A smaller US Army would still be able to fight a major theater conflict while also supporting forces in a second theater, says Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. (US Army)
WASHINGTON — When it comes to the US Army and Marine Corps, there were no real surprises in Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s peek today of the 2015 defense budget.
The Marines only merited one line, when Hagel confirmed that the Corps would lose 8,000 grunts in coming years as it drops to 182,000 personnel, and if sequestration returns in 2016, would shrink further to 175,000.
The Army, on the other hand, actually leaped ahead of the secretary in recent months, laying out time and again everything that would happen to the force in coming budgets.
In summing up his budget, Hagel nodded to the obvious reason for the pain that the services have been enduring, acknowledging that “as we end our combat mission in Afghanistan, this will be the first budget to fully reflect the transition DoD is making after 13 years of war — the longest conflict in our nation’s history.”
His comments reflected those made by Lt. Gen Keith Walker, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, who bluntly stated on the opening day of the Association of the United States Army’s symposium on Feb 19: “We have transitioned from an Army at war to an Army preparing for war.”
But Hagel went further, explaining that analysis done by the Pentagon showed that even if the United States is called on to undertake “extended or simultaneous ground operations,” a smaller ground force would still be able to successfully meet a kind of one-and-a-half threshold by “decisively defeating aggression in one major combat theater — as it must be — while also defending the homeland and supporting air and naval forces engaged in another theater against an adversary.”
The ground force that would do this will comprise about 450,000 soldiers in a best-case scenario, but fall to 420,000 if sequestration remains in place in 2016.
The Army National Guard will also lose about 20,000 soldiers to fall to 335,000, while the Reserves will lose about 10,000 soldiers to hit 195,000 by 2017. If sequestration returns in 2016, the Army Guard would continue drawing down further, to 315,000, and the Army Reserves would shrink to 185,000.
On the equipment side, Hagel also said that he accepted the Army’s recommendation to scuttle the Ground Combat Vehicle and “redirect the funds toward developing a next-generation platform.” He also tasked both the Army and Marines with delivering to him “realistic visions for a vehicle modernization by the end of this fiscal year.”
The big one, of course, is the ongoing fight between the active duty Army and the National Guard over their helicopter fleets.
In early December, Defense News reported that the Army was discussing a plan to get rid of its fleet of Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters and replace them by taking the Guard’s Apache attack helicopters, and giving them Black Hawks in return.
Hagel is going along with the plan — much to the chagrin of the Guard and many governors and members of Congress — telling the press this morning that the change is part of a “broader realignment of Army aviation designed to modernize its fleet and make it highly capable and more affordable.”
Overall, the active Army’s rotary wing fleet is slated to decrease by about 25 percent, “but it would be significantly modernized under the president’s budget plan,” Hagel said. ■