U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is mostly comfortable knowing the Army will have to shed 80,000 soldiers from its 551,000-strong ranks as the force restructures after more than a decade of war. But during a roundtable discussion with Defense News and the Army Times, the chief also said that some troops will have to leave the service against their will.
Up to 16,000 soldiers and 5,000 officers will likely face involuntary separation in order to reach 80,000, Odierno said. The Army has already slashed about 6,000 soldiers from its ranks, closing out fiscal 2012 with 551,000 active-duty soldiers, down from a wartime high of 570,000.
If sequestration hits, however, Odierno said that another 80,000 to 100,000 soldiers will likely have to leave the force, potentially reducing its size to less than 400,000 soldiers for the first time since before World War II.
Although his fate is in the hands of a Congress that hasn’t been able to agree on much over the past several years, “I am hopeful that there is going to be some sort of framework or agreement,” he said. “My guess is that they will push it down the road and make the new Congress decide on it. We will see. Nobody really knows. I feel a bit more confident now that I think that they will come to some agreement on that.”
If there isn’t an agreement by January, Odierno said that the problems will begin immediately with a 12 to 14 percent across-the-board cut on every line item of the budget. “It is just going to come out,” he said.
Since personnel costs are exempt, the savings will have to come elsewhere, leading the Army to potentially default on contracts and stop modernization programs in their tracks. So when building the next budget, for fiscal 2014, “we then have to go into a really deep planning and probably develop a whole new strategy. We have to determine how we rebalance that between 2014 and 2018. That is the real issue,” he added.
In the meantime, there is still the issue of the brigade combat team (BCT) redesign that the service has been kicking around. Odierno said that the analysis has been completed on what the BCTs of the future will look like, and that the decision to move to three maneuver battalions per BCT “is the best thing for us to do as we move forward. I suspect that we will make a final announcement sometime after the first of the year on this. But all of the analysis points toward the best thing for us to do is have a three-battalion brigade. This means that we will have to have fewer brigades,” however.
Some of those BCTs will become regionally aligned brigades (RAB), which will train and deploy in support of regional combatant commanders. The first such brigade, the 2nd BCT of the 1st Infantry Division, will align with the AFRICOM command in 2013.
While the 2/1 deployment will be a pilot test, some leaders are concerned about how ready the force is to start conducting training, advising and other “soft” missions on such short notice.
In remarks at a Nov. 27 Special Operations conference in Alexandria, Va., hosted by the Defense Strategies Institute, Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commander of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command, said that while he supports the RAB concept, “I have cautioned the Army about all of those things like [teaching soldiers] language. It’s expensive.”
Cleveland added that in discussions with Army leadership, “I have told them that the first thing you need to do is increase your … exercise funds so you can increase multinational training events,” since building those relationships on the ground will be key to the success of the program.
There is demand for greater American involvement in training and mentoring host nation forces among both allies and potential allies, but the RAB idea is one that might be difficult to maintain in the long term. It is costly to train brigades in the nuances of local languages and cultures, in addition to the constant deployments of elements of those brigades around the globe.
“If nothing else, the Army is failing forward” Cleveland said.