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The Problem of Overstretch

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Abstract

Lake identifies a fundamental problem facing the American military today, its vulnerability to overstretch. This chapter includes a discussion of overstretch suffered by all the armed services, with an extended explanation of the Army’s problems during the height of its commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. By connecting the disparate experiences of the armed services together, Lake demonstrates that this is a widespread problem with a common cause—the American military is too small. Previewing the argument presented in the book, Lake argues that this is the result of a long-term pattern of sacrificing quantity for quality when procuring new equipment, and that this is ultimately a manifestation of an American cultural predisposition favoring technology.

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  • DOI: 10.1057/978-1-349-78681-7_1
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Notes

  1. 1.

    The U.S. Air Force and Navy are larger than comparable organizations for most countries, and the Marine Corps is virtually unique in its size and structure.

  2. 2.

    The US military also can draw upon inactive reserves, individuals who are not assigned to a reserve unit and not attending drill. There are over 100,000 inactive reserves available, but less than 25,000 served on active duty as part of these wars.

  3. 3.

    The reserve components did not see a corresponding increase.

  4. 4.

    The Marine Corps was also providing troops for these operations, but with a smaller share of the Corps involved it was better able to sustain its commitment.

  5. 5.

    Note that this does not count the large number of Army personnel who had left active duty by the end of 2011 after serving more than one tour in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

  6. 6.

    Senator Sam Nunn characterized the strategy of reliance on superior technology to gain a decisive edge over our foes as the basis of America’s defense effort (United States Congress: Senate Committee on Armed Services: Subcommittee on Manpower and Personnel 1981, pp. 1–2).

  7. 7.

    The Air Force became independent in 1947.

  8. 8.

    After World War II broke out, it became apparent that the United States had neither quality nor quality. During the war, the United States went with quantity over quality (McNaugher 1989, pp. 19–20; Stevenson 1993, pp. 62–63, 71).

  9. 9.

    The “Mafia” was named by its opponents, and was composed of Boyd, Sprey, and Riccioni, though Chuck Myers also was in effect a member.

  10. 10.

    More than just equipment quality determines whether a qualitative edge exists. Training, morale, tactics, and leadership are also relevant, for example.

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Lake, D.R. (2019). The Problem of Overstretch. In: The Pursuit of Technological Superiority and the Shrinking American Military. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-78681-7_1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-78681-7_1

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