Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tooth to tail ratio...just saying...

[This post is a year and a half old but I'm reposting it because it seems timely (again). It came up in a Google search for "tooth to tail ratio" this morning. As I read it again I thought about how vulnerable our forces are in Iraq, particularly if their numbers are being reduced.

Latest news is that the administration is planning troop reductions, either because the UN mandate will expire next year, or because the newly "sovereign" Iraq is saying it's time to get out, or to take the wind out of Obama's sails, or to underscore the glorious success of the famous "Surge," or all of the above...evidence that we have indeed won the war.


Meantime all this talk about getting into a conflict with Iran is a blade that cuts both ways. A troop reduction could leave a vulnerable few "teeth" cut off with a long, hard to manage "tail." Or (this is a scary thought) they might be tightening up their strength, staging a new assault, this time with Iran as the target.

Just thinking out loud...]

January, 2007

Steven Bainbridge points to a piece of common sense, that twenty thousand troops deployed does not mean twenty thousand troops on duty. As anyone knows who has to work for a living, you can't be expected to stay on task around the clock. Even the most committed person has to take time to sleep, bathe, dress and pee. This is the civilian way to say what military people refer to as "tooth and tail."

...I recall from my days as an Army brat that the military talks about a tooth to tail ratio. A Google search kicks up various estimates of the tooth to tail ratio: 1-1, 1-4, 1-7, 1-10. According to John McCain, for example, in 2003 only about 30,000 out of
130,000 US troops in Iraq were actually on patrol at any time. So a "surge" of 20,000 troops plausibly might result in an increase of perhaps only 5,000 troops on patrol in Baghdad, which is a city of over 5 million people (depending on whose count you believe). If you assume that you need 10-20 combat troops in the field for every 1000 civilians, we need 50,000 to 100,000 troops to do the job in Baghdad. My bet is that the much ballyhooed surge is too little, too late....

There is more at the link (including "We come back to the basic problem, which is that Bush and Rumsfeld decided they could fight the war on the cheap") but I want to link also to another tooth/tail commentary I recall from several years ago by the brilliant Steven den Beste. He points out that the larger implication of tooth and tail has to do with support services required to effectively enable delivery of mission services to do their respective jobs. This essay has a broader message, although the point is essentially the same at the macro level as Bainbridge's close up.

The usual term for these roles are "tooth" and "tail." The "tooth" part is all the guys who are actually in the position of being able to kill enemies, and the "tail" guys are the ones who may find themselves in the position of fighting but don't usually expect to do so. (But all of them can die; everyone is potentially a target even if they aren't all shooting.) We speak of the tooth-to-tail ratio, though it usually makes more sense to talk about tail-to-tooth: How many men must there be behind the front doing unglamorous work to make it possible to put one man directly into combat? In some cases it's greater than 10 to 1.

Are Charlie Rangel and I the only two people in America who can see that if a draft is not reinstated the military will very soon be running out of human resources?

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