WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is planning to move pre-positioned stock stationed in South Korea back to the continental United States in order to outfit an armored brigade combat team, according to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
The move is part of a bigger effort to rebalance brigade combat teams to emphasize the need for heavy, armored BCTs over lighter infantry BCTs. The Army is converting an infantry brigade combat team to create a 15th armored brigade combat team and will build the 16th using the pre-positioned stock from South Korea.
The Army’s pre-positioned stocks — known as APS — are set up in each combatant command to be used in a contingency operation for rapid response, kept in ready “break-the-glass” condition should something arise. But pre-positioned stocks are mutating. The Army is setting up equipment sets to supplement APS in certain combatant commands for use in training and exercises and to help rapidly grow a force if needed. And the pre-positioned stocks themselves are being taken out and exercised more than was traditional in the past.
The chief said after years of conducting counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is realizing it must restructure and rebalance the force to be able to operate in more contested environments against near-peer adversaries.
Taking the equipment from South Korea will be necessary to create the 16th ABCT, “absent that we won’t be able to do it, given the money that we have and production and vehicle inventory that we have,” Milley said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had asked Milley during the hearing why the Army was removing the equipment from the Korean Peninsula in order to situate it in the United States.
Milley noted the 16th ABCT would be the rotational unit bound for South Korea as part of the Army’s current strategy and said that while there “is an element of risk, we think it’s an acceptable level of risk.”
The rotational ABCT meant for South Korea is an example of the Army’s growing use of rotational forces rather than setting up permanently forward-stationed units. And on top of that trend, the Army wants to see these rotational units deploy with all of their equipment, an exercise that shows the U.S. can rapidly get somewhere it’s not well-established with full capability at a high echelon.
For example, when the Army brought its first rotational ABCT into Europe this January, it took just 14 days after arriving at the seaport of Bremerhaven, Germany, to get all of its equipment in place in Poland and ready to fight.
The Army’s heel-to-toe rotational strategy to deploy units to Europe with all of their equipment flexes a muscle that hasn’t been used in many decades.
While there is some debate as to whether it would be better for the Army to permanently forward-station heavy units like an armored brigade, Milley said his preference is to maintain a heel-to-toe rotational schedule.
He argued the strategy has “the effect of a permanent unit in there in terms of battlefield effect, but it doesn’t come at the cost and overhead of a permanently stationed force."
Milley said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, has asked the Army to take a look at a forward-stationed ABCT in Europe, particularly the cost compared to a rotational unit.
But Milley said: “My recommendation is continued rotational forces … where you can move from one country to another because these forces won’t be pinned down to a single installation.” In addition, a permanently stationed brigade would involve having to resurrect commissaries and schools and would bring families into a potential conflict zone.
A rotational brigade will “get you battle-focused training and increased unit cohesion for the unit training,” he added.