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Army 86

The Army 86 division design was never made operational or tested in combat. Division 86 was not light enough to deploy and not heavy enough to fight heavy forces in open terrain. Attempting to meet both requirements prevented the design from succeeding. However, the Infantry Division 86 design was the basis for the Army's later search for a viable light division.

In September 1978, the TRADOC commander, General Starry, undertook the first of the major Army 86 reorganization studies, the Division 86 project. It focused on the Army's primary fighting unit - the heavy division, which existed in two types, armor and mechanized infantry. The major first part of what would become a four-year effort, Division 86 had been preceded two years earlier by a historically-based study of division design carried out by General Starry's predecessor, General DePuy, in 1976. This effort, known as the Division Restructuring Study, or DRS, was conducted under the direction of Lt. Col. John Foss.

The lessons of the 1973 Mideast War, noted earlier, that proved so consequential in training reform and doctrinal change, had had similar impact on thinking regarding Army tactical organization. Did the current ROAD divisions have the structural strength and the right design to meet the heavily armed modernized forces that had evolved by the early 1970s? The assumption of the 1976 study and the Army 86 inquiries that followed was that those organizations, despite strengthening over the years, could no longer efficiently harness the combat power of the weaponry they possessed. New systems in development and scheduled for production in the 1980s, such as the M1 tank, a new infantry combat vehicle, and an advanced attack helicopter, would present an even greater leap ahead in combat power.

DePuy's heavy division concept, set forth in the DRS and approved by the Chief of Staff of the Army in January 1977 for testing, advanced bold design ideas. They included smaller companies and smaller but more maneuver battalions - up to fifteen - to better manage increased firepower. Other innovations were smaller three-tank platoons, a new TOW2 missile company in each maneuver battalion, 8-howitzer artillery batteries, and other changes. Evaluated during 1977-1978 in tests in the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, the Division Restructuring Study concept did not survive. The radical change it embodied in span of control, doubts about its test methodology, and other concerns led General Starry to undertake study of the heavy division anew in much greater analytical depth.

Starry's Division 86 Study focused on the heavy division as the element of the fighting Army critical to the prime strategic theater of central Europe. Starry approached analysis of the division problem by means of battlefield functions such as target servicing and reconstitution, grouped under his Central Battle concept and tied to the doctrinal notion of disrupting the enemy second-echelon forces. Within that framework, planners developed operational concepts to take advantage of the increased combat power of the new materiel systems coming on by 1986 and the organizations that would employ them.

The Division 86 design effort and most of the Army 86 Studies that followed were carried out by a TRADOC-wide force design network consisting of functional task forces at the centers and schools. The Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth drew the effort together. Division 86 was an extensive effort, employing analyses and war gaming of alternative structures and side studies. Its depth may have been unprecedented in Army tactical unit reorganization.

In brief, the Division 86 heavy division, much of the structure of which survived into the 1980s Army, numbered approximately 20,000 men. There were 6 tank battalions and 4 mechanized infantry battalions in its armor version, 5 and 5 in its mechanized infantry form. It added a significant new component in an air cavalry attack brigade, and it expanded the division artillery with batteries of 8 howitzers. It departed the World War II and ROAD triangular principle by strengthening each maneuver battalion from 3 line companies to 4 and adding TOW missile companies and other changes.

Work on other Army 86 elements began in the fall of 1979 in the Infantry Division 86, Corps 86, and Echelons Above Corps 86 Studies, completed in 1980. In August and September of that year, Army Chief of Staff General Meyer approved Division 86 for implementation, Corps 86 for planning as the base design for NATO deployment, and the echelons above corps structures for theater army force planning and design. Results of the Infantry Division 86 Study, focused on the nonmechanized or straight infantry division, were less satisfactory. The essential problem was that a strategically and numerically light design was sought while a heavy NATO reinforcement mission was imposed.

In August 1980, the Army 86 planners began further light force studies. Those efforts reflected a growing concern that, however serious was the challenge in NATO Europe, U.S. Army forces had to be equally prepared for rapid deployment to meet contingencies in the non-NATO world. Since the Vietnam withdrawal, and up to the very close of the 1970s, U.S. national and defense policies had paid little attention to the prospect of U.S. military action elsewhere in the world. For the Army, such policies meant an almost exclusive focus on the development of heavy forces. Indeed, it was only in 1979, with the Afghanistan and Iranian crises, that that tide was reversed and a search for lightness in Army force design began. During 1979-1980, national and defense leadership became increasingly alert to the need for flexible contingency forces including more rapidly deployable light divisions.

In 1980 the design dilemma of the infantry division moved the Chief of Staff of the Army to establish a "High Technology Test Bed" in the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Wash. His idea was to test concepts toward development of a lighter "high technology light division." TRADOC and Army Materiel Command planners cooperated with the division's parent commands - I Corps and the Army Forces Command - in that effort. Though valuable ideas emerged from the test bed, such as new command post concepts and palletized loading procedures, no high technology light division eventuated. In the midst of the major modernization and buildup of the 1980s, the significant funding requirements for the equipment needed to realize the basic concept proved unobtainable.

During 1981-1982, TRADOC pursued work in the other light portions of Army 86 - in the Contingency Corps 86 and Echelons Above Contingency Corps 86 Studies and in redesign plans for the airborne and air assault divisions. Decisions on those final Army 86 efforts, however, were deferred pending a solution to the light infantry division problem. The contingency corps and echelons above contingency corps studies ended as force design exercises only.

The infantry division dilemma was part of the larger problem of the whole Army 86 design effort. The heaviness of its major structures, needed to meet the armored and mechanized infantry threat posed by the Warsaw Pact, ran aground on an inflexibly capped Active Army end strength prevailing in the early 1980s. Indeed, that end strength, at 780,000 personnel, was not subsequently raised. As the transition to Division 86 began in U.S. Army Europe and the Forces Command heavy divisions, there was not enough Active Army strength to accommodate it. That was true despite a large admixture of reserve component units at corps level and above, as well as reserve roundout brigades and battalions in several Forces Command divisions. Downward restructuring of the heavy division during 1982 did not materially affect the impasse.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:34:13 ZULU