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Chief, Congress and DoD hammer out Army's future manning levels

Oct. 7, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Soldiers might have to dig in even deeper and pull harder to get the work done if the Army has to shrink as much as called for now.
Soldiers might have to dig in even deeper and pull harder to get the work done if the Army has to shrink as much as called for now. (Senior Officer Candidate Denny D. Tellez/Army)
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The Army is preparing itself for a cut of up to 120,000 more soldiers in the next five years.

The Army is preparing itself for a cut of up to 120,000 more soldiers in the next five years.

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The Army is preparing itself for a cut of up to 120,000 more soldiers in the next five years.

The cuts would reduce the active force from 490,000 to 420,000 soldiers, a 14 percent cut.

The Guard would lose 32,000, and the Reserve would be cut by 18,000 troops. That is a 9 percent reduction for both.

The cuts are addressed in presentation titled “Army Today-Future” provided to members of Congress and obtained by Army Times.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno in the first week of October warned soldiers worldwide — during post visits and through social media — more cuts are coming, and 420,000 is the number he has dropped repeatedly.

Such was the case when the chief held his first virtual town hall meeting Sept. 25 on Facebook. The drawdown was a hot topic as Odierno took questions from soldiers for about an hour.

“If full sequestration is implemented, there’s a good chance that the Army Component might have to go as low 420K,” Odierno said.

He told Congress on Sept. 18 that such cuts would be necessary if “the additional discretionary cap reductions required under current law continue,” and there looks to be little change in sight.

Indeed, the Army’s attitude is shifting from possible to probable.

For example, boards will convene to separate one-third of captains from year groups 2007, 2008 and 2009 in the coming year, Odierno said.

“The loss of experienced manpower will negatively impact short-term readiness and is likely to impact future recruitment and retention,” the chief said. “Reductions in the pool of soldiers will exacerbate the impact on our manning readiness.”

The Pentagon is certainly prepping for deeper cuts. Defense leaders in August pointed to the Strategic Choices and Management Review and the possibility of reducing the Army to 380,000 well-trained and technologically dominant active troops.

The review also made a case for cutting 120,000 total force soldiers, which would leave active-duty end strength at 420,000. Odierno has warned lawmakers that this would include “significantly less than” the 52 total force brigade combat teams needed and would cut modernization accounts by nearly 25 percent “with no program unaffected.”

“In my professional military judgment, these projected end strength and force structure levels would not enable the Army to fully execute 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance requirements to defeat an adversary in one major combat operation while simultaneously denying the objectives of an adversary in a second theater,” he told the House Armed Services Committee on Sept. 18. “Additionally, it is unlikely that the Army would be able to defeat an adversary quickly and decisively should they be called upon to engage in a single, sustained major combat operation.”

But the chief has spent much time on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, where he has pressed Congress to limit cuts and maintain an Army of no fewer than 450,000 active troops, 335,000 in the Guard and 195,000 in the Reserve. This, he told lawmakers, “is the absolute minimum size to fully execute the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance.” But the service would be at “high risk” for reacting to any strategic surprise and would be forced to reduce future readiness and modernization programs.

The Pentagon’s Strategic Choices and Management Review said to stay at that size, the service would sacrifice myriad costly programs such as the Ground Combat Vehicle, new helicopters, unmanned technologies, advanced communications and cyber enhancements. Special operations forces would see a considerable cut, as well.

It would cause what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called “a decadelong modernization holiday” in which troops could find equipment and weapons less effective against more technologically advanced adversaries.

Opinions on where the Army would make the cuts vary. There has been a great deal of discussion about shifting some of the Army tasks from active forces to the Guard and Reserve, namely the armored brigades. They are a lot cheaper — about one-third the cost — to operate in the reserve component.

Four primary think tanks — the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Center for Strategic and International Studies, American Enterprise Institute and Center for a New American Security — agreed that six active-duty armored brigade combat teams would need to be cut.

The Guard has seven armored BCTs plus three armored battalions. Only two of its brigades are equipped with the premier M1A2 System Enhancement Package main battle tank.

The unanswered question is whether cuts to those Guard and Reserve forces would prevent such a transfer.

Opinions are mixed.

Each of the aforementioned think tanks balanced force structure, end strength, bases, readiness, civilian personnel, weapon systems and modernization programs across each service branch. They each offered different ways to make anticipated cuts.

AEI: Three active and five Reserve infantry BCTs cut, one reserve armored BCT cut, three active Stryker BCTs cut and elimination of 78,000 active and 58,000 Reserve soldiers.

CNAS: The addition of one active infantry BCT, while 14 would be cut from the reserves, five Reserve armored BCTs cut, one Reserve Stryker BCT cut and the elimination of 73,000 active and 84,000 Reserve soldiers.

CSBA: Seven active and four reserve infantry BCTs cut, four Reserve armored BCTs cut, two active and one Reserve Stryker BCT cut, and elimination of 70,000 active and 19,000 Reserve soldiers.

CSIS: Cutting eight active while adding five Reserve infantry BCTs, adding two Reserve armored BCTs, cutting five active while adding three Reserve Stryker BCTs and a cut of 163,000 active soldiers while boosting the reserves by 100,000 soldiers.

Ending sequestration is the only way to prevent these cuts. But such legislation would have to go through bipartisan committees, then pass the Senate and House, both of which are fighting to protect hundreds of millions of dollars in other areas. If it makes it through, the legislation must then be signed by President Obama, who has vowed to block legislation that would exempt the Pentagon from cuts.

In the meantime, the Army has taken four key steps to cover costs in anticipation of reduced discretionary caps and in the threat of continued sequestration:

■ The required reduction of active-duty end strength to 490,000 troops will wrap up in fiscal 2015 — two years earlier than planned. That number currently stands at about 531,000 soldiers.

■ Active BCTs were cut this summer from 45 to 33, and reorganized to reduce brigade level headquarters.

■ A tiered readiness system — one Odierno calls “drastic” — has been initiated. That means 20 percent of the operational force will receive funds necessary for collective training. If sequestration-level reductions continue into fiscal 2014, 85 percent — or 59 of 69 — active and reserve-component BCTs will not meet the contingency requirements of the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance.

■ Modernization programs are being scrubbed to determine which ones will be kept, and which ones will be delayed or canceled.

But it is increasingly evident these cuts will not be enough.

“The choices we must make to meet reduced funding levels by sequestration could force us to reduce our Army in size and capability to levels that I, as the chief of staff of the Army, am not comfortable with,” Odierno told the House Armed Services Committee. “For those that present the choice as one between capacity and capability, I want to remind them that for the Army, soldiers are our capability. Unlike other services that man their equipment, the Army must train and equip soldiers to achieve decisive strategic results on the ground. If the funding dictates a smaller Army, then we must be prepared for both reduced capacity and reduced capability.”

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