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Militaries are restructuring and downsizing troops to be effective under changing threats and Warfare

Militaries around the world are undergoing restructuring and downsizing as a result of various factors, including budget constraints, changing security threats, and shifts in geopolitical priorities.


The downsizing of military forces can be driven by a variety of reasons, including an effort to reduce the overall size of government budgets, changes in the nature of security threats, and a desire to redirect resources towards other priorities. Some countries have also sought to modernize their militaries by investing in new technologies and systems, which has sometimes required a reduction in the size of their forces.


Restructuring and downsizing can also be part of broader reforms aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of military forces. This can involve streamlining organizational structures, improving the training and development of personnel, and modernizing equipment and systems.


The militaries are also restructuring while becoming more efficient, Gen. Robert Cone, head of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, offered some surprising details about the slim-down plans. As Defense News put it, he “quietly dropped a bomb,” saying the Army is studying the possibility of reducing the size of a brigade from 4,000 soldiers to 3,000 in the coming years.


President Putin has already declared  years back that the transformation of Russia’s armed forces from a bloated giant to a lean fighting force has been accomplished, and no further reductions are needed.


Reliance on Robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) and artificial intelligence (AI)

The nexus of robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) and artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to change the nature of warfare. Robotics will alter the character of war by introducing new combatants on the field of battle, or by augmenting human soldiers so that new kinds of missions, which were deemed too risky or technically infeasible before, can now be accomplished. The advantage of new technology from the Robotic Age on warfare will be the yield of autonomy for human warfighters.


Some believe the future of modern warfare will be fought by automated weapons systems. Osama and other terrorists were tracked by these military robots; they have proved themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several militaries are currently working on a range of not only unmanned but autonomous military vehicles. Israel became the first to actually deploy such machines to active duty. IDF spokespeople told that since mid-July, fully-automated, self-driving vehicles have been patrolling the border of the Gaza Strip. In addition to patrol vehicles, Israeli defense contractors are also developing autonomous assault units. The robots currently in the field are unarmed, but future plans include equipping them with weapons as they are deployed to additional border regions.


Military robotics is a top priority for Russia’s military future, given the length of the Russian border and the need for military operations in places unsuitable for humans, like the Arctic. Recently, the chief of the General staff of the Russian armed forces, General Gerasimov, stated that Russia seeks to completely automate the battle, and perhaps soon we will witness robotic groups independently conducting warfare.


According to Russia’s deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, the robots will save lives: “We have to conduct battles without any contact, so that our boys do not die, and for that it is necessary to use war robots,” he said. The idea was backed by Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu, who urged engineers to make robots combat ready by 2015-17, instead of initially scheduled 2020.


“The Russian Defense Ministry approved the concept of combat use of robotic systems and complexes of various types and purposes for the next 10 years, until 2025,” – said O.Martyanov, who directs the interdepartmental working group on the development and application of robots. According to the document, the expert said, the proportion of robotic agents in the overall structure of arms and military equipment (AME) should be about 30%.


In response rapid development of killer drones by Russia and China, Pentagon officials have planned to develop and deploy automated killer machines in US military within ten years. The Pentagon top officials believe that it will allow the US not to be behind Russia and China militarily. A report from the Defence Science Board in the US concluded that there are both benefits and dire negatives in using cyborgs to fight their battles, but the country needs to act quickly if it does not want to be left behind any further. The report said “there are both substantial operational benefits and potential perils associated with its use.” Robots on the battlefield will be more efficient, result in less casualties and could ultimately be cheaper.


Major Kenneth Rose of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command outlined some of the advantages of robotic technology in warfare: Machines don’t get tired. They don’t close their eyes. They don’t hide under trees when it rains and they don’t talk to their friends … A human’s attention to detail on guard duty drops dramatically in the first 30 minutes … Machines know no fear.


As the capacities of military robots expand from semi-autonomous machines to potentially fully autonomous, future robots are even expected to replace soldiers in combat roles. “Intelligent robotic weapons – they’re a reality, and they will be much more of a reality by 2030,” former UK intelligence officer John Bassett said. “At some point around 2025 or thereabouts the US Army will actually have more combat robots than it will have human soldiers,” he added, mentioning upcoming robot trucks that would drive themselves and be more effective on the road than an ordinary manned vehicle.


The weapon and platform modernization is also leading to less requirement of manpower as these High-tech weapons systems often require fewer personnel than traditional ones. Obsolete ships and planes will be replaced by new ones, which may require fewer people to operate them.


There have been several examples of military downsizing in recent years

  1. United States: In recent years, the U.S. military has undergone a period of downsizing as a result of budget constraints and changing security priorities. This has involved reducing the size of the active-duty force, consolidating and closing military bases, and retiring older equipment and systems.
  2. Russia: Following the end of the Cold War, Russia has undergone significant downsizing of its military, with a focus on modernizing its remaining forces. This has involved reducing the size of the armed forces, streamlining the organizational structure, and investing in new technologies and systems.
  3. United Kingdom: The UK military has undergone a period of downsizing in recent years, as part of a broader effort to reduce the overall size of the government budget. This has involved reducing the size of the active-duty force, consolidating and closing military bases, and retiring older equipment and systems.
  4. Germany: Germany has also undergone downsizing of its military in recent years, as part of a broader effort to reduce the size of the government budget and focus resources on other priorities. This has involved reducing the size of the active-duty force, consolidating and closing military bases, and investing in new technologies and systems.


United Kingdom’s Army is about to shrink by 10,000 soldiers.

As the Secretary of State for Defence outlined some of the main principles of the much-anticipated UK 2021 Defence Review on Monday 22nd March – entitled ‘Defence in a Competitive Age’ – one of the most substantial takeaways from Ben Wallace’s speech was the clear direction that the UK government intends to take in terms of heavily augmenting and modernizing technological investments over classic hard power and troop size.


According to the Defence Review, £23 billion has been set aside for funding in various technological areas such as investing in a new National Cyber Force, Autonomous weapons Systems (AWS), and Space Capabilities. Directed in part by the Defence Science and Technology Strategy 2020, the UK government will contribute at least £6.6 billion towards Research and Development activities over the next four years. This increased spending on technological platforms and innovation comes at the expense of the UK’s troop size, which will see a reduction of the UK’s Full Time Trade Trained strength from 76, 000 to 72, 500 by 2025.


As part of a major military overhaul, the United Kingdom’s Army is about to shrink by 10,000 soldiers. As of January, the UK’s Army had about 80,000 troops — considerably fewer than a decade ago. The plan now is to bring that number even further down to about 70,000, mostly by letting soldiers retire or leave and choosing to not replace them. The size of the Army is to be reduced to 72,500 soldiers by 2025 as part of a move towards drones and cyber warfare. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said “increased deployability and technological advantage” meant greater effect could be delivered by fewer people. He set out plans for new capabilities such as electronic warfare and drones in the Commons. Overall, the update represents an adaptation to the changing face of warfare — with more of an emphasis on cyberwarfare than ground troops.


US Army downsizing  because of changing character of warfare and improving the tooth to tail ratio

The U.S. Army is preparing to downsize by 40,000 more active duty personnel from 490,000 to 450,000.A reduction of 40,000 personnel does not, moreover, equate to the loss of 40,000 combat troops.  The Army, Navy and Air Force are finalizing plans to eliminate over the next few years more than 17,000 uniformed medical billets — physicians, dentists, nurses, technicians, medics and support personnel.  The reduction will allow those billets to be repurposed as war fighters or combat-support skills to increase lethality and size of operational units. Another goal is to deepen the workload of remaining medical billets at base hospitals and clinics to strengthen medical skills and also to improve quality of care for beneficiaries, defense officials explained. The Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force will experience much smaller force reductions without a loss of capability. However, The Trump administration has proposed increasing Army active end strength from its current level of 476,000 to about 540,000 within the next few years.


One of the prime reason for downsizing is improving the tooth to tail ratio. Others are the changing character of warfare in which the non Conventional warfare, cyber warfare are becoming more prominent. For US,  troops will be reduced, but Special Operations Forces, the personnel most likely to be deployed in today’s security environment, will be increased from 66,000 to 67,900. This is due to continuing and ever increasing threat of ISIS and radical Islamist ideology that is spreading the world.  Demand for SOF will only increase as the United States faces an increasing number of conflicts in the gray zone.


US Army is trying to increase the tooth-to-tail ratio (ratio of soldiers directly involved in fighting missions (tooth) to those involved in supporting activities (tail)). A typical ratio is about 1/3 tooth to 2/3 tail, which means that you’re spending a lot of resources on logistics, supplies, and other efforts to support the actual combat operations. According to Gen. Cole, the Army sees that as an opportunity to become more efficient. “Maybe it’s one-half to one-half,” he said. “The point is you get to keep more tooth, more folks that actually conduct operations on the ground and less supporting structure.” In the near term the supporting activities shall be filled by using support robots, Robots will likely include autonomous vehicles that can transport supplies, autonomous aircraft that can transport supplies and other autonomous robots that can transport supplies.


China Downsize Army by half, optimized structure to fight  informationized modern warfare

China has been undergoing a period of military downsizing in recent years. In 2015, the Chinese government announced that it would reduce the size of its military by 300,000 troops, as part of a broader effort to modernize the armed forces and improve their effectiveness. This downsizing has involved reducing the size of the active-duty force, streamlining the organizational structure, and investing in new technologies and systems.


In 2015, Xi promised to shrink the 2.3 million-strong army, PLA by 300,000 personnel, as the Chinese military continues to evolve from a Cold War infantry-dominated force to a high-tech organization that increasingly resembles the U.S. military. PLA Strategic Support Force and the PLA Rocket Force will be increased, while the PLA Air Force’s active service personnel will remain the same. With 2 million members, the PLA (which includes the Army, Navy, Air Force, Strategic Rocket Forces, and the cyberwarriors of the Strategic Support Force) is still the largest armed force.


Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for a smaller army with better combat capability and optimized structure as the military reform deepens. The president, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, said the military’s structure must be readjusted and optimized, new type of forces be developed, the ratios between different types of forces be rationalized, and the number and the scale of the military be downsized. The Chinese army must grow into modern armed forces with Chinese characteristics, which can win informationized wars and implement their missions, the president said.


The downsizing of the Chinese military is part of a broader effort to modernize the armed forces and improve their effectiveness. This has involved a shift away from a focus on mass mobilization and towards a more professional, technology-driven force. The Chinese military has also been investing in new capabilities, such as advanced weapons systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, and cyber capabilities, in order to better meet the challenges of the future.


While the downsizing of the Chinese military has been widely reported, it’s worth noting that the Chinese government has also been increasing its military spending in recent years. This reflects the importance that the Chinese leadership places on modernizing the military and maintaining its capabilities as a regional and global power.


China has consolidated the seven former military regions into five theater commands , and split four PLA headquarters into 15 units. “After the adjustment, our army was more capable, the structure was more optimized, and it was more scientific,” Xinhua said. “It fundamentally changed the long-term land-based power structure, changed the national defense type of force…strategic early warning, far-sea defense, long-range strike, strategic delivery, information support and other new combat forces have been enriched and strengthened, and a joint operational force system with elite combat forces as the main body is taking shape.”


Citing rapid changes to the global military environment, Xi spoke about the informationized modern warfare, noting that joint operations have grown to be the basic form of combat. “Accordingly, there have been new changes in terms of the military’s size, structure, and formation, which features smaller in size, more capable in strength, modulization and multi-functionality, with scientific factors playing bigger roles,” Xi said. “Quantity should be reduced, quality improved to build a capable and efficient modernized standing army,” Xi said, adding that China must develop a joint operation force system with the elite force at its core.


But the Xinhua article also struck a nationalist tone that said China will take its own path. “The new, new structure, new pattern, and new look have taken firm steps on the road of strong military characteristics with Chinese characteristics.”


Indian government announces significant reforms to increase its  “teeth to tail ratio”.

The Indian government recently announced significant reforms to the Indian Army to enhance its combat capability and also optimize expenditure. The reforms involve the redeployment of 57,000 personnel, optimization of communication arms and the closure of military farms.  Recently an internal review is being carried out by Army chief, Bipin Rawat. It has two objectives: to carry out reforms and cut administrative flab. It aims to improve the tooth-to-tail ratio, in other words, downsize the army.


Subsequent news reports of August 11, 2022, have quoted unnamed sources of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to say that the Army plans to cut its strength by around two lakh over the next two to three years from the current 12.7 lakh as part of a “streamlining” effort. The same sources also have been quoted to say that the government wants a leaner and modernized, tech-driven Army, and that the proposal is also being seen as an attempt to reduce the Army’s ballooning salary and pension bills.


At the Army Day ceremony in Jan 2023, India’s Chief of the Army Staff, General Manoj Pande said that the Indian Army is undergoing a massive transformation to enhance operational preparation.

In an effort of “force structuring and optimisation, we are converting our forces into IBGs, which will contribute effectively to modern warfare. Old establishments and units are being dissolved, or are being revamped with suitable changes,” Gen Pande said.

Gen Pande added that the IBG concept is implemented to achieve an effective teeth-to-tail ratio. “With the help of modernisation and technology infusion, the strength of the old units will be downsized for better human resource or manpower management,” he said.

The teeth-to-tail ratio refers to the amount of supply and support personnel (tail) for each combat soldier (tooth).

The Indian Army seeks to transform from a manpower-intensive force to a technologically driven army. “Continuous efforts are being made to transform the Indian Army into a modern, self-reliant, technologically driven, and battle-worthy force,” Gen Pande added.

Risks  and Challenges

In addition to the benefits of reducing the size of military forces, there can also be challenges and drawbacks to downsizing. For example, some experts have expressed concern that downsizing can result in a loss of institutional knowledge, experience, and capabilities, which can have long-term consequences for a military’s effectiveness.

Another challenge associated with downsizing is the need to manage the transition of personnel who are leaving the military. This can include providing support for job training, education, and other forms of assistance to help military personnel successfully transition to civilian life.

In some cases, downsizing can also result in political and social tensions, as military personnel and their families may feel that they have been unfairly treated. This can have broader implications for morale, public support for the military, and the ability of military forces to carry out their missions.


It’s worth noting that the downsizing of military forces is a complex and often politically sensitive issue, as it can have significant implications for national security and the employment of military personnel. As a result, decisions to restructure and downsize military forces are typically made with careful consideration of the potential benefits and risks.


Overall, restructuring and downsizing of military forces is a complex and multi-faceted issue that requires careful consideration of a range of economic, political, and strategic factors. By approaching these decisions in a responsible and well-informed manner, militaries can ensure that they are equipped to meet the challenges of the future while also maintaining the trust and support of the people they serve.






About Rajesh Uppal

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