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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Backgrounder: U.S. Army Force Restructuring, "Modularity," and Iraq

Council on Foreign Relations

Prepared by: Michael Moran, Executive Editor
September 14, 2007


The U.S. Army, built around divisions of ten thousand to fifteen thousand soldiers since World War I, began a radical reform of its organizational structure in 2004 that designates the much smaller “brigade”—with three thousand to five thousand soldiers—as the linchpin of the army’s structure. The reforms, which took on new urgency as the strain of maintaining a large combat force in Iraq grew, reflect the fact that a unit of the size of today’s “Brigade Combat Teams” (BCTs) can bring to bear the destructive power equal to that of a much larger division of decades past. At the end of the reform process—by early 2008—the army will field forty-three BCTs, which operate independently, in comparison to the thirty-three brigades available in 2004, which under the old structure were designed to operate primarily as part of a division.

The new brigades are intended to be “modular,” meaning their smaller battalion- and company-level components can be mixed and matched by the brigade’s commander to suit the particular mission. (This Backgrounder provides a fuller examination of modern military unit structures.) In theory, the new brigades require fewer support troops, making them more self-sufficient and, theoretically, increasing the percentage of forces available to deploy in combat roles. In practice, some experts wonder whether the unforeseen length of the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan will blunt the value of some of the reforms.

More Deployable Combat Power

The architects of the modular army estimate the reforms will produce a force with a 30 percent increase in deployable combat personnel and a 50 percent increase in the “ready pool” of deployable National Guard and Army Reserve forces.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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