Even without sequestration, the U.S. Army may be forced to cut its end strength further than the already planned-for 80,000 troops over the next several years, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said on Feb. 15.
Under current plans, the 570,000-strong Army will fall to 490,000 in coming years, as part of the postwar rebalancing of the armed services.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Odierno said, “my guess is that we’ll go even a little bit smaller in order for me to balance the readiness and modernization. We’re still working that number.”
The possible further reductions may be necessary due to the fact that about 48 percent of the service’s budget goes to personnel costs, and the price tag of training, equipping and retaining a soldier has doubled since 2000. Odierno said that in order to maintain readiness and fund various modernization programs, the further cuts will likely be necessary.
“Fiscal constraints are here to say and we understand that we have to play a role,” the general said.
Odierno told Congress earlier this week that sequestration might force the Army to cull another 100,000 troops from its ranks. Speaking at Brookings he went further, estimating that beginning with the 80,000 already scheduled, “in the end, it’ll be over 200,000 soldiers that we will have to take out of the active duty component National Guard and Army Reserve” if sequestration is implemented for the long term.
“We’ll take almost a 40 percent reduction in our brigade combat teams once we’re finished,” he cautioned.
When looking at the Army’s bottom line, Odierno said that if the fiscal 2014 budget is implemented without sequestration, the Army will have taken a 45 percent reduction in its budget since 2008, a number that rises to over 50 percent with sequestration.
As for the long-term consequences of such cuts, the general said that such huge reductions would send the wrong message to potential adversaries around the world.
“What I worry about is that we will cause people to miscalculate, and then we have to get involved. So I want to retain the right capacity so people understand that we still have the ability to respond, and still have the ability to maintain our own security,” he said.