, the government did not deploy fami-
lies without troops. It invested heavily to ensure those troops were well trained and well equipped.
8 Francis G. Hoffman, “What the QDR Ought to Say about Landpower,” Parameters 43, no 4
(Winter 2013-14): 7-14.
The efficacy of Landpower Hunzeker and Lanoszka 19
enhance American security.9 They allow the United States to gener-
ate more power by leveraging the capabilities of like-minded partners
than it could on its own. They deter conict by threatening to bring
combined power to bear on a potential adversary if it threatens an
ally. For deterrence to work, an adversary must believe undertaking a
certain action will result in a penalty that exceeds any possible gain.10
Moreover, security guarantees moderate tensions by assuring allies they
do not need to pursue nuclear weapons or engage in risky behaviors to
improve their security. Finally, they resolve security dilemmas between
American allies and their local adversaries.11 Security dilemmas occur
when one state tries to make itself more secure, inadvertently making
other states feel less secure in the process.12 For example, suppose Japan
were to develop nuclear weapons to deter China. If China misreads
Japanese intentions, it might grow alarmed and respond by adopting a
more aggressive posture. The result could be a destabilizing arms race.
Security guarantees prevent such dynamics from unfolding.
American security guarantees only work when allies and adversaries
believe them. Unfortunately, the nature of international politics is such
that states have difculty trusting one another, especially when security
and survival are at stake.13 Although the United States can promise to
intervene on an ally’s behalf in a crisis, the ally knows no international
court, police force, or coalition has enough power to force the United
States to fulll its pledges. Especially because it is so powerful, the
United States always has the option to renege if it changes its mind.14
For example, the US president might decide not to defend an ally if an
imminent war appears more costly than the United States anticipated
when it entered into the alliance. As Taiwan discovered in the 1970s, the
United States can unilaterally terminate formal treaties when its cost-
benet calculus changes.
The degree to which other states see the United States as a credible
ally or adversary depends on how they answer two questions. First, do
they think the United States is willing to do what it says it will do, espe-
cially in a crisis situation? Second, is the United States able to do what it
says it will do? The less an ally or an adversary trusts American willing-
ness or ability, the less it will believe American security guarantees.
These questions are important because the United States becomes
less secure when its allies and adversaries start to question its credibility.
All things equal, the more an ally worries the United States will renege
in a crisis, the more likely it is that the ally will prepare as though it will
have to go it alone in a conict.15 Arms build-ups, offensive posturing,
9 Barack Obama, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington DC:
The White House, February 2015), 6.
10 Richard Ned Lebow, “Deterrence and Reassurance: Lessons from the Cold War,” Global
Dialogue 4, no. 2 (2000): 119-120. Emphasis in original.
11 Thomas J. Christensen, “China, the US-Japan Alliance, and the Security Dilemma in East,” in
International Relations Theory and the Asia-Pacic, ed. G. John Ikenberry and Michael Mastundono (New
York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2003), 25-26.
12 Robert Jervis, “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 30, no. 2 (January
13 Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1979).
14 Reneging is never costless, but it can be less costly than fullling a promise that leads to war.
15 Loose commitments provoke abandonment fears. See Glenn Snyder, Alliance Politics (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press, 1997).
45(4) Winter 2015-16
and nuclear weapons acquisition are all possible behaviors. The same
logic holds for potential adversaries. They also know the United States
can shirk from or renege on its guarantees. The more a potential adver-
sary doubts American credibility, the less it will trust American efforts
to restrain allies and American threats to intervene or retaliate. In both
cases, the lack of credibility can encourage aggressive behavior.16
Making credible conventional security guarantees is difcult, but
making believable nuclear security guarantees is even trickier. The
United States has long promised to use nuclear weapons to defend its
most important allies. This strategy of extended nuclear deterrence
serves two purposes. It deters nuclear-armed adversaries (as well as
those with massive, local conventional advantages) from blackmailing
our allies.17 It also helps to limit nuclear proliferation by convincing
allies that acquiring their own nuclear arsenals is unnecessary.18
Yet promises to use nuclear weapons must entail ambiguity.19
Conventional alliance treaties can be explicit about the conditions
under which the United States will militarily support an ally. With
nuclear security guarantees, the United States cannot draw such clear
trigger lines. It must keep adversaries uncertain of its threshold for using
nuclear weapons. Otherwise, adversaries can launch attacks against the
ally knowing the United States will prefer to stay neutral so as not to
risk nuclear war. Unfortunately, the ambiguity that keeps adversaries
off-guard does the same to allies. And the more an ally fears the United
States might not use nuclear weapons on its behalf, the more likely the
ally will try to acquire its own nuclear arsenal.
How Landpower Helps Generate Credibility
Landpower—particularly forward-deployed landpower—helps
American security guarantees appear more credible. It shapes how
other states perceive America’s willingness and ability to implement its
promises and threats.
To clarify, the benets of landpower we describe below exist when
the overriding political objective is to defend an ally from external
aggression. These benets might not exist if the goal is to support a
domestically unpopular regime face its internal enemies. In such cases,
landpower could become a liability if its presence can provoke resentment
from the local population and become a target for counterinsurgency.
Strategists and international security scholars have long understood
that putting ground troops on an ally’s territory is one of the most
16 On how past actions shape credibility and thus crisis negotiations, see Alex Weisiger and
Keren Yarhi-Milo, “Revisiting Reputation: How Past Actions Matter in International Politics,”
International Organization 69, no. 2 (2015): 473-495.
17 Paul Huth, “Extended Deterrence and the Outbreak of War,” American Political Science Review
82, no. 2 (1988): 423-443.
18 Dan Reiter, “Security Commitments and Nuclear Proliferation,” Foreign Policy Analysis 14,
no. 1 (2014): 61-80. See also Philipp C. Bleek and Eric B. Lorber, “Security Guarantees and Allied
Nuclear Proliferation,” Journal of Conict Resolution 58, no. 3 (2014): 429-454
19 Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conict (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1960): Chapter 8. Mira Rapp-Hooper, Absolute Alliances: Extended Deterrence in International Politics,
PhD Dissertation (Columbia: Columbia University, 2014), Chapter 1.
The efficacy of Landpower Hunzeker and Lanoszka 21
effective ways the United States can make itself look like a willing part-
ner.20 Forward-based troops deployed in areas of vital interest do three
things. First, they are a tangible indicator of American willingness to
ght. Allies and adversaries can observe troop deployments and track
troop levels. Ground troops are also expensive to garrison overseas.
That the United States bears many of these costs offers further evidence
it is serious about its commitments.
Second, forward-based ground troops demonstrate the United
States has “skin in the game.” They soothe fears the United States will
abandon its ally in a crisis by intertwining American lives with allied
interests. When ground troops are on allied soil, even a small conict
where key American interests are at stake could kill Americans. Allies
and adversaries know the loss of American life will trigger calls for
retribution, making it hard for American leaders to retreat. Accordingly,
strategists argue ground troops are one of the most important ways
the United States can make its promise to use nuclear weapons more
Third, basing troops overseas also makes it more difcult to stay
neutral in a crisis because ground troops are not easy to withdraw. Ships
and aircraft can sail and y away on short notice, but it takes consider-
able time and money to re-deploy thousands of ground troops. More
importantly, extracting ground troops during a crisis entails serious
reputational costs. Thomas Schelling captured this logic when discuss-
ing American troops in West Berlin:
..[t]he reason we got committed to Berlin, and stayed committed, is that
if we let the Soviets scare us out of Berlin we would lose face with the
Soviet (and communist Chinese) leaders. It would be bad enough to have
Europeans, Latin Americans, and Asians think that we are immoral or cow-
ardly. It would be far worse to lose our reputation with the Soviets.22
Recent scholarship supports these arguments, demonstrating that
troop deployments discourage the allies who host them from acquir-
ing nuclear weapons.23 Indeed, some states have responded to troop
withdrawals by trying to acquire nuclear weapons.24 Historians have
shown South Korea began its nuclear program shortly after President
Richard Nixon withdrew the 7th US Infantry Division from the Korean
20 For a similar argument on landpower’s benets for deterrence, see John R. Deni, “Strategic
Landpower in the Indo-Asia-Pacic,” Parameters 43, no. 3 (Autumn 2013): 77-86.
21 Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Inuence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966 ),
23 Major and unforeseen troop withdrawals make affected allies more likely to consider at least
nuclear weapons acquisition. See Alexander Lanoszka, Protection States Trust?: Major Power Patronage,
Nuclear Behavior, and Alliance Dynamics, PhD Dissertation (Princeton: Princeton University, 2014).
Reiter, “Security Commitments.” On alliances and nuclear proliferation, see Avery Goldstein,
Deterrence and Security in the 21st Century: China, Britain, France, and the Enduring Legacy of the Nuclear
Proliferation (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000); Bleek and Lorber, “Security Guarantees”;
and Nuno P. Monteiro and Alexandre Debs, “The Strategic Logic of Nuclear Proliferation,”
International Security, 39, no. 2 (2014): 7-51.
24 Lanoszka, “Protection States Trust?”
45(4) Winter 2015-16
peninsula.25 Even West Germany, amid indications the United States was
going to reduce its military presence in Western Europe, entered into a
trilateral initiative with France and Italy to develop nuclear weapons.26
In both cases, troop redeployments signaled the United States was no
longer heeding the security interests of those allies who still confronted
more powerful adversaries.
Allies and adversaries must also believe the United States can win
on the battleeld if deterrence is to work.27 Landpower is a crucial tool
for demonstrating America’s ability to prevail. Specically, when the
United States puts well-trained and well-equipped ground troops on an
ally’s territory, it substantially improves that ally’s ability to defeat an
invasion or seize an adversary’s territory. Much of this ability derives
from ve capabilities unique to landpower.
First, ground forces are more survivable than air and sea forces.
When employed correctly, ground troops can disperse, entrench, and
camouage.28 Consequently, they are notoriously hard to nd and eradi-
cate, even when an invader has precision weapons—a lesson the United
States repeatedly learned in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Second, ground forces have relatively more staying power than air
and sea forces. Aircraft and ships must routinely stop ghting and return
to a safe harbor or aireld for fuel and maintenance.29 Though ground
units also require logistical support, they can operate at the limits of
human endurance and can resupply while engaged in combat.
Third, landpower has a powerful psychological effect on invaders
and defenders. Invaders know ground forces are inherently difcult to
nd and destroy. When defending ground troops are well trained and
well equipped, attacking troops know they will suffer heavier casual-
ties. Similarly, the presence of well-trained and well-equipped ground
troops can stiffen the resolve of a defender’s political leaders. As long
25 Lyong Choi, “The First Nuclear Crisis on the Korean Peninsula, 1975-1976,” Cold War
History 14, no. 1 (2014): 71-90. See also Sung Gol Hong, “The Search for Deterrence: Park’s Nuclear
Option,” in The Park Chung Hee Era: The Transformation of South Korea, eds. Byung-Kook Kim and
Ezra F. Vogel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011) and Seung-Young Kim, “Security,
Nationalism, and the Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons and Missiles: The South Korean Case, 1970-82,”
Diplomacy and Statecraft 12, no. 4 (2001): 53-80.
26 Leopoldo Nuti, “The F-I-G Story Revisited,” Storia delle Relazioni Internationali 13, no. 1
(1998): 69-100. Historian Hubert Zimmermann writes that Adenauer saw American troops as “the
fundamental symbol of the American commitment to Europe.” Idem, Money and Security: Troops,
Monetary Policy, and West Germany’s Relations with the United States and Britain, 1950-1971 (Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002): 90. The United States repeatedly threatened troop with-
drawals from West Germany during the 1960s, thereby complicating efforts to get West Germany
to make international commitments not to acquire nuclear weapons. For one view of these diplo-
matic travails, see Gene Gerzhoy, “Alliance Coercion and Nuclear Restraint: How the United States
Thwarted West Germany’s Nuclear Ambitions,” International Security 39, no. 4 (2015): 91-129.
27 Steven Metz, “Has the United States Lost the Ability to Fight a Major War,” Parameters 45,
no. 2 (Summer 2015): 7-12.
28 Biddle, Military Power, 28-51.
29 On the fuel and armament limitations of modern American warships, see Charles C. Swicker,
“Theater Ballistic Missile Defense From the Sea: Issues for the Maritime Component Commander,”
The Newport Papers, no. 14 (August 1998): 30-35. For a similar analysis of drones and ghter aircraft,
see Martin Edmonds, “Air power and Taiwan’s security,” in Martin Edmonds and Michael Tsai, eds.,
Taiwan’s Security and Air Power: Taiwan’s Defense Against the Air Threat from Mainland China (London,
UK: Routledge, 2004): 15.
The efficacy of Landpower Hunzeker and Lanoszka 23
as a defender still has forces on the ground, it has the means to resist
occupation and the total loss of sovereignty.
Fourth, only landpower can hold and control territory. Although air-
craft, ships, missiles, and satellites can destroy targets on the ground and
deny access to an area, they cannot subsequently exercise control. Only
ground troops can do so and, more importantly, subsequently pacify
hostile populations.30 At a minimum, landpower is a crucial comple-
ment to air and sea power. The presence of coalition ground defenses
means invaders must deploy ground troops of its own. These invading
ground troops will then be vulnerable to interdiction and destruction
by coalition air and sea forces, especially as they are transported into
theater. Collectively, forward-based American ground troops make it
more costly to invade an American ally, deterring invasion ex ante and
lowering its chances of success ex post.
Finally, given its ability to seize and control territory, landpower
allows the United States to threaten an adversary and its overseas hold-
ings with invasion. By holding an adversary’s territory at risk, landpower
is therefore an important tool for preventing adversaries from gaining
a competitive advantage. In peacetime, the threat of invasion compels
adversaries to invest in defensive measures, consuming resources that
could otherwise be spent on offensive capabilities.31 In wartime, the
threat of an American retaliatory campaign means adversaries must hold
troops and equipment in reserve.
Recommendations for US Defense Policy
Three policy considerations ow from our analysis.
1) Maintain the Ability to Attack On Land
Credible security guarantees depend on allies and adversaries
believing that American ground forces can ght and win on the ground
in a theater dominated by precision and A2AD weapons. To clarify
why precision and A2AD weapons threaten landpower, consider how
long-range precision weapons could neutralize or disrupt forward-based
troops in the earliest stages of a conict. Command and control nodes,
motor pools, troop barracks, supply dumps, and large combat forma-
tions are especially vulnerable to such strikes. By pre-emptively hitting
these centers of gravity, an adversary can disorganize, disorient and
demoralize a coalition ground force before reinforcements arrive. Even
if forward-based ground troops withstand an initial precision strike,
A2AD weapons will make it harder to reinforce and resupply them.
Anti-access weapons can prevent aircraft carriers, troop transports,
and maritime prepositioned forces from getting close enough to launch
airstrikes, seize beachheads, or ofoad gear. Meanwhile, area-denial
weapons make it harder to establish reasonably safe aerial and seaports
of disembarkation and allow adversaries to harass and attrite resupply
30 We acknowledge the difculties in pacifying a hostile population. Our point is simply that
human ground troops are far more effective at the difcult task of providing security and building
trust than aircraft, ships and remote-controlled vehicles.
31 An adversary can use defensive weapons for offensive purposes. Nevertheless, the doctrinal
and training requirements for attacking and defending are different.
32 See footnote 1 for sources that describe the A2AD challenge facing the United States.
45(4) Winter 2015-16
Several intriguing proposals address the challenges raised by preci-
sion and A2AD weapons. John Gordon IV and John Matsumura suggest
that ground troops can maintain local security and missile defense for
air bases and naval resupply points. They can also support maneuver
operations by using attack helicopters and drones to protect ships; and
long-range rockets to suppress enemy air defenses.33 A n d r e w K r e p i n e v i c h
envisions an even more important role for landpower in East Asia. He
wants to build a chain of linked coastal defenses throughout the so-
called First Island Chain, making A2AD China’s problem. Ground
troops would operate early warning detection networks; lay coastal
mines; and re long-range torpedoes, short-range missile interceptors,
and anti-ship cruise missiles. In the event of an invasion, American
ground troops could serve as the backbone for allied defenders.34
These ideas suggest fascinating options for keeping landpower viable
on future battleelds. Nevertheless, they primarily articulate a defensive
role for landpower. American forces must still be capable of undertaking
offensive operations around the world. Having the ability to attack on
land does four things. First, it allows the United States to deter through
the threat of punishment. Second, it prevents adversaries from gaining
a competitive advantage by focusing resources on offensive measures.
Third, it provides a hedge against salami slicing and other fait accompli
strategies that adversaries might otherwise be tempted to use. Fourth,
as Krepinevich points out, defensive operations in an A2AD environ-
ment may still require the United States to seize peripheral territory to
preempt an adversary and to draw it out of its bastion.
2) Allies are Hard to Reassure “On the Cheap”
Budget constraints and shifting strategic priorities have caused the
United States to reduce drastically its ground forces at home and abroad.
The US Army’s share of the defense budget is now at its lowest level in
15 years. If current trends persist, the Army’s budget share will shrink
to pre-Vietnam War levels. 35 Its active duty end-strength will drop to
450,000 soldiers by scal year 2018, representing the smallest active duty
Army in nearly seven decades.36
To maintain its overseas commitments in the face of these signi-
cant reductions, the Army has necessarily started to rely on rotational
forces and prepositioned gear.37 Unfortunately, such practices may be
less likely to reassure allies or deter adversaries. Both know it is easier,
politically and logistically, to halt a rotational program than it is to
withdraw permanently based forces. In other words, rotational forces
are a less costly signal than overseas bases. To the degree allies and
adversaries believe it is now easier for US leaders to renege in a crisis,
American credibility will decline. Prepositioned-gear programs are even
less likely to assure or deter. While allies and adversaries know having
33 John Gordon and John Matsumura, The Army’s Role in Overcoming Anti-Access and Area Denial
Challenges (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2013), 21-32.
34 Andrew Krepinevich, “How to Deter China: The Case for Archipelagic Defense,” Foreign
Affairs 92, no. 2 (March/April 2015): 78-86.
35 Michael O’Hanlon, The Future of Land Warfare (Washington, DC: Brookings, 2015), 23.
36 See footnote 5 for sources on these planned reductions.
37 Kimberly Field, James Learmont and Jason Charland, “Regionally Aligned Forces: Business
Not as Usual,” Parameters 33, no. 3 (Autumn 2013): 55-63; Julian Barnes, “US Army Chief Plans Steps
to Mitigate Reduction of American Forces in Europe,” Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2015.
The efficacy of Landpower Hunzeker and Lanoszka 25
gear in theater will make it easier to deploy American ground forces in
a crisis, they also know prepositioned-gear does not make it more likely
that the United States will intervene as promised. In some respects,
prepositioned-gear may even be tantamount to cheap talk in the minds
of allies and adversaries. Such perceptions are especially likely if the
United States prepositions antiquated or poorly maintained equipment.
A2AD threats make it even harder for the United States to assure or
deter with prepositioned-gear. Given the degree to which the United
States has allowed its forcible entry capability to atrophy, there is no
guarantee US ground troops will be able to arrive in theater, link up
with their prepositioned equipment and deploy into combat formations
without absorbing unacceptable casualties.
The United States should therefore reevaluate its decision to cut
deeply into Army force structure. Although we are not in a position to
specify the Army’s ideal size, any end-strength that forces Army leaders
to substitute rotational and regionally aligned forces for permanently
based units should be considered too small. Given such considerations,
an end-strength of approximately 500,000 active-duty soldiers seems
more appropriate given the Army’s strategic requirements.38 It should
likewise consider maintaining more forward-based troops in Europe
than might seem strictly justied by the so-called “pivot to Asia.” We
admit to the difculty of pursuing this course of action while the 2011
Budget Control Act (BCA) remains in effect. Increased reliance on Total
Force may be one way to minimize the inevitable opportunity cost of
maintaining a larger ground force.
3) Prepare for a Major Shift in Ground Doctrine
Maintaining the ability to attack on land in the face of precision
and A2AD weapons will require profound changes to existing doctrine.
Operational concepts, including the Joint Operational Access Concept
and the Joint Concept for Entry Operations, are critical steps in the right
direction because they identify a framework for innovation.39 However,
history suggests when it comes to doctrinal change, the devil is in the
details. History offers an example in the nineteenth-century repower
revolution, which also made it easier to defend than attack. Europe’s
armies nearly annihilated themselves trying to gure out how to attack
during the First World War. The difference between success and failure
on the Western Front turned at least as much on tactics, techniques,
and procedures as it did on broad operational concepts.40 Accordingly,
(although it is important to spend on mobility/counter-mobility assets)
research and development in the areas of forcible entry from air, space,
and sea, distributed land operations, and tactical experimentation must
remain a priority.
38 John Evans, Getting it Right: Determining the Optimal Active Component End Strength of the All-
Volunteer Army to Meet the Demands of the 21st Century (Washington, DC: Brookings, June 2015).
39 US Department of Defense, Joint Operational Access Concept (Washington, DC: US Department
of Defense, January 17, 2012); US Department of Defense, Joint Concept for Entry Operations
(Washington, DC: US Department of Defense, April 7, 2014).
40 Michael Hunzeker, Perfecting War: The Organizational Sources of Doctrinal Innovation, PhD
Dissertation (Princeton: Princeton University, 2013), Chapters 4-7.
45(4) Winter 2015-16
The rebalance to Asia, the drawdown in Afghanistan, war weariness
at home, and the BCA have led American defense planners to prioritize
sea and air power over landpower. Such shifts are sensible, but they
should not obscure the important relationship between landpower and
American credibility. Landpower—especially in the form of forward
deployed ground troops—helps make American security guarantees
believable. Ground troops have this effect because they symbolize
willingness (by acting as a tripwire) and possess ability (by being effec-
tive in combat). Precision weapons and A2AD assets target landpower
capabilities because the former lets adversaries destroy forward-based
troops from afar while the latter makes it difcult to reinforce them.
These capabilities are as much a threat to landpower in Europe as they
are in East Asia and the Middle East. As allies and adversaries around
the world begin to doubt the combat effectiveness of American ground
troops, they are more likely to nd American credibility suspect. For
these reasons, the effectiveness of American landpower must be assured.
Michael Allen Hunzeker
Michael Allen Hunzeker is an assistant professor at George Mason University’s
School of Public, Government and International Affairs. Michael’s research
focuses on military innovation, war termination, and simulation design. He
holds a Ph.D., M.P.A., and M.A. from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson
School; and an A.B. from the University of California, Berkeley. Michael is a
Major in the United States Marine Corps Reserve.
Alexander Lanoszka is a post-doctoral fellow at the Dickey Center for
International Understanding at Dartmouth College. Previously, he was a
Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow at the Security Studies Program
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research focuses on alliance
politics, nuclear strategy, and war termination. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from
Princeton University; and a B.A. from the University of Windsor.