WASHINGTON — The National Commission on the Future of the Army's findings in its report released last week could alleviate some friction between the Army and the Guard as it offered solutions to build more "connective tissue" between the regular and reserve components.
Eight commissioners appointed by Congress and the White House examined the service's structure and policies relating to its size and force mix between the active, Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. In part, the commission was created to settle a dispute between the active Army and the Guard over a 2013 decision to restructure its aviation fleet that included taking all AH-64 Apaches out of the National Guard and placing them in active units. The Guard pushed back, arguing it should mirror the active force in capability.
Many of the 63 total recommendations attempt to ensure the reserve components are used regularly and are equipped appropriately, which can be seen as a win for the Guard.
"I think they gave the total Army a look to include all three components," Ret. Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, CEO of the National Guard Association of the US, told Defense News, "I think there is probably more for the Guard and Reserve to like in the report than really there is in active Army."
Yet, some argue that the report doesn’t offer up enough tangible recommendations to heal the rift between the active and reserve forces.
David Barno, an analyst at the Atlantic Council, said, "The Commission largely missed its primary if unstated task: healing the deep rift between the active Army and National Guard," adding, there were few "substantive suggestions on how to truly integrate active, Guard and Reserve capabilities into a unified force.”
And Mark Cancian, a CSIS analyst, noted in a paper that the commission, telling the troops to "knock off their bickering" as it does in the forward of the report, "may not bring peace to a sometimes fractious Army family." He argues that tensions between the active and reserve isn't necessarily "a problem to be fixed," but is inherent. "The problem can, however, be managed, and the commission has made a credible attempt to do that."
The billion-dollar question – that further studies recommended by the commission could help answer – remains whether the Guard should be an operational or strategic reserve, according to Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. The commission's report favors using the Guard and Reserve as an operational force.
The report also recommends more funding to carry out missions expected of the Army now and in the future, a tall order considering re-institution of full sequestration still looms a few years away.
The commissioners argued that it's possible – as history could dictate – to see defense spending rise instead of fall in the next administration given the new security challenges around the world. Analysts say that the commission showing the service needs to spend more – and specifically how to spend it – to be fully capable might help the Army make a better case for a higher budget in Congress.
Commission recommendations were made mostly within the constraints of President Obama's fiscal year 2016 budget request levels, which is about as low as the Army can go with its budget, they determined.
"The commission is going to have an impact with Congress, which by itself is an accomplishment given the volume of [other] commissions and how significantly dense this report is," said Eaglen, adding that the report is "comprehensive and thoughtful."
The House Armed Services' Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing with commissioners on Feb. 10.
To settle the biggest dispute, the commission recommended that the Guard should keep four battalions' worth of Apaches. The active Army will have 20 attack helicopter battalions.
The commission said the Army's Aviation Restructure Initiative is a well-thought-out plan in a time of drastic budgetary constraints. But it also decided the National Guard Bureau’s counter-plan, that would have kept six Apache helicopter battalions (two would be multi-component aviation brigades), provided deeper capability. Yet, the plan was more expensive.
The commission suggests the Guard’s battalions have 18 aircraft instead of the typical 24 required for operations. Yet, according to the commission's chair, retired Gen. Carter Ham, the Guard would not deploy with just 18 aircraft and would need to pull six aircraft from elsewhere in the active or reserve component if a battalion were preparing to deploy.
To offset new Apaches for the Guard, the commission’s plan would add only two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter battalions to the Guard instead of the four planned under ARI and Black Hawk modernization would slow, meaning less new helicopters would be bought each year.
This highlights one of the problems with funding Apaches for the Guard and possibly for other pressing aviation needs is that the commission-recommended offsets also come from aviation accounts, Eaglen noted, essentially "cutting aviation to pay for aviation."
The commission also found a total force of 980,000 is “minimally sufficient” for maintaining national security. Within its recommended total force of at least 980,000, the commission recommends 450,000 troops for the active component, 335,000 for the Guard and 195,000 in the Reserve.
The commission also concluded the Army is properly constructed as a total force. The reliance upon the regular Army, the Guard and the Reserve is “a good, sound construct,” but “unfortunately the total force policy has not been implemented as fully as we think that it should be,” Ham said.
The vice chairman of the commission, Thomas Lamont, added, “Obviously, an encouragement of additional multi-component units strongly favors and enhances that total force policy.”
Multi-component units include a mix of both active and reserve soldiers. One of the recommendations is that the Army set up a pilot program to look more closely at multi-component units.
Despite these recommendations, Nora Bensahel, an analyst at the Atlantic Council, said, "The commission report missed a huge opportunity to provide fresh thinking on multi-component units – the commission did not analyze the costs and benefits of integrating forces from the active Army, the National Guard, and the Reserve ... The aviation pilot program it recommends will only delay creative thinking about the much larger issue – how to effectively build and utilize a broad range of units that integrate all three components.”
Commissioner Kathleen Hicks, who is an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, questioned if Bensahel had read the report, "which is understandable because it's a long report" and pointed to three specific recommendations, one that instructs the Army to run a pilot program. "We are very supportive of the Army pursuing multi-compo, there are pilot programs now. We don't think they are sufficient ... We have been led to believe they are doing more piloting and so we basically encourage them to keep at that."
The commission is also recommending the Army should forward station an Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) in Europe as Russia continues to antagonize Eastern Europe.
The ABCT would also be closer to other volatile contingencies where it could deploy more quickly than if it were stationed in the United States, Ham explained. The commission believes adding it makes absolute strategic sense.
The commission does not believe adding an ABCT to Europe would need a large amount of additional staffing and the cost would not be significant. But it also acknowledges the political pushback that might occur if the Army chooses to take an ABCT from a lawmaker’s district stateside.
A forward-stationed Combat Aviation Brigade should also stay in Korea, the commission also recommends.
The Army plans to go from 11 CABs down to 10, cutting the one in Korea, and meeting the country’s needs through a rotational basis beginning in 2019.
Additionally, the commission is so serious about keeping a CAB in Korea, it notes that if the Army does go down to 10 CABs, the service should find another CAB to cut.
Keeping an 11th CAB in the Army doesn’t come cheap and would likely cost the service around $1.9 billion.
One issue that is "red hot" is the commission's suggestion to cut two infantry brigade combat teams from the active force, Eaglen said.
The commissioners expected the most pushback on the recommendation to cut the IBCTs, but argued the move would free up manpower to address other important shortfalls in places like short-range air defense, other missile defense, tactical mobility, and the military police.
“Even if the Army were to make the decision to inactive the two IBCTs from the regular Army, that yields you a fair number of manning spaces ... it doesn’t give you much money,” Ham said. “IBCTs are not very equipment-intensive and the equipment that they have is not hugely expensive.”