Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why the Troops Can't Come Home

Recently, many people - notably Rep. Ron Paul and his supporters - have questioned the wisdom and/or necessity of maintaining forward deployed US military units in foreign countries such as South Korea. Removing these forces as a "cost savings" measure is problematic to say the least. I think it is completely irresponsible and would be disastrous to the United States as a Nation. Let's use South Korea as an example.

On October 1, 1953, the United States of America and the Republic of Korea entered into a mutual defense treaty. The treaty took effect on November 14, 1954. Article 2 of treaty reads as follows:
The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of either of them, the political independence or security of either of the Parties is threatened by external armed attack. Separately and jointly, by self-help and mutual aid, the Parties will maintain and develop appropriate means to deter armed attack and will take suitable measures in consultation and agreement to implement this Treaty and to further its purposes.
Part of the United States' obligation to South Korea under this treaty is our forward deployed forces on the Korean peninsula. The main ground combat force we currently have there today is the 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team of the US Army's 2nd Infantry Division. But, what if they weren't there? What if South Korea came under attack, or even an increased threat of an attack, by the Communist tyrants to the north and we had to quickly redeploy forces from the continental USA?

The primary strategic air transport of the United States Air Force is the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. It can carry a maximum payload of around 160,000 pounds. At maximum payload, the aircraft can fly about 2,400 nautical miles (The extended-range variant of the C-17 can fly about 400 nmi farther, but we'll go with the lowest common denominator). According to the USAF itself, they have 174 of these planes to support the air logistics needs of the Department of Defense worldwide.

Now, what of an Army Heavy Brigade Combat Team (HBCT)? According to, an HBCT has no less than following primary combat equipment:

That's about 7,390 tons of equipment - 14,776,400 pounds. By my math, taking into account that you can't put part of a vehicle on a plane, that would require a minimum of 117 USAF C-17s to move all at once. That's 67% of the USAF's C-17s. So what, you say? Well...

Let's say we no longer have an HBCT forward deployed in Korea and a crisis requires us to send one there ASAP, e.g. by air. The 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, CO would be a likely unit to call upon. Fort Carson is near Colorado Springs and Peterson Air Force Base, which shares runways with Colorado Springs Airport. How far will the 2,400 nautical mile range of the C-17 get us on the trip to Korea?

The Internet Great Circle Mapper shows that a direct route from Peterson AFB (KCOS) to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (PAED)  in Alaska is 2,137 nmi. Our C-17s can make that leg of the trip without stopping, assuming that they can fly direct and don't have to divert for weather. So from Alaska to Asia, where next?

There's a problem: the closest air base between Elmendorf and Korea is Misawa Air Base (RJSM)  in Japan - 2,727 nmi away, beyond the unrefueled range of the C-17 at max payload! The two bases in Korea - Osan Air Base (RKSO) and Kunsan Air Base (RKJK) - are even farther away, 3,307 and 3,376 nmi respectively. To reach Korea, our HBCT being air transported will require in-air refueling for all 117 C-17 aircraft, requiring a massive deployment of KC-135 Stratotanker and/or KC-10 Extender aircraft to allow the planes to get to their destination before they run out of gas.

Now here's the kicker. All we've done if we've managed to pull off the single largest rapid airlift in world history is to move 7,390 tons of Army gear. We haven't gotten any of the hundreds - no thousands - of other vehicles and pieces of equipment that an HBCT needs to fight, to say nothing of all the fuel, ammunition, food, medical supplies, or the approximately 4,000 soldiers who will do the fighting.

Right now, the HBCT of the 2nd Infantry Division is deployed so it can rapidly react to aggression on the inter-Korea border. If war is imminent on the peninsula, there is no way a similar force could be redeployed from the USA in time to make a difference. It is, simply put, impossible to rapidly deploy heavy combat forces unless they, or at a minimum their equipment, are already located close to the combat theater where they will be needed.

The logistical nightmare of deploying heavy forces rapidly pales in significance though to the cost to the United States of us turning our backs on the commitments made to our Allies, and we can not remove our forces from Korea without doing so. Article 6 of the mutual defense treaty with the Republic of Korea reads:
This Treaty shall remain in force indefinitely. Either party may terminate it one year after notice has been given to the other Party.
So, I must ask: what country would ever trust the United States again if we were to pull out of a mutual defense treaty that we have unquestioningly honored and supported for almost 57 years?

The answer: none.

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