The most recent edition of the US Army War College’s academic journal includes a highly disturbing essay on what lessons the US military should take away from the continuing war in Ukraine. By far the most concerning and most relevant section for the average American citizen is a subsection entitled “Casualties, Replacements, and Reconstitutions” which, to cut right to the chase, directly states, “Large-scale combat operations troop requirements may well require a reconceptualization of the 1970s and 1980s volunteer force and a move toward partial conscription.”
An Industrial War of Attrition Would Require Vast Numbers of Troops
The context for this supposed need to reinstate conscription is the estimate that were the US to enter into a large-scale conflict, every day it would likely suffer thirty-six hundred casualties and require eight hundred replacements, again per day. The report notes that over the course of twenty years in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US suffered fifty thousand casualties, a number which would likely be reached in merely two weeks of large-scale intensive combat.
The military is already facing an enormous recruiting shortfall. Last year the army alone fell short of its goal by fifteen thousand soldiers and is on track to be short an additional twenty thousand this year. On top of that, the report notes that the Individual Ready Reserve, which is composed of former service personnel who do not actively train and drill but may be called back into active service in the event they are needed, has dropped from seven hundred thousand in 1973 to seventy-six thousand now.
Prior to the Ukraine war, the fad theory in military planning was the idea of “hybrid warfare,” where the idea of giant state armies clashing on the battlefield requiring and consuming vast amounts of men and material was viewed as out of date as massed cavalry charges. Instead, these theorists argued that even when states did fight, it would be via proxies and special operations and would look more like the past twenty years of battling nonstate actors in the hills of Afghanistan. In a recent essay in the Journal of Security Studies, realist scholar Patrick Porter documents the rise of this theory and the fact that it is obviously garbage given the return of industrial wars of attrition.
As military planners have woken up from the fevered dream of imagining that modern war consisted of chasing the Taliban through the hills with complete and overwhelming airpower, they have similarly started to wake up to the idea that industrial war has vast manpower requirements and that seemingly the only way to fill these requirements is by forcing young people into the ranks. That has certainly been the only way Ukraine has been able to maintain its forces, although it has required increasingly draconian measures to do so as conscripts face attrition rates of 80 to 90 percent by Ukraine’s own admission.
Obviously, the reintroduction of conscription is an extremely disturbing prospect given America’s propensity for getting involved in meaningless wars that accomplish nothing other than empowering our enemies, killing and maiming our soldiers, and wasting vast resources.