Department of the Army Historical Summary: FY 1989


The Army of the 1980s

Emerging from the Vietnam War with its manpower and materiel base sorely in need of revitalization and with the psychological scars of an unpopular war still fresh, the Army of the mid-1970s was hard pressed to carry out its strategic missions. Most of the Army's strategic reserve was depleted during operations in Southeast Asia and had to be reconstituted. Frontline units in Korea and Europe had suffered a decade of neglect because they also had been used as a reservoir of combat leaders, specialists, and equipment for operations in Vietnam. In addition to its ravaged force structure, the Army had deferred modernization of weapons and equipment to help defray the costs of the extended conflict in Vietnam. The austere military budgets of the post-Vietnam period exacerbated these conditions and compelled the Army to reduce its strength and curtail training. The turbulence engendered by declining manpower requirements and adjustments in force structure, combined with what many in the Army perceived as a crisis in professionalism and morale, contributed to the loss of many seasoned noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and officers. The service's concomitant transition to an all-volunteer force heightened the concern of the Army leadership regarding the quality of the force. Nearly one of every two volunteers who joined the All-Volunteer Army was either a high school dropout or scored in the lowest acceptable category of the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). Laboring under the unflattering sobriquet of a "hollow Army," Army leaders set their sights on rebuilding the Army during the 1980s.

That decade witnessed the revitalization of nearly every aspect of the Army. Beginning in the late 1970s the Army entered a period of ferment in the evolution of doctrine, highlighted by its espousal of AirLand Battle doctrine. It was a period in which the Army adopted the "Army of Excellence" force design, with its mix of heavy and light divisions and special operations forces. Spurred by the growth of Soviet land forces and

advances in arms technology, the Army began ambitious weapons and equipment modernization programs as funds for research and development and procurement were increased during the Reagan administration. The fruits of these efforts became apparent by the late 1980s as several major items of equipment — the M1 Abrams main battle tank, the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, new attack and utility helicopters and rocket launching systems, and improved air defense and antitank weaponry — entered the force.

At the same time, the Army began reconstituting badly depleted war reserve stocks. It enlarged and improved training sites and programs and established combat training centers where maneuver units could engage in realistic force-on-force training. Significant strides were made in applying new technologies related to computer simulation and lasers to support training and enhance information management, communication, and command and control functions. As Army leaders stressed leadership and professionalism, and as an Army career became more attractive, the caliber of manpower improved. This change was reflected in the sharp decrease in the percentage of recruits that comprised the lowest acceptable category of enlistees, from 57 percent in 1980 to 6 percent in 1988, and a rise in the percentage of high school graduates among volunteers, from 54 to 93 percent. Throughout the decade, Army leaders also displayed a greater interest in the quality of life for service members and their families and for retirees.

The qualitative improvements of the 1980s, however, were achieved at the expense of gains in the strength of the active component. While its strength increased during the late 1970s, it declined from 781,000 in 1980 to 772,000 at the start of FY 1989. The Army sought to preserve the strength of forward-deployed combat forces and combat-ready forces in the United States. As the Army forces designated first to fight, they were also the first to modernize. At the same time, the service restructured its heavy divisions to reduce their size, but not their lethality. The Army also enhanced its capacity for rapid deployment of striking forces by organizing several light divisions and enlarging its special operations forces.

Commensurate with changes in the size and structure of the active component, a significant transformation occurred in the roles and strength of the Army's reserve components, the U.S. Army Reserve (USAR) and the Army National Guard (ARNG). Their strengths increased; the USAR grew from 225,000 to 321,000, and the Guard from 389,000 to 457,000. Under the Army's Total Force Concept many combat support and combat service support missions that could not be fulfilled by active forces because of strength limitations were shifted to the reserves. The reserve components assumed an even more meaningful place in the Army's readiness and mobilization posture as certain reserve combat units were select-


ed to "round out" active divisions with brigades or battalions. A variety of programs that affiliated reserve units with the active component gave tangible meaning to the idea of a Total Force.

Congressionally imposed strength ceilings on active forces, a leveling off and then decline in defense spending in the mid- and late 1980s, and the tempering of modernization programs for economic reasons prevented the Army from realizing its manpower and modernization goals. Nevertheless, on the eve of FY 1989 the Army was a profoundly different institution from what it had been a decade earlier. Judged by the quality of its enlistees, its favorable recruiting and retention rates, and vast improvements in training, the Army was a well-trained, ready, and motivated force. Its combat potential, compared with Soviet ground forces by the Force Evaluation (FORCE) Study, 1988/1989 (formerly MICAF, Measuring Improved Capability of Army Forces), also had experienced substantial gains during the 1980s.

The great complexity of such comparisons required consideration of readiness, mobilization capacity, training, command and control, cohesion, and other factors. The FORCE study suggested that between 1985 and 1988 the combat potential of the active component (18 divisions including roundout units, 5 separate brigades, and 3 armored cavalry regiments) improved 37 percent. The combat potential of the reserve components (10 divisions, 16 separate brigades, and 4 armored cavalry regiments) rose 45 percent. For the Total Army the increase was 39 percent. The increases were attributed to modernization of weapons and equipment with items such as the M1A1 tank, the 155-mm. self-propelled howitzer, the Multiple Launch Rocket System, the M2/3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, new dry cargo and tanker trucks, and a variety of improved combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) equipment. Other comparisons suggested that American forces, at best, were staying even with the previously stronger Soviet forces.

The changes that occurred in the Army in the 1980s also had troublesome aspects. Rapidly changing doctrine and operational concepts raised several issues: How well prepared was the Army for low-intensity conflict? What was the future of light infantry forces and the motorized division? Could heavy and light forces operate in tandem, and how should they be organized for combined arms operations? Other concerns centered on such perennial issues as the readiness of the reserve components and the adequacy of close air support.

The quickened pace of modernization and the introduction of technologically sophisticated and complex weapons prompted questions about the average soldier's ability to operate and maintain such weapons effectively, thus frustrating advances in doctrine and tactics. These advanced


weapons, in the view of some, dramatically increased operating, maintenance, and training costs and siphoned off resources from other areas. Equipping battalions with the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, according to one study, increased operating and support costs 45 percent, and those costs for battalions armed with the M1 tank rose 69 percent. The cost per flying hour for the Apache helicopter was twice that of the older Cobra, while that of the Black Hawk was four times the Hueys. Operation and maintenance funds, moreover, had not kept pace with the rate of inflation since 1985 and were reduced by 5 percent in FY 1988.

While the Army succeeded in modernizing its force structure, it began to feel the pinch of more austere defense budgets in FY 1989. Despite recent reforms in the development and acquisition processes, modernization was still costly and occasionally faltered. Once promising weapons systems such as the Aquila remotely piloted vehicle (RPV), the Roland air defense system, and the York divisional air defense gun (DIVAD) were programs gone sour. As the Army's developmental programs came under increasing scrutiny by officials of the Department of Defense (DOD) and Congress, questions of cost and priorities assumed a new urgency. Had the Army, some analysts asked, committed itself to excessive high-cost programs that it could not afford? For many developmental projects in FY 1989, the Army faced a choice of scaling down programs, settling for fewer enhancements, acquiring fewer items, or stretching out the developmental process. All of those courses had implications for doctrine, force structure, and readiness. Underlying those options, however, was a question of yet greater import: the priority that the Army should accord to modernization in relation to preserving its force structure.

In FY 1989 the Army faced a predicament common to armed forces in peacetime — a widening gulf between strategic commitments and resources. The Army's strategic missions, which derived from Title 10 U.S. Code, Section 3062, were undiminished in FY 1989. Statutory provisions stipulated that the Army "be organized, trained, and equipped primarily for prompt and sustained land combat operations" and was "responsible for the preparation of land forces necessary for the effective prosecution of war." Specific strategic missions support American national interests and national security policy and strategy. As the Army entered FY 1989 its missions were to deter and, if necessary, defeat a Warsaw Pact attack on the nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and otherwise maintain NATO's territorial integrity and security; to deny Soviet or hostile control of the Persian Gulf and associated oil resources; to defend vital U.S. interests in the Pacific; to support allies in Asia, Latin America, and Africa; to maintain a strategic reserve capable of countering threats in the Western Hemisphere; and to respond to other threats to American interests anywhere in the world.


Surveying the Army's role on the eve of FY 1989, General Carl E. Vuono, the Army Chief of Staff, took satisfaction that in the past year the Army had demonstrated clearly its unique strategic role in national security. The readiness and capabilities of conventional and nonstrategic nuclear Army forces committed to NATO's forward defense, he noted, had contributed significantly to achieving nuclear strategic force reductions with the Soviet Union. The participation of Army aviation and air defense elements in operations in the Persian Gulf to protect allied shipping and also the emergency deployment of troops to Honduras at the latter government's request, General Vuono observed, confirmed the Army's readiness to support regional contingency operations and its capacity to engage in low-intensity conflict.

The Army leadership, in General Vuono's view, faced several major challenges in FY 1989. It was imperative to maintain a focus on the Army 's warfighting capabilities, to include its strategic reserve forces. The Army, he stressed, must show that it was ready to execute national strategy at a reasonable level of risk and convincingly justify its requirements. The Army of FY 1989 was a dynamic force trained and ready to fight and win any where in the world while adapting, as a strategic force, for the next century.

In no small part this effort entailed promoting a fully accurate image of the Army 's current trained and ready status and its confidence in its future. To promote a favorable image of itself, the Army resorted to several forums. The U.S. A my War College (USAWC) Current Affairs Panel consisted of a team of USAWC students who visited thirty to thirty-five academic institutions annually. Notable among publications intended to improve the Army 's profile was Army Focus, a semiannual publication inaugurated in FY 1989 at General Vuono's direction. The Chief of Staff envisioned Army Focus as a forum to air key issues that faced the Army and as a means of keeping Army leaders abreast of those issues to help them tell the Army 's story and safeguard its position as a vital strategic force.

General Vuono set the Army's agenda for FY 1989 in a widely distributed paper, "A Strategic Force for the 1990s and Beyond." The Army, he contended, had unique and irreplaceable roles in national strategy and constituted the "cornerstone of our national military strategy." General Vuono noted that all of the nation's potential adversaries had large armies that could dominate terrain and assets vital to the United States. The Army's strategic mandate, the Chief of Staff stated, stemmed from an appreciation of this threat and from the assumption that the requirement to meet the land force threat could be met only by the United States Army. From this strategic verity, General Vuono called for an Army, regardless of its size, that was versatile, deployable, and lethal. That Army must be pre-


pared to fight and win in any theater and across the entire spectrum of conflict if deterrence failed. This concept, General Vuono observed, lay at the very heart of our national survival.

The realization of this mandate, General Vuono believed, was fraught with uncertainties. The Army's most substantial recent accomplishment had been improving the quality of the force, an achievement that required continued support. Likewise, the Army's force structure was "perilously small" relative to the Army's commitments. Entering the fifth straight year of budgetary decline, the prospect of an even smaller Army, compounded by a diminishing reservoir of potential recruits, posed a formidable challenge to Army leaders. They sought to maintain the quality and versatility of the Army's personnel, sustain the forward momentum of modernization, and avert the diminution of future combat capabilities by short-sighted economies. The Army's ability to fulfill its strategic mandate was complicated by the rapidity with which the strategic balance was changing through arms control and arms reduction measures. Army leaders whole-heartedly supported these measures in FY 1989, but they cautioned that such measures should be part of an integrated national security strategy that did not inadvertently reduce the Army's ability to carry out its strategic missions.

To guide the Army through FY 1989 and into the next decade, General Vuono enunciated "six imperatives" that Secretary of the Army Michael P. W. Stone previously had outlined. The imperatives reflected a corporate vision of the Army by its senior military and civilian leaders. First in importance was the imperative to maintain a high-quality force by recruiting and retaining educated, highly motivated, and ambitious men and women who possessed leadership potential. This required not only tangible incentives to attract and retain the best people but a professional environment that induced a desire to serve in the Army. To maintain dynamic, realistic doctrine, the second imperative was to ensure that doctrine, while appropriate for contemporary warfighting requirements, was reformulated for the battlefield of the future. General Vuono's third imperative, to maintain a force mix in the Army compatible with requirements of national security, was closely related to the evolution of doctrine. An Army of heavy, light, and special operations forces had to be configured into combat packages appropriate to the threats that the nation faced. Adjusting structure, design, and mix, the Chief of Staff added, must always be based on the demands of national security, not on domestic budget pressures.

The conduct of tough, realistic, mission-oriented training was the fourth imperative. General Vuono deemed it the cornerstone of readiness and the basis for perpetuating the Army as a credible strategic force. Likewise the continued modernization of the Army, the fifth imperative, was to be carried out to improve our warfighting capability in response to


the modernization of potential adversaries. Although highly susceptible to fiscal constraints, modernization was all-embracing and pertained to acquisition of major systems and the entire range of personnel, organizational, training, and doctrinal requirements needed to create an effective fighting force. While modernization plans would require adjustment in the future to get the most warfighting value for each dollar invested, General Vuono believed that these plans were a comprehensive road map to harness technology as a significant force multiplier. The development of competent and confident leaders throughout the Army, the sixth and final imperative, closed the loop with the first of General Vuono's tenets. Such leaders were critical for the Army of FY 1989 and would become our legacy to the next generation.

The Chief of Staff 's vision of the Army and his six imperatives underlie a large portion of this historical summary. Much of its substance is clustered in chapters that detail the issues involved in General Vuono's six imperatives. Doctrine, force structure, modernization, manpower, training, and quality of life issues are accorded extensive coverage. Other chapters deal with related subjects. In large measure, but not exclusively, the vantage point of this historical summary is Headquarters, Department of the Army (HQDA). Policies, decisions, and actions that derive from HQDA or that emanate from elsewhere but, of necessity, must be addressed by the Army leadership are major topics of discussion. This summary seeks to convey in a broad canvas the condition of the Army in FY 1989, but it also views some subjects from the perspective of the field.

What is presented is largely a historical portrait. History, however, is process and change. The Army is a dynamic institution, and this summary seeks to convey the processes of change as they pertain to the Army. The summary touches on the origins and impetus for change, both internal and external to the Army, and places the service in the context of an uncertain and changing security environment, rapid technological advances, and changes in the larger society in which it served.



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