Only months ago, the U.S. Army was contemplating a future of decline.
The Obama administration had postured the military to become smaller but more technologically advanced, with expansion focused on special operations teams, naval and air forces, and the Big Army would be substantially reduced.
In recent years, Army leaders moved to downsize the ranks and reduce overseas presence--notably in Europe and the Korean Peninsula. Combat brigades did not train as often, and procurements of new weapons slowed to a crawl.
So when all of a sudden President Donald Trump called for a rapid buildup of U.S. ground forces, the Army experienced a whiplash of sorts. If the administration gets its way and Congress approves his defense budget proposal, the Army would receive funding to expand the force by possibly three combat brigades, and could see its fortunes rebound dramatically.
The turnaround also would be good news for the Army's industrial complex--a mix of large private-sector contractors and government-owned depots. Ohio Republican Congressman Mike Turner in 2012 led a major legislative campaign to stop the Army from shutting down its tank manufacturing plant in Lima, operated by General Dynamics Corp. And lawmakers have since inserted money each year in the Pentagon's budget for Abrams tank upgrades to keep the facility running.
Trump's buildup would require fixing old tanks to equip a larger force, creating possibly thousands of jobs in the industrial Midwest. Similarly, the Army's aviation fleet that had been running on fumes will see an influx of money that would be spent to upgrade Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, a boon to manufacturers Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
All this sounds like a good news story for an Army that was on the ropes. There is a potentially steep price to be paid, though, if the bulk of Trump's buildup dollars are spent on more soldiers and more of the same equipment that has been in the inventory for decades.
On this conundrum, the Army only has itself to blame. After its budgets ballooned post-9/11, an estimated $50 billion was wasted on next-generation development programs that were ill-conceived, mismanaged and ultimately cancelled. The existing equipment was neglected on the assumption that new systems were on the way, and when those did not materialize and budgets collapsed, "Hello readiness crisis."
The trials and tribulations of Army modernizations efforts can be seen vividly in the service's budget history,...