WASHINGTON — Sustaining the current force posture for the Army and Marine Corps would likely require over $1 billion, Rep. Mike Turner, the chairman of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee, said.
Turner and Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., have submitted a bipartisan bill that if approved would stop the drawdown of both Army and Marine Corps troops. The plan would keep the Army's force at 480,000 troops rather than reduce the force size to 450,000 in fiscal 2017.
"We met with the budget committee, we made it very clear that we believe that this needs to be fully funded," Turner told Defense News in an interview.
The House Armed Services Committee has to go through the entire National Defense Authorization Act process to determine exactly what additional resources the troops would require, Turner said, "but people are looking at $1.3 or $1.4 billion and then some additional associated costs to the Army."
Turner noted that the money is not an additional request, but money being spent now. "That is not asking for an increase, that is asking for us not to take a cut . . . an important distinction," he said.
The bill Gibson and Turner submitted is a reaction to recent findings from the National Commission on the Future of the Army, which released its final report at the end of last month, that troops levels at 450,000 is the absolute lowest the Army's end-strength should go. And this was not taking into account some of the more recent world developments that has put the United States' national security at more risk.
The Ohio Republican's committee is tasked to examine the commission's findings and apply recommendations it deems important through legislation. The bill stopping a drawdown of troops is the first move.
"The commission's purpose was limited in that they could only look at posture through the budgetary constraints as projected by President Obama's budget, which did not even include the overall budget deal or a future congressional action to add dollars to the Department of Defense," Turner explained. "My first question to the co-chairs [of the commission during a recent subcommittee hearing] related to did they believe the Army drawdown is a threat to our national security and do they believe it should be stopped and their answer was 'yes.'"
The commission's "words of caution" that stopping a drawdown would have a financial cost beyond just personnel, because you can't have a hollow Army, . . . is an important distinction," Turner said, "but I think in the upcoming Congress and this budget year we are going to address this issue."
The bill to sustain the force posture is not about asking for more, Turner said, it's about not having less. "In looking at the cost, we look at what merely sustaining what we have plus ensuring that we offset the issues of sequestration."
Turner said it's also important to avoid the continued drawdown because restoring troop levels would be painful and take time.
The commission told Turner that it could take three years to restore the end-strength should a further reduction occur. "That means the next president of the United States will never regain this Army if cut. . . . I think we at least owe the next president handing them an Army that is at least as capable as they are today."
The president's recommendation to drawdown troops to 450,000 in fiscal 2017 was made before the Islamic State group emerged, before the Paris attack, Turner noted. "The president is now talking about not doing a drawdown in Afghanistan, increasing our presence in Europe, all of that is going to require a larger sized Army."
Turner said his committee is looking into how to implement other recommendations from the commission into the upcoming NDAA mark. However, the subcommittee chairman said that some of the commission's recommendations were made based on having a smaller Army which might require rethinking should Congress be able to stop the drawdown.
"They identified some functions that a smaller Army would be suitable for in our current threat environment and we certainly need to look at those items as to how they might enhance the overall capabilities of our Army force, but the threat environment is changing and I think that some of those will not be able to be pursued," the congressman said.
Turner said he agrees with the commission's recommendation to forward station an armored brigade combat team in Europe. "I have always believed we need troops forward stationed in Europe. I authored the NATO First bill at the time before the drawdown [in Europe] occured trying to stop it," he said.
"The reason why we need troops forward based in Europe is because if there is a conflict, we will never get them there, it's not what they do by being there and the time saved, it's that if we don't have them there they are not going to get there," Turner added.
President Obama's fiscal 2017 budget request asks for $3.8 billion to reassure European allies of its NATO commitment in the face of Russian aggression and would establish a 24/7 rotational ABCT.
Turner said the committee is also reviewing capability shortcomings identified by the commission such as in short-range missile defense as it begins the fiscal 2017 NDAA mark.