WASHINGTON — Two Republican House lawmakers are concerned the commission tasked by Congress to study the future of the US Army is headed in the wrong direction.
With four months left before the National Commission on the Future of the Army must issue its report to Congress, Rep. Kay Granger, of Texas, and Rep. Steve Womack, of Arkansas, sent a letter Sept. 30, obtained by Defense News, to the commission leaders expressing "high hopes" that it would "identify areas where improvements can be made, and efficiencies found," as budgets decline and force structure shrinks.
But the two House Appropriations defense subcommittee members said they "have some concerns with the conduct of the commission itself. It seems that the scope and breadth of the commission's work is narrower than Congress directed. The commission appears to be focused on small, incremental changes rather than comprehensive changes."
Granger and Womack write that the commission also seems to be focused on the near-term rather than "truly looking at the future of the Army" over the next 20 to 30 years.
Specifically, the lawmakers say they are most concerned with the Aviation Restructure Initiative, a plan currently being executed by the Army to restructure its fleet, and National Guard dwell time. The commission, expected to deliver its report to Congress no later than Feb. 1, 2016, is considering both issues as part of its effort.
The Army's plan to retire OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and to take all of the AH-64 Apache attack helicopters out of the National Guard to use for the armed reconnaissance mission in the active force, "does not take into account the second and third-order impacts of the various aspects of the proposal with regard to increased costs or operations," Granger and Womack state.
The restructure plans also include retiring the single-engine TH-67 training helicopters and replacing them with dual-engine LUH-72A Lakota helicopters.
Granger spearheaded a letter sent to the chairmen and ranking members of both the House and Senate Armed Services committees earlier this year, signed by 213 House members, requesting to stop Apache transfers from the Guard and reductions in force structure until the commission can issue its report.
"We refuse to believe that the Army honestly thinks that it does not need an operational reserve in attack aviation," the letter states. "ARI is a poorly thought out, ill-informed, budget-driven plan that strips the National Guard of its attack capability and relegates them to the sidelines of the fight."
The lawmakers claim they have "repeatedly" asked for details on the plan and "have yet to receive a satisfactory answer," particularly related to cost and savings. "This includes but is not limited to the cost of increased utilization rate of the new training aircraft, military construction, simulators and per hour flying cost," they write.
The commission should also re-examine the Pentagon's guidelines for dwell time, or how long members are stationed back in the US. "As proven over the last 14 years, the National Guard provides a significant cost-savings in dwell while providing an equal capability when deployed," they add.
"Every time we ask detailed questions, we are told that someone else has that answer, but we never receive acceptable answers," the letter states. "Every time we dig beneath the surface of this plan, we become more alarmed with the harmful impacts it will have on the Army, Reserves and National Guard."
The restructure initiative has been a major point of contention between the Army and the National Guard since the plan was revealed in late 2013. The plan was developed to avoid debilitating salami slice cuts across the Army's fleet.
The National Guard Association has lobbied hard on Capitol Hill to keep Apaches in the rReserve component, in part prompting the establishment of the commission tasked to look at the Army' entire future force structure. The Guard has argued that it must mirror the active force in capability and should that capability be taken from the Guard it would be impossible to later bring it back into the rReserve component.