Can the Individual Reserves Fill Mobilization Needs?

FPCD-79-3: Published: Jun 28, 1979. Publicly Released: Jun 28, 1979.

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The U.S. military forces are currently manned at a peacetime level. A large number of personnel is needed to bring the forces up to a wartime level. Personnel having military experience would be provided by the Active Forces, the Selected Reserve, the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), the Standby Reserve, and the Retired Reserves. In later months, these pretrained personnel could be supplemented by newly trained draftees or volunteers. However, there is a serious shortfall in pretrained personnel. An examination of the Army's Total Force elements in both fiscal year 1964 and 1978 shows that in 1978 the Army's largest strength decline was in the IRR. Whereas the strength of the Active Army, the Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve, collectively, declined about 20 percent, the IRR has fallen from a level of 461,000 to 177,000, which is a reduction of 62 percent. The Army Total Force of almost 2.3 million in 1964 has been reduced by more than 700,000. The Office of the Secretary of Defense is considering the following programs for resolving the mobilization shortages: extending the 6-year obligation to women, stopping the automatic transfer of IRR members to the Standby Reserve, screening of active duty and Selected Reserve separatees for transfer to the Army IRR, using a direct enlistment program into the IRR, restoring the 2-year enlistment option for the Active Forces, using retirees and civilians, drafting veterans, and extending the 6-year obligation to 9 years.

It is highly unlikely that all of these proposed improvements will materialize. In fact, GAO believes that drafting veterans could hinder the services' ability to attract volunteers for the Active Forces, the Guard, and the Reserve Force. This could be particularly true if potential volunteers realize that they will have an additional obligation in the event of mobilization, whereas their peers and associates would not have similar obligations. Concerning the IRR, it was stated that some 70 percent would report if called. Approximately 75 percent of the filler and replacement needs for the Army would be in the combat arms, or the medical, combat engineer, and direct support fields; however, only 25 percent of the IRR personnel possess these primary skills. Neither the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense nor the services have made provisions for retraining nor have they made an assessment of existing skills. In addition, the mobilization needs of the Army are mostly for young low-rank enlisted personnel, and a disproportionate number of men and women in the supplementary pools are noncommissioned or commissioned officers.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: In evaluating any legislative proposals intended to correct individual reserve shortages, the Congress should make sure that all principal alternatives have been adequately considered. The Congress should also require the Department of Defense to identify the probable impact of the proposed changes on other total force components. Congress needs to assure itself that the actions proposed are responsive to the short-term and long-term needs of the services.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require the services to determine what pretrained personnel they will need in full mobilization and in what timeframe. The determination should include an assessment of the casualty rates, expected yield rates, and replacement requirements for the Active and Selected Reserve Forces. The Secretary of Defense should also require the Army to determine the probable impact of any actions taken or planned to correct IRR shortages on the other total force components, especially the Active and Selected Reserve Forces.

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