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Since the end of the Cold War, the National Guard and Reserves have been transformed from a strategic to an operational force because of the demands of U.S. military involvement in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and-most significantly- Afghanistan and Iraq (twice). While still providing strategic depth in the event of a major war, the often derided "weekend warriors" of yesteryear have been replaced by men and women who join the Guard and Reserves knowing full well that they will participate routinely and regularly in ongoing military missions. This transformation of the Reserve Component (RC)-comprised of approximately 1.1 million Servicemembers in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard Reserve, along with the Army and Air National Guard-has been widely acknowledged by U.S. political and military leaders. As Vice President Joe Biden said earlier this year, "This ain't your father's National Guard."1 Officials also have recognized the need for new policies that will support an operational reserve. Department of Defense (DOD) Secretary Robert Gates observed, "Since the Guard was considered in the past a strategic reserve, it was a lower priority for funding. That has changed."2 He later added, "Today, the standard is that the Guard and Reserves receive the same equipment as the Active Force."3

DOD has moved to support an operational reserve thanks in no small part to the influence of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, which released its landmark final report in January 2008. Besides developing implementation plans for the majority of the commission's recommendations, Secretary Gates issued Directive 1200.17 (October 29, 2008), Directive 1235.10 (November 26, 2008), and Instruction 1235.12 (February 4, 2010), which collectively enshrined the principles and policies required to sustain the Reserve Component as an operational force. Congress assisted by fully funding RC budget requests and by instituting legislative changes to fund requirements, such as improved medical and dental screenings, that bolster operational readiness.
California Army National Guard Soldier guides vehicles after U.S. offensive against Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Kunar Province, Afghanistan

On balance, the United States has come a long way in developing a ready, capable, and available operational reserve. DOD should be commended for its improvements during both the Bush and Obama administrations. Yet two strands of unanswered questions relating to strategic roles and missions as well as readiness and funding threaten to unravel the progress made so far. In a budgetary environment where defense spending is expected to decrease, postwar reset expenditures loom, and structural cost growth is intensifying internal competition for Pentagon resources, a fundamental question must be answered about the future of the Guard and Reserves: "Operational for what'"

Strategic Roles and Missions

The Guard and Reserves have contributed considerably to the U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over 770,000 RC Servicemembers have been activated since September 11, 2001, and half of all Army RC personnel are now combat veterans.4 President Barack Obama has highlighted specific capabilities that the RC brings to the fight.5 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen recently wrote, "We could not have accomplished what we have these past eight years were it not for our Reserve and National Guard forces."6 Through early July 2010, there were 184 Guardsmen and Reservists killed in Afghanistan and 820 killed in Iraq, representing nearly one-fifth of total U.S. military casualties in the conflicts. The numbers wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq stand at 959 and 6,642, respectively.7

Despite this sacrifice, the U.S. national security bureaucracy will not enact future policies and apportion future resources based solely on the Reserve's wartime contributions over the past decade. Current necessity does not equal continued relevance. Today, there is already talk of placing the RC "back on the shelf," or restoring it to a strictly strategic or "weekend warrior" status, in order to save the additional money required to keep it operational. This is nothing new; the RC has historically been targeted for downsizing during times of diminishing Pentagon budgets, in part due to the counterproductive yet persistent rivalry between the Active and Reserve Components. Secretary Gates may have issued the directives to sustain the RC as an operational force, but unless defense policymakers coalesce soon around a shared vision for how the RC is integral to overcoming future threats-that is, unless the "Operational for what'" question is answered convincingly-budgetary rivalries among the Services and between the Active and Reserve Components may overwhelm larger strategic considerations.

Before gazing inward at the state of U.S. planning, it helps to look outward at the policies of U.S allies and potential adversaries. Throughout the world, the most militarily powerful nations are no longer managing their reserves as a strictly strategic asset meant only to be used in the event of a "big" war. Australia, Canada, China, Israel, Japan, Russia, and Western European countries now increasingly rely on their reserves as complementary, integral, and operational portions of their "total" military force. Defense scholar Richard Weitz has labeled this transformation, which mirrors what has happened in the U.S. military, as the "de facto globalization of the Abrams Doctrine"-the concept espoused by former Army Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams, which dictates that the United States should never go to war without its Guard and Reserves, as it did by and large during the Vietnam War, because it severs the American public's connection to and support for U.S. military operations.8

As a nation whose military modernization is cause for concern in East Asia, China serves as an example of the new role played by reserves. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) incorporates its 500,000 to 800,000 reservists directly into its order of battle, requires reserve units to train alongside active-duty forces, and is increasing the funding and time devoted to reserve training and equipment. The majority of PLA reservists are former active-duty soldiers, and every reserve unit includes a small contingent of active-duty personnel that forms a continuous management nucleus between and during mobilizations. In recent years, the PLA has increasingly recruited civilian reservists who lack prior military service but possess high-tech skills with military applicability. For example, reservists employed in the chemical industry serve in chemical warfare units, and reservist telecommunications workers have been assigned to new PLA units specializing in information warfare and information operations. 9 These highly skilled reservists play a growing role in China's evolving antiaccess/ area-denial strategy of using sophisticated cyber and electronic attacks to degrade the U.S. military's battle networks, forward bases, and maritime forces and thereby inhibit U.S. power projection capabilities.

The 2010 U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) was supposed to offer a similarly forward-oriented vision of the future role of the Guard and Reserves. While comprehensive in its description of the emerging international security environment, however, the QDR spent much less time on the RC. It stated:

Prevailing in today's wars requires a Reserve Component that can serve in an operational capacity-available, trained, and equipped for predictable routine deployment. Preventing and deterring conflict will likely necessitate the continued use of some elements of the Reserve Component-especially those that possess high-demand skill sets-in an operational capacity well into the future. . . . The challenges facing the United States today and in the future will require us to employ National Guard and Reserve forces as an operational reserve to fulfill requirements for which they are well-suited in the United States and overseas. For example, the National Guard often serves at the forefront of DoD operations.10

On the positive side, the QDR codified the "likely" need for an operational reserve "well into the future," including in "preventing and deterring conflict," one of the QDR's four priority objectives. The RC's inclusion under this objective is important because it confirms that the RC has an operational role, aside from prevailing in today's wars (another of the priority objectives), in the initiatives listed under the "prevent and deter" heading. Because of the enduring phenomenon Secretary Gates calls "next-war-itis," these futureoriented initiatives are already attracting more of defense policymakers' attention and resources. This trend is sure to accelerate as U.S. forces leave Afghanistan and Iraq. From the perspective of the RC, it is positive to have gotten in at the ground level, doctrinally speaking, on the "prevent and deter" objective that is likely to dominate the post-Afghanistan/ Iraq defense planning era.

On the negative side, the QDR failed to identify which specific roles and missions it envisioned the RC fulfilling. Instead, it vaguely stated that "some elements" of the RC, especially those with "high-demand skill sets," would be needed "to fulfill requirements for which they are well-suited." But which elements, which skill sets, and which requirements' As noted above, "The National Guard often serves at the forefront of DoD operations" was all the QDR could offer as an example. Since millions of DOD civilian and military personnel undertake scores of operations every day, however, this example did not exactly narrow things down. By specifying neither the roles and missions anticipated for the RC, nor the strength, capabilities, or equipment needed to perform those roles and missions, the QDR failed to address directly one of the 17 reporting items required by law (10 U.S.C. Section 118, as amended).11

Kansas Army National Guard Soldier participating in Multinational Force and Observers on Sinai Peninsula of Egypt talks with National Guard Bureau chiefTo compensate for this disappointing omission, the QDR pledged to conduct a comprehensive Pentagon review of future RC roles and missions, including an examination of the balance between Active and Reserve forces. The last government study to devote serious thought to this issue was the 2001 QDR-directed Review of Reserve Component Contributions to National Defense published in December 2002-3 months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq intensified what would become years of heavy reliance on the Guard and Reserves. The results of the new review being spearheaded by General James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Dennis McCarthy, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, are expected by spring 2011. What conclusions will this review reach, and what will the implications be'

In its discussion of the future character of conflict, the 2010 QDR offered some helpful hints. It posited that in the 21st century, conventional U.S. military superiority will increasingly drive potential adversaries toward asymmetric responses to American power. It emphasized the nontraditional threats posed by weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorist attacks, hybrid warfare combining high- and low-tech tactics, and the loss of shared access to the global commons in sea, air, space, and cyberspace. Cueing off of this assessment, the QDR's future-oriented "prevent and deter" objective, mentioned above as a place where RC capabilities will likely be applied operationally, included such high-profile U.S. missions as:

* contributing to homeland defense and civil support capabilities
* assisting partner nations in developing and acquiring the capabilities and systems required to improve their security capacity
* maintaining awareness of global threats and opportunities, including the capabilities, values, intent, and decisionmaking of potential adversaries
* supporting U.S. diplomatic and development efforts and strengthening governance
* extending a global defense posture composed of forward-stationed forces, prepositioned equipment and facilities, and international agreements
* protecting DOD infrastructure in space and cyberspace
* building tailored regional deterrence architectures and missile defenses
* overcoming antiaccess weaponry and tactics (for example, "AirSea Battle").12

Glancing over this list, one is tempted to repurpose Vice President Biden's aforementioned assessment of the National Guard: "These ain't your father's national security missions." It is difficult to imagine a more complex or wide-ranging set of challenges. Going down the list in order, it is clear that DOD will need to strengthen such capabilities as homeland defense and disaster response; security forces assistance; intelligence (including language skills) and reconnaissance (including unmanned aircraft systems); civil and public affairs; overseas peacekeeping, logistics, and maintenance activities; space, cyber, and missile defense-applicable technical and engineering skills; and air traffic control and air control. Where will these capabilities come from'

Aside from the National Guard's obvious centrality in the homeland defense mission, large portions of these capabilities already reside in the Reserve Component. For example, the Army Reserve provides the total Army with 87 percent of its Civil Affairs capacity, more than two-thirds of its expeditionary sustainment commands, and nearly half of its military police commands and information operations groups.13 The Air Force Reserve provides the total Air Force with roughly half of its aerial port and strategic airlift capacity, not to mention approximately one-fifth of its theater airlift, intelligence, and air operations center capacity.14 The Air National Guard currently supplies 25 percent of both remotely piloted vehicle sorties and processing, exploitation, and dissemination services to the joint force.15

Navy Reserve personnel, who have provided over two-thirds of all individual Augmentees to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility since September 11, 2001, constitute 53 percent of all Navy Expeditionary Combat Center forces, which support such operations as explosive ordnance disposal, construction and engineering (Seabees), port and cargo handling, document and electronic media exploitation, and building partner security capacity.16

The National Guard State Partnership Program helps build whole-of-government security and political capacity in 62 nations allied with the United States throughout Central and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. National Guard Agribusiness Development Teams help provide postconflict economic opportunities in Afghanistan, a country that employs nearly four-fifths of its labor force in agriculture. The Guard also provides forces for Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams and Embedded Training Teams, which offer training and mentoring to the Afghan National Army, as well as Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which assist reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.17 Recognizing the value of such programs, Secretary Gates stated last year that "[m]ore programs like this can be developed and we are working with the Services and their Reserve components to find appropriate force structures that can capitalize on the professional skills of Reservists and Guardsmen, while not detracting from the readiness in our conventional formations."18

Marine Forces Reservist practices combat rushing during field exercise at Marine Corps Base QuanticoJust this rundown suggests that the RC possesses many of the capabilities DOD will need in the future, particularly within ascendant mission sets such as conducting irregular warfare and postconflict stabilization operations in failed or failing states; building security capacity to enhance the U.S. military's relationship and interoperability with its allies, thereby strengthening coalitions that can prevent and deter conflict; and ensuring access to space and cyber networks and blunting attacks against civilian and military cyber nodes. This is impressive considering that the RC currently makes up 43 percent of the total DOD force but consumes just 9 percent of DOD's annual base budget.19 Several independent reports have concluded that the RC could make an even larger contribution in the near future. For instance, recent RAND assessments of the Air Force judged not only that RC Servicemembers employed in high-tech fields such as information technology "can be tapped to provide the most current knowledge, tools, and techniques,"20 but also that doing so "could offset additional staffing requirements that may be needed in the active component for these operations."21 The use of "reachback," in which RC Servicemembers perform functions in support of the warfighter without physically deploying (for example, operating unmanned aircraft systems) offers one method for bringing these high-demand, low-density RC abilities to bear overseas.

RC Servicemembers' civilian careers provide them with the opportunity to acquire skills and expertise that are difficult to train and retain in the Active Component, particularly in specialized and high-tech fields. DOD could certainly pay for an Active-duty infantry Soldier to be schooled in the latest police training and tactics so he could advise host nation forces. But perhaps it makes more sense just to get an Army Guardsman or Reservist with 20 years of experience as a law enforcement officer to do the job. Or to get a Navy Reservist who just happens to work as a Google software engineer to fill a critical cyber security billet, or to get an Air Force Reserve intelligence officer with a graduate degree in European studies to liaise with a fledgling Balkan defense ministry. Leaving aside difficult but solvable personnel management issues related to quantity, accessibility, predictability, and cost, the U.S. military cannot afford to bar these skill sets from being used operationally.

The Reserve Component contains some of the best qualified people the United States has to offer, and they joined (or rejoined) the RC with the expectation that they were to become members of an operational, not a "weekend warrior," force. The RC absolutely must be part of the solution for a complex future security environment that will compel the United States to stabilize failed states, cultivate political and military capacity in allied nations, and maintain military access to domains congested by cyber and electronic attacks.

Readiness and Funding

Many American policymakers and citizens believe that government spending on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will end as soon as the majority of U.S. combat troops are withdrawn. Yet this belief ignores the significant costs that will need to be incurred to safely reduce troop levels and to reset training and equipment so returning units are capable of performing full-spectrum operations. 22 Additionally, the Pentagon budget is being increasingly put under pressure by rising personnel, operations and maintenance, and procurement costs, as well as ballooning non-DOD Federal mandatory spending.23 Because of its close ties to local communities across the United States, the RC is always going to be looked upon favorably by Congress. But it will be far tougher to convince Pentagon planners operating in a resourceconstrained environment to make the investments necessary to fully transition the Guard and Reserves to an operational force- particularly given the hefty past and future sums required to generate readiness standards consistent with an operational reserve.

Navy Reserve deputy commander addresses Reserve Sailors assigned to U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, GermanySince 2001, the RC has demonstrated a track record of securing levels of funding consistent with its invaluable wartime contributions and the ever-growing U.S. defense budget. In inflation-adjusted dollars, RC funding for personnel increased by nearly 50 percent, operations and maintenance by 33 percent, and procurement by 157 percent between fiscal year 2001 (FY01) and FY10.24 During the same period, each RC's share of its respective Service budget remained relatively stable and rarely fluctuated from year to year by more than 2 percent.

This steadily increasing investment has yielded improvements in readiness that have helped to enable the responsible and effective use of an operational reserve. Marked progress has been made in providing adequate notification prior to mobilization, so RC Servicemembers can prepare personally and professionally for deployment.25 The Army also has made improvements in employing the "train, mobilize, deploy" model. For example, the Army Reserve has used its new regional training center concept to reduce postmobilization training time from 70 to 80 days to 30 to 40 days.26 This leaves more time for units to perform theater-specific training after mobilization, and anecdotal evidence suggests that fewer units are being forced to endure frustrating revalidations and recertifications at mobilization stations.27 Finally, Individual Medical Readiness reportedly improved between 2008 and 2009, particularly on dental readiness and immunizations for the Army and Marine Corps Reserve Components.28

On the equipment front, progress on readiness has been made, but much more remains to be done. On the plus side, there have been significant advancements in ensuring oversight and transparency of RC procurement funding and equipment distribution- perennial problems that detract from accurately assessing readiness. Yet the process is still convoluted and the data are still difficult to track independently.29 To ensure the presentation of uniform, agreed-upon figures in the political, media, and bureaucratic battles that determine budget outcomes, DOD leaders must work to broaden Service-specific solutions and must consider publicly releasing the new National Guard and Reserve equipment delivery reports that are slated to be submitted to Congress semiannually.

Some of the individual Reserve Components have also reported improving equipment readiness. For example, as of April 2010 the Army National Guard (ARNG) possessed 77 percent equipment on hand, of which 83 percent of critical dual-use equipment was on hand with 66 percent of that available to governors for domestic response missions.30 This represents an important improvement in readiness over the past decade: domestic equipment availability stood at 70 percent in 2001 but dropped to a low of 40 percent in 2006.31 Between FY06 and FY09, the ARNG was allocated approximately $25.1 billion for new procurement and recapitalization. An additional $16.9 billion is currently programmed for ARNG equipment between FY10 and FY15, when the ARNG hopes to make progress modernizing its helicopters and trucks.32 Anecdotal evidence suggests improved morale is a direct result of these expenditures. "Since I joined the Guard (in 1981), the first 10 years I was in Vietnam-era Jeeps, World War II trucks," said Colonel Mark Campsey, commander of the Texas ARNG's 72d Infantry Brigade. "Now I don't have a single set of wheels or weapon that isn't new within the last 18 months."33
Reserve Component Equipment Shortages at Beginning of Fiscal Year 2010

On the minus side, some Reserve Components have reported equipment shortages that are raising concern. For instance, Air National Guard (ANG) aircraft are on average 29 years old, and 80 percent of the Air Force's air sovereignty alert force for homeland defense will be at the end of its service life in 7 years.34 This impending "age out" has created anxiety as existing ANG F-16 units wonder whether they will receive F-35s or newer F-16s or be forced to transition into other missions such as unmanned aircraft systems, intelligence, or cyber security.35 Compounding this worry was the updated Mobility Capability Requirements Study decision this year to retire Active Component C-130s stationed in Little Rock, Arkansas, and then to transfer ANG aircraft there to continue the legacy training mission. The move attracted because National Guard Bureau Chief General Craig McKinley, despite expecting greater access to key decisionmakers after receiving his fourth star, was not consulted as the decision was being made.36

The Army Reserve is also facing equipment challenges. "The reality is current operations are consuming Army Reserve readiness as fast as we can build it," the 2010 Army Reserve Posture Statement noted.37 As of April 2010, the Army Reserve reported 80 percent equipment on hand. Yet because only 65 percent of it is modernized, equipment must be continuously cross-leveled to meet the requirements of deploying units. When Army Reserve Soldiers do not possess skills with or get the opportunity to train on the type of modernized equipment they will be expected to use in theater during deployments, the resulting inexperience can erode premobilization readiness, boots-onground time, morale, and the flexibility to reassign units from one mission to another. For instance, a unit scheduled to deploy to Iraq-where Soldiers fall in on equipment already stationed there-cannot be quickly reassigned to Afghanistan, where there is no provided equipment.38 The Army Reserve currently projects that it will need approximately $11 billion through FY16 to become fully modernized with the capabilities the Army is increasingly looking for, such as engineering, military police, and transportation. 39 "We've got to get more resourcing into our budgets for the Reserve Component if we expect to use it as an operational force," insisted Lieutenant General Jack Stultz, Chief of Army Reserve, in March 2010.40

Yet meeting the future equipment needs of an operational reserve will not be easy. While the Services and the DOD comptroller have worked together to ensure that RC operational requirements are funded in Overseas Contingency Operations requests, these supplemental requests are transitory and will evaporate in the years ahead as military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down. As General Stultz told Congress, "If we operationalize the Reserve-and in my opinion, we don't have a choice-then we've got to put those dollars required for training, for equipping, all that, into the base budget."41 DOD Instruction 1235.12, released on February 4, 2010, mandated that the RC be allocated resources "to fulfill roles and missions as both a strategic and operational force."42 Since those roles and missions are not yet defined, however, the inertia of current practice, not newly issued memoranda, will continue to drive the Pentagon's budgetary priorities, and the current practice is to fund the operational requirements of the RC through the Overseas Contingency Operations budget.

North Dakota Army National Guard Soldiers return home from NATO peacekeeping mission in KosovoShifting RC operational requirements from war supplementals to the base budget is going to be difficult, especially for the Army. A September 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that while the Army plans to request billions of dollars between FY12 and FY17 to transition its Reserve Components to an operational force, "the Army has not established firm readiness requirements for an operational reserve component or fully incorporated the resources needed to support the operational role into its budget and projected spending plan."43 This is directly tied to the lack of agreement on RC roles and missions. According to GAO, the Army also lacks a detailed implementation plan that outlines requirements and monitors progress for transitioning to an operational reserve. The lack of such outcome-related metrics means that "DOD decision makers and Congress will not be in a sound position to determine the total costs to complete the transition and decide how to best allocate future funding."44 This does not bode well for stable, predictable funding of an operational reserve in DOD's future base budgets.

Learning Hard Lessons

Michigan Army National Guard Soldiers participate in live-fire exercise to prepare for deployment to AfghanistanDue to the QDR's failure to broach any discussion of RC roles and missions, the Guard and Reserves now find themselves in a race against the clock. By the time the QDR-mandated roles and missions study is completed in spring 2011, incorporated into programming and budgeting documents, and approved by Congress, execution may not begin until 2016 or later. Between now and then, however, a budgetary vise is expected to clamp down on DOD. The longer it takes to clearly articulate the future roles and missions of the RC, the more likely it becomes that funding for an operational reserve will disappear as the DOD budget contracts over the next 5 years.

After a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, where Active and Reserve Components have served together side by side and learned to trust one another in battle, the time has come to dispose of tired cross-component rivalries and get serious about building a seamlessly integrated Total Force that can meet tomorrow's challenges. When it comes to the Guard and Reserves, DOD can best advance this Total Force objective by:

* expeditiously completing and widely disseminating the new RC roles and missions report, which must evaluate how the RC's recent combat experience and specialized, high-tech skills and expertise should be used as a "force of first choice" to meet the complex security challenges of the future
* strengthening its commitment to the continuum of service concept, which must include more options for flexible service, more requirements that Active-duty personnel serve with the RC, and more opportunities for RC Servicemembers to attend senior Service colleges in-residence
* obtaining an updated, independent, and comprehensive analysis that compares the cost and value of the Active and Reserve Components-or at the very least verifies the costing methodology currently being developed by the new RC roles and missions report-using a variety of up-to-date assumptions and methodologies (GAO or the Congressional Budget Office would be the best organization to conduct such an analysis because of their independence and rigor).

If the landmark 2008 report by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves helped expedite the "first wave" in transforming the Guard and Reserves into a 21st-century operational force, it appears that the "second wave" is now under way. The forthcoming RC roles and missions study, in conjunction with the 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation and the Guard and Reserves "report card" recently published by the Center for a New American Security, will hopefully encourage continued reform. Senior policymakers and Active Component leaders must review these source materials and better acquaint themselves with the important issues facing the RC-an education effort that has come up short in far too many cases. Armed with this knowledge, decisionmakers will be better prepared to answer the "Operational for what'" question and make wiser choices about how best to protect the United States against the complex security threats of the 21st century.

Page last updated Tue September 28th, 2010 at 19:15