Annual Savings Five-Year Savings from (Millions of dollars) Cumulative the 1997 Plan 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 Total Budget Authority 431 1,429 2,774 3,617 3,717 11,967 Outlays 372 1,269 2,528 3,412 3,621 11,202
The active portion of the U.S. Army consists of 10 divisions, six of which are generally regarded as "heavy"--that is, equipped with tanks and other armored vehicles. The six heavy divisions are primarily intended to be used against other armored forces. The other four divisions, referred to as "light" divisions, are useful against less heavily armored forces and were designed to be dispatched quickly and transported easily to trouble spots around the world. They include one airborne division, one air assault division, and two light infantry divisions (LIDs).
The utility of the light infantry divisions has been questioned in the Congress and elsewhere since their creation in the mid-1980s. The Reagan Administration justified the LIDs by emphasizing the need to respond to events anywhere in the world by rapidly dispatching U.S. forces. And, indeed, the light infantry divisions are the smallest and lightest of all U.S. combat divisions. As a consequence, they can be transported as whole units to trouble spots around the world more easily than any other U.S. division.
But recent history indicates that the United States may not need those light infantry divisions since it has the Army's eight other divisions and the combat forces in the Marines. Between 1945 and 1991, about 120 incidents--excluding major conflicts such as those in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq--required commitment of U.S. ground forces. Of those, the Army was involved in about a third and, even then, generally not in very large numbers. Indeed, only 12 of those incidents required Army forces of division size or larger. One can argue that other units--including the Army's airborne and air assault forces and three Marine Corps divisions --could provide sufficient rapid response instead of the Army's LIDs.
Other questions arise about the capability of the LIDs once they have been transported, presumably to a hostile location. With just 1,600 vehicles and 40 utility helicopters to transport the unit and all its equipment, a light infantry division has limited mobility. Thus, many of the more than 11,000 soldiers assigned to a light infantry division would have to move by foot. A LID also has limited firepower, particularly against an enemy with any kind of armored vehicles. Each division has only 88 long-range antiarmor missile launchers, 54 towed howitzers, and 40 helicopters armed with antitank missiles. The most numerous antiarmor weapon in the LID--162 Dragon medium-range antitank missiles--has a limited capability against modern tanks.
Perhaps the strongest statement about the utility of the LIDs in combat was made by the Department of Defense, which did not send any forces from light infantry divisions to take part in Operation Desert Storm. That conflict was initiated by a relatively unsophisticated foe and occurred halfway around the world with very little warning. The need to establish some military presence in theater very rapidly would seemingly have argued for the use of light infantry forces. Nevertheless, none of the LIDs were deployed. Another telling experience was that of the 10th Mountain Division in Somalia. That light infantry division's firepower and protection proved to be inadequate against even the unsophisticated and poorly equipped troops of a Somali warlord. As a result, parts of a heavy division were dispatched to Somalia to provide armored protection to U.S. forces there.
This alternative would eliminate the remaining two light infantry divisions from the Army's active forces. To permit an orderly drawdown, the divisions would be eliminated gradually over the five-year period. The alternative would retain light forces of one air assault division and one airborne division. Compared with the Administration's 1997 plan, this alternative would save $372 million in 1998 and $11.2 billion over the next five years.
Despite these savings and the shortcomings of the
light infantry divisions, eliminating all of them would
reduce U.S. capability in certain situations. For
example, LIDs might be useful during combat in areas
where armored vehicles could not operate easily such
as dense forests, mountain terrain, or cities. They
might also be useful for defending areas such as
airports or seaports if the enemy did not have
armored capability. Finally, in a recent demonstration of the utility of light divisions, contingents
from the 10th Mountain LID were instrumental in
operations in Haiti.