Paratroopers exit a C-130 aircraft at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, as part of an airborne training exercise

RAND Solution

Measuring Troop Deployments

Challenge

How "big" were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? How does the size of the United States forces deployed there compare to the number of troops sent to other wars? To prepare for future conflicts, the U.S. Army needed to know exactly how far it had extended itself in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

Context

U.S. Army soldiers lean against a mud wall during a break from combat operations in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, January 9, 2012

Records on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can tell you how many U.S. soldiers were deployed in each operation at any one time. These numbers do not tell you how long any one soldier was deployed, or in what category of service they served. To learn the lessons that the Army will need in future conflicts, Department of Defense decision makers needed a way to measure the commitment of each service to the fighting force.

To hamper this effort, soldiers deployed from both active and reserve component forces, and served in deployments of various lengths. The Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army asked RAND to assess the demands placed upon the Army by deployments to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan. Army leadership was interested in understanding how many soldiers had served in theater over the course of OIF and OEF.

“To prepare for future conflicts, the U.S. Army needed to know exactly how far it had extended itself in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).”

Project Description

RAND researchers used data from the Defense Manpower Data Center Contingency Tracking System Deployment File to provide raw information on U.S. troop deployments. They established that the best metric for evaluating service commitment was the “troop-year” – a unit that represents one soldier deployed for one year (regardless of whether multiple soldiers filled that role). This method of measuring deployments is then refined by measuring against clustered individual deployment lengths; what percentage of the troop-years measured, for example, was filled by soldiers who had been deployed for longer than 12 months? In doing so, researchers were able to gauge both the overall level to which a force was committed, and the extent to which it maintained excess capacity.

Research Questions

  1. How many soldiers has the Army provided to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn?
  2. How does this demand for soldiers compare with the numbers of troops provided by the other services?
  3. Of the soldiers on active duty today, how many have deployed to OEF or OIF/OND, and for how long? How many have not yet deployed, and for what reasons?

Impact

  • The Army has provided the bulk of U.S. troops to Iraq and Afghanistan: over 1.5 million troop-years as of December 2011, and 54 percent of all active component troop-year deployments.
  • Since 2008, the cumulative amount of time that a soldier has spent deployed has increased (on average) by 28 percent.
  • As of December 2011, roughly 73 percent of active component soldiers had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, an increase of 6 percentage points since December 2008. Most of these soldiers were working on their second, third, or fourth year of cumulative deployed duty.
  • Most of the remaining 27 percent are not yet deployed, since they are recent recruits, are forward-stationed in other overseas locations, or have contributed to Operation Enduring Freedom and/or Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn without deploying.

This study changed the discussion about the extent to which the U.S. Army has excess capacity. The Army retains very little unutilized capacity to deploy additional active component soldiers.

This study changed the discussion about the extent to which the U.S. Army has excess capacity

A U.S. soldier climbs a mountain in Watapur district, Kunar province, Afghanistan, January 11, 2012