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  • Rear Echelon vs. Combat Troops

    In one of my books about Vietnam the author complains that one of the shortcommings of the US military machine during that war was the disproportion of rear echelon troops to combat infantrymen: 70% logistics troops vs 30% combat troops.

    Has the modern US military taken steps to improve this ratio in the favor of combat troops? What is it like today?

    "Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a ugly brawl."
    --Frederick II, King of Prussia

  • #2
    I am only speculating, but it could be that the Vietnam war was an unusual case. Remember that the Vietnam War, was never actually said to be a "war" at all and so troops in the field in the field were not actually supposed to be happening. It could be that funding required some logistics gizmos to fall in line with budgeting restraints that resisted the war via congress. War was never actually declared against Vietnam. And actually, I think Korea was similarly a "police action".
    Get the US out of NATO, now!

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    • #3
      At the beginning of the war in Iraq, the US boasted Coalition forces numbered around 250,000. However, only 70,000 were really combat troops. The monumental task of supporting a military force in action can not be overstated.

      1965, Johnson began sending what he declared as "ground combat troops" into Vietnam. Congress knew, even from a technical sense what these troops missions were. Later some tried to play ignorant and say "all necessary measures" was not meant to encompass all out war.
      "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

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      • #4
        1965, Johnson began sending what he declared as "ground combat troops" into Vietnam. Congress knew, even from a technical sense what these troops missions were. Later some tried to play ignorant and say "all necessary measures" was not meant to encompass all out war.
        This is very off topic, but strictly speaking, the US never declared war on Vietnam. There was "the war in Vietnam".

        It is a worthwhile question to ask exactly what is or isn't necessary for logistical support for those combat soldiers in Iraq. I'll bet that a good part of what is called "logistic" has nothing whatsoever to do with the combat troops and everything to do with the babysitting forces for our Kurdish and Shi'i "allies" and their friends showing up via NATO.
        Get the US out of NATO, now!

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        • #5
          Originally posted by SparceMatrix


          This is very off topic, but strictly speaking, the US never declared war on Vietnam. There was "the war in Vietnam".

          It is a worthwhile question to ask exactly what is or isn't necessary for logistical support for those combat soldiers in Iraq. I'll bet that a good part of what is called "logistic" has nothing whatsoever to do with the combat troops and everything to do with the babysitting forces for our Kurdish and Shi'i "allies" and their friends showing up via NATO.
          Merely because a country doesn't declare war doesn't mean it wasn't a war. War is defined as open armed conflict between countries or factions within a country. Politicians try to classify their military decisions as not war because of the weight the term carries.

          I have to disagree with your position on the logistic's effort in Iraq. We didn't have enough troops to control the population, let alone support them. Our forces were stretched thin. Most of the 250,000 troops were Air Force and Naval forces.

          Supporting the force required almost every asset we had. It was not until 4 ID arrived that we could really have some flexibility.
          "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

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          • #6
            Merely because a country doesn't declare war doesn't mean it wasn't a war. War is defined as open armed conflict between countries or factions within a country. Politicians try to classify their military decisions as not war because of the weight the term carries.
            Exactly. But it wasn't just the politicians, the generals too insisted that Vietnam was going to be easy to confront and hardly qualified as a war at all. "We'll be out by Christmas".
            Get the US out of NATO, now!

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            • #7
              Originally posted by SparceMatrix


              Exactly. But it wasn't just the politicians, the generals too insisted that Vietnam was going to be easy to confront and hardly qualified as a war at all. "We'll be out by Christmas".
              The commanders were more concerned with appeasing Johnson, than conveying the complexity of the operation to the people, or the Executive Branch. In an interview for Vietnam: The 10,000-day War Westmoreland expressed his reservations about the Rolling Thunder campaign. He understood the adaptability of the North Vietnamese and reasoned "the carrot/stick approach" would fail.

              So I believe the commanders had a better understanding of the task they faced. However, they lacked the initiative to honestly explain that to the President, and the public. Johnson would become angry when bad reports were given, and acted stupid. He was so intimidating, military commanders began to alter their briefings to mitigate his scorn.

              Once a President makes a decision, protocol usually requires all elements affected by the course chosen by the CINC to display solidarity publically. It doesn't matter how deeply divided they are privately.
              "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

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              • #8
                Re: Rear Echelon vs. Combat Troops

                Originally posted by MonsterZero
                In one of my books about Vietnam the author complains that one of the shortcommings of the US military machine during that war was the disproportion of rear echelon troops to combat infantrymen: 70% logistics troops vs 30% combat troops.

                Has the modern US military taken steps to improve this ratio in the favor of combat troops? What is it like today?
                I heard about this on the news during Gulf War Deux... they were talking about how the US army has vastly reduced the ratio of support:combat troops, but its still high and they are continually trying to lower it.
                "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

                – Associate Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Olmstead vs. United States.

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                • #9
                  Re: Re: Rear Echelon vs. Combat Troops

                  Originally posted by MikeJ


                  I heard about this on the news during Gulf War Deux... they were talking about how the US army has vastly reduced the ratio of support:combat troops, but its still high and they are continually trying to lower it.
                  A US Army division of 323 tanks, 200 IFVs, 7,000 assorted vehicles, 36 helicopters and 18,000 troops roughly requires about 250,000 gallons of fuel, 162,000-gallons of water, 56,000 MREs, and (if involved in combat ops) 250 tons of ammunition. This doesn't include spare parts, mail, soap, and other effects that keep a division moving. Fuel is transported on via 2,500 gal and maybe a few 5,000 gal tankers. Most of the other stuff is transported mainly by 5-ton trucks. That means you need around 100 tankers, (many more if a good water source and/or purification system doesn't exists in forward areas), and at least 50 five ton trucks just to carry ammo. (You might actually need anywhere from 100-150 trucks). That's just for daily resupply. This doesn't include maintanenance, medical, personnel, etc that are needed.

                  Out of the 18,000, maybe 8,000 or so are actually troops that go out and shot the enemy. Everybody else is supporting them.

                  *rough estimates

                  Logistics is a vital part of warfare. Troops don't have what it needs to fight the enemy, they are almost certainly dead. Despite all our technology and sophisication, a corps commander today is confronted with the same problems and limited solutions, that faced Patton and others. I recall a number of systems being held as a revolution in resupply or combat support. Yet, in the end, most failed to live up to expectatons (aka the helicopter).

                  So while I'm certain commanders would love to change the ratio, technology, and the growing requirements of a fighting force in the field, suggest little change will occur anytime soon.
                  "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

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                  • #10
                    Except that it has been changing and being reduced, constantly over the past half-century.

                    Moving supplies isn't the only place for improvement, efficiency wise.

                    Besides, this is relative, so talking about how many hundreds of tons of material need to be moved isn't really going to prove anything.
                    "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

                    – Associate Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Olmstead vs. United States.

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                    • #11
                      No, but it gives you an ideal of the awesome task support handle. They move mountains, and are the backbone of the military might seen on television. Yet, they get the least glory. You don't hear much about the maintenance crews, supply and transportation, MP, personnel service, etc that support the modern force. They get little attention.

                      As for the reduction in supply and support. I don't think it has made much improvement. I know most countries are looking into ways to cut down on parts and other things, but beyond that troops still need alot. Also, tending to the morale of soldiers etc are also unlikely to change. We might reduce the ration. However, in all likelihood, we'll never see the ratio dominated by combat troops.
                      "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        In many ways, technological advances increase the military's reliance on so-called support trades.
                        There comes a point, especially in a technologically advanced military force, that a reduction in support vis-a-vis combat trades endangers those doing the actual fighting.
                        Scientists have announced they've discovered a cure for apathy. However no one has shown the slightest bit of interest !!

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Deltapooh
                          No, but it gives you an ideal of the awesome task support handle. They move mountains, and are the backbone of the military might seen on television. Yet, they get the least glory. You don't hear much about the maintenance crews, supply and transportation, MP, personnel service, etc that support the modern force. They get little attention.

                          As for the reduction in supply and support. I don't think it has made much improvement. I know most countries are looking into ways to cut down on parts and other things, but beyond that troops still need alot. Also, tending to the morale of soldiers etc are also unlikely to change. We might reduce the ration. However, in all likelihood, we'll never see the ratio dominated by combat troops.
                          If you want to praise the rear-echelon troops I won't argue, it's just not really what I was getting at.

                          I mean, throughout its history, if there's one area where the US military has always excelled, it's been in being able to move supplies anytime, anywhere and in sufficient quantity. Still, it's always come at a heavy price in human labor/talent.

                          Either way though, unless I misunderstood the rather exact figures (which I can no longer recall precisely, but I remember thinking that the ratio was very disproportionate before - something like 9-10:1 in favor of the support personnel) the military spokesperson gave ont he air, the ratio of support troops to combat troops has steadily decreased over the years and he was quite clear in saying they are looking to improve on that further.

                          tiger: Technology can increase the reliance on support troops, but it can also decrease it too. One of the simplest examples (without really knowing, but it makes enough sense) was probably making the jump from a 2-ton lorry to a 5-ton lorry now that they can make them either cheap enough, fast enough, reliable enough, or whatever stopped them from doing this before. Not a great example, but I'm sure people who are acutally in the military could probably come up with many more examples of how technology can both increase and decrease the number of support personnel needed.
                          "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

                          – Associate Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Olmstead vs. United States.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Being in the military myself, I have to agree.
                            Technology has increased the reliance on support troops in many cases and in other cases it has decreased the reliance on support troops, depending on the technology in question.

                            Maybe in the long run they actually even each other out.
                            Scientists have announced they've discovered a cure for apathy. However no one has shown the slightest bit of interest !!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by SparceMatrix


                              This is very off topic, but strictly speaking, the US never declared war on Vietnam. There was "the war in Vietnam".

                              It is a worthwhile question to ask exactly what is or isn't necessary for logistical support for those combat soldiers in Iraq. I'll bet that a good part of what is called "logistic" has nothing whatsoever to do with the combat troops and everything to do with the babysitting forces for our Kurdish and Shi'i "allies" and their friends showing up via NATO.
                              Either way you lost a war. Period.

                              Comment

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