The U.S. Army may cut 10 of its 45 active-duty brigade combat teams (BCTs) as it works to meet President Obama's order to slice defense spending, said an Army official familiar with the budget deliberations.
Service leaders are still discussing how many Stryker, heavy or infantry BCTs might get cut and when.
The discussions are part of the budget drills each U.S. military service is undertaking before the Defense Department delivers a plan in October to cut its budget by at least $400 billion.
The Army has already announced plans to reduce its end strength by 27,000 starting in 2015 and has set lower recruiting goals to prepare for those cuts. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff, has said the service plans to cut out the temporary 22,000-solider increase that started in 2009 for the Afghanistan surge by 2012.
Subtracting 10 BCTs would fall in line with this plan, said the official, who asked to remain anonymous since discussions are ongoing.
Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, head of Force Management, Headquarters Army, confirmed that a range of proposals are on the table as part of the "comprehensive analysis of [the service's] force structure, known as Total Army Analysis, to evaluate a number of different options for our leadership.
"No decisions have been made at this point, and it is too early to speculate about outcomes until we conclude our analysis later this year," Ierardi said.
Army officials expect that analysis could come as early as next month to give Army leaders time to present their findings to the Pentagon.
The service has 73 BCTs: 45 in the active component and 28 in the reserve component. Some defense analysts said it would be more cost-effective as well as politically easier to slice off active-duty BCTs.
But the Army official said the service could also cut five Reserve BCTs as deployments come down in Iraq and Afghanistan and budget pressures increase.
The proposal to cut the number of BCTs doesn't come as a surprise. The Army chief of staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, soon to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, studied the idea when he ran his service's Training and Doctrine Command. He ordered a study that found the Army could benefit from adding maneuver units and expanding BCTs while cutting 10 from the total number.
Army officials and defense analysts said that study is helping to drive the current proposal. It has led many to anticipate the growth of the remaining BCTs. The service could very well return the third maneuver battalion back to the BCTs that was subtracted to stand up more BCTs.
"At that time, we just needed more BCTs because we had guys, in some cases, doing 18-month deployments. It was tough," the Army official said.
Just what type of BCT will be cut is still being discussed. Defense analysts pointed out that reducing the number of Stryker BCTs would have a greater effect on end strength because they are larger than heavy or infantry BCTs.
If the plan goes through, all 10 BCTs wouldn't be chopped at once. The reduction would occur over time, much like it took time for the Army to reach 73 BCTs, the official said.
In 2002, BCTs didn't exist in the Army. The Army was split up into 20 divisions and 14 brigades. Not until 2003, when the Army went into Iraq, did the service set up 33 BCTs as it pursued modularity.
Jim Carafano, a defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation and a former Army officer, warned against cutting too many BCTs too soon. Those who see soldiers leaving Iraq and Afghanistan must also take notice of the Army's other missions across the globe, which demand a mobile, modular force, he said.
"Our leaders must decide what exactly they want our land force to do," he said. "We can't just cut the number of people and then still be willing to take on the same amount of missions."