WASHINGTON — It’s no accident the US Army has chosen Huntsville, Ala., to host this year’s Association of the United States Army (AUSA) symposium and trade show. The town is home to Army Materiel Command (AMC), which oversees a litany of subordinate commands busily transforming the Army from its wartime posture to a postwar future.
AMC is shipping billions of dollars worth of Army equipment home from Afghanistan, and its Army Contracting Command, Army Sustainment Command, Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command, and Life Cycle Management Command are all working to reset the Army’s equipment while helping to develop next-generation gear.
While those commands will have time to tell their stories at the symposium this week, the continuing saga of sequestration will hang like an asterisk over their remarks as those across-the-board budget cuts will bite into every program and initiative in which the service’s leadership is investing.
Speaking at a Feb. 11 Council on Foreign Relations event, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno continued his campaign of explaining what effect the congressionally mandated cuts will have on his service.
Coming out of the war in Afghanistan, he said, the service will need “about three to four years” in order to fully balance readiness, end strength and modernization accounts to set itself up for future operations. And the sequester jeopardizes all of those initiatives.
“We want to keep the balance between modernization, readiness, and end strength; that’s what drives your budget,” he said. “Even if we get too small, whatever [equipment is] left we want to make sure it’s ready and modernized. The problem we have is because of the hammer of sequestration, it’s going to take us three to four years to get to that balance” because soldiers are still deployed, and it takes a large infrastructure to keep them trained and supplied because they’re overseas.
“I’m still worried that we have 60,000 soldiers deployed around the world” the chief continued, including about 30,000 still in Afghanistan. “We’ve got to sustain that and prepare people to do that while we’re reducing the force, and we’re having problems in having enough money to develop the right readiness” to meet these missions.
Still, on top of its base budget, the Army was given an extra $46.4 billion in the omnibus bill passed by Congress in January to fund operations in Afghanistan. The Defense Department received $85.2 billion overall for overseas operations, $5 billion more than the White House had originally requested, but down from the $87.2 billion allocated in fiscal 2013. While that money goes toward sustaining and supplying soldiers downrange, it also goes a long way in modernizing the equipment that comes home from the war, and with thousands fewer troops in Afghanistan than were deployed there in 2013, more of that cash can presumably go toward reset.
But what will the force that uses that modernized equipment look like?
The Army is drawing down to about 490,000 soldiers by 2015, on its way to as low as 380,000, according to some reports. But Odierno said 450,000 should be the floor if the Army is to maintain its capability of meeting a variety of potential missions.
“It’s higher risk [than 490,000] but we should be able to do it,” he said.
The service has mostly lost its planned heavily armored infantry carrier of the future, the ground combat vehicle (GCV), which saw its funding for fiscal 2014 cut from $580 million to $100 million, relegating it to a technology study, program industry sources have said.
At the same time, however, the Maneuver Center for Excellence released a sources-sought notice on Jan. 22 looking for an ultra-light combat vehicle that can carry a full squad of nine soldiers, sport a “medium caliber” gun, be transportable inside a CH-47 or air-dropped from a C-17 or C-130.
The service also said it wants any potential design to feature superior off-road mobility, and instead of carrying bulky armor packages, it should be able to “avoid enemy contact.”
With the GCV all but gone, the Army will have to invest more in modernizing its Bradley fleet, which has already benefited from years of wartime budgets that kept the infantry fighting vehicle’s variants as modern as possible.
Not everyone thinks the death of the GCV is a bad thing.
“Frankly, I don’t think they should be buying any new vehicles” said Jim Hasik, senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security at the Atlantic Council.
He cautioned that the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, still in competition as BAE Systems and General Dynamics work on designs, is necessary because the M113 infantry carrier — which was originally built in the 1960s and has been incrementally upgraded in subsequent years — is not capable of incorporating the Army’s current suite of communications, jamming and computer equipment.
But the GCV, which was slated to replace the Bradley, is a hulking 70-ton vehicle and isn’t a top requirement at the moment.
“The reason is that what they have at the moment is not obviously outclassed by what anybody else has,” Hasik said, “and there are no particular sharp deficiencies that they can credibly point to” that would indicate the Bradley could lose a fight against a peer threat. “The performance has actually been pretty good.
“That’s not very good for industry” he admitted, since BAE and General Dynamics are working on the GCV, “but those vehicles can soldier on for quite some time.” ■