After the Vietnam War, the US Army was demoralized, and the low level of morale eventually extrapolated to all the aspects of the military forces, including commanding, military expenses, and recruitment. Indeed, according to Scales, the majority of US soldiers did not have higher education, were involved in drug use, and initiated physical attacks on their commanders and fellow personnel.1 Moreover, the local government, still affected by the economic reconstruction after WWII, did not perceive military spending as a top priority. For this reason, the capabilities gap after the Vietnam War included the need for increased military morale, educating of US Army soldiers, improving the militarization of the country. At the time, the army was not a reputable institution, and few people were willingly joining the forces.
As of today, the US Army is considered one of the strongest military forces in the world in terms of personnel, funding, and technology. Currently, the annual military spending is nearly $770 billion, which makes the US an absolute leader in army funding.2 At the same time, the spending on the army is not aimed at participating in armed conflicts, as even in the modern context of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the US army is unwilling to interfere directly, giving preference to humanitarian aid and equipment supply. Nowadays, the prestige of the US army is manifested mainly through its spending on innovation because it has become a guarantor of world security. Hence, as far as the capabilities gap is concerned, there are no major gaps in terms of equipment or training for military personnel.
Such a dramatic change in the image and capabilities of the US Army was caused by three primary precedents: the Fourth Arab-Israeli War of 1973, the Big Five procurement, and the Warsaw Pact. During the Arab-Israeli war, the American army realized that the military forces of other countries had overtaken the US in terms of potential. Hence, more attention to the army was paid, and, using the frustration of the federal government, General Abrams presented his roadmap of army amplification through the procurement of five types of reliable military technology. If these action steps were not taken after the Vietnam War, the US Army would allocate less effort to military enforcement, and the Cold War could have escalated into a full-scale military conflict.
The demoralizing context of the Vietnam War, along with the number of growing socio-economic problems, initiated a series of serious changes in the 1980s. The most viable solution in the case was to conduct a military reform across the country, redefining the positions of strength in the world and creating an image of a prestige institution for potential military personnel. A prime example of such a reorganization was the introduction of the Army of Excellence (AOE), which stood for a reform of the US light infantry and all the military tactical units.3 Serving as a rather umbrella term for all the drastic changes taking place in the US Army of the 1980s, the Army of Excellence, including better training programs for the military, military image campaigns among the population, and the procurement of Big Five military equipment resulted in the improvement of the international prestige of the US army. Moreover, the country’s decision to actively participate in the armed conflicts overseas, including peace-keeping troops and relief missions, helped create the image of the strong Northern Alliance and the ability to guarantee world peace.
An alternative solution to the post-Vietnam crisis could have been the continuation of a strong isolationist position of the US and the escalation of the powerful image of the Soviet Union and the alliance formed by the Warsaw Pact. Eventually, such politics would have led to the escalation of military conflicts involving Soviet forces and, in fact, the impediment to the disintegration of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s. Hence, the solution to reallocate federal resources to the anchorage of the US position in the world arena has brought a series of beneficial changes to global politics, as a strong military figure representing NATO is of paramount importance to secure global peace.
The Acquisition Process
Arguably the most important milestone of the US army reformation was the Big Five initiative led by General Abrams. Essentially, Big Five stands for the process of acquiring five major types of equipment for the US military forces: the main battle tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle, the Apache attack helicopter, the Black Hawk utility helicopter, and the Patriot air defense missile system.4 Such procurement, besides redesigning the overall pattern of federal spending on the army, has additionally served as a symbolic start of the rapid expansion of the US forces both in the air and on the ground. Indeed, the procurement of the new technology for the army resulted in the immediate demand to find professionals to operate the equipment, as giving control of the costly technology to demoralized people will little or no intention to be devoted to the national defense would result in serious funding and ammunition damage for the state. Hence, extensive training programs for the soldiers were implemented.
Undeniably, while serving as a facilitative factor for the overall reform of the military, the overall process of procurement could have been done differently. Trybula (2012) suggests that the initial commitment to the Big Five has resulted in the pattern of conventional linear procurement of technology. Hence, instead of developing a flexible model of military spending, the US army spends big sums of money on the procurement of secure yet, not always necessary equipment for the forces. However, despite the fact that currently, the patterns of military spending may impede innovation, the Big Five still managed to radically reorganize the role of the army in the country’s economics and international politics. It was the initial decision to reinforce the army that resulted in the billions of dollars allocated for national security annually.
The precedent of the Vietnam War has demonstrated that two decades prior to the event, the US government and national defense system did not collaborate and discuss the strategies of building a strong military basis for a sovereign state. As a result, the military forces with no funding and internal motivation were demoralized, and the US government was blinded by its unawareness. Thus, the Vietnam War failure and the frustration after the Arabic-Israeli laid the foundation for the negotiations between military and public leaders on the matter of future solutions. One of these solutions was force management through the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution Process (PPBE). Such a model implies that in order for the President’s Office to be well-aware of the military needs required for an efficient national defense, the US Department of Defense should create a detailed plan of the Department’s needs, costs, their implementation plan, and the scope of relevance for each notion covered. Later, the plan should be submitted to the US Congress and included in the annual President’s budget.
Such a model has presented an opportunity for national security to request relevant funding, whereas the US Congress could have the opportunity to alter the spending costs every year. Currently, the implementation of the PPBE process, although deemed a viable solution, struggles with the issue of bureaucracy and an overwhelming number of stakeholders. A recently presented suggestion claims that it could have been beneficial to limit the number of stakeholders involved in order to minimize the budget modifications.5 If the aforementioned model were not presented to Congress in the midst of the Cold War, the overall progress of military procurement would be questioned, as the historical evidence of the Vietnam era shows that the government was unwilling to allocate high budget costs to the defense field. Current issues can have a tangible solution, whereas the overall impact of the military procurement process has resulted in a strong US army position in the world.
In the 1970s, the organizational structure of the military forces was rather linear, as there was no direct mediation between the US public offices and the army. Indeed, the organization within the army itself was rather weak due to a high level of demoralization. However, after the experience of both the Vietnam and Arab-Israeli wars, the dialogue between public stakeholders and the national defense system became inevitable. The military reform has initiated the involvement of joint commanding for the national defense. Particularly, the existence of the Joint Capabilities and Integration Development System allows for the external evaluation and prioritization of the army’s needs for future and existing missions. Currently, this system is still employed and improved by engaging with more external stakeholders. As a result, the modern pattern of organization that allows for the integration of private, public, and military stakeholders presents the opportunity to acquire and allocate resources in a more efficient way.
Deem, Ryan, Greeney, Ryan J., Keller, Gary M., and Wang, Jay Y. An analysis of US army acquisition program manager responsibilities, authorities, and processes [Doctoral dissertation] Monterey: Naval Postgraduate School, 2019.
Romjue, John L. The Army of Excellence: The development of the 1980s army. Scotts Valley: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.
Scales, Robert H. Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War. Dulles: Potomac Books, 1997.
Trybula, David C. “Big Five” Lessons for Today and Tomorrow. Pennsylvania: U.S. Army War College Carlisle Barracks: 2012
- Robert H. Scales, Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War (Dulles: Potomac Books, 1997)
- “US Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Massive Defense Spending Bill,” Al Jazeera. Web.
- John L. Romjue, The Army of Excellence: The Development of the 1980s Army (Scotts Valley: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014)
- David C. Trybula, “Big Five” Lessons for Today and Tomorrow (Pennsylvania: U.S. Army War College Carlisle Barracks: 2012)
- Ryan Deem, et al. An Analysis of US Army Acquisition Program Manager Responsibilities, Authorities, and Processes [Doctoral dissertation] (Monterey: Naval Postgraduate School, 2019)