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.

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