WASHINGTON — With just three months left before the National Commission on the Future of the Army must turn in its report to Congress, it is taking deep, analytical dives into force structure and meeting operational demand.
The commission has also decided to peel back the onion on modernization objectives, even though Congress did not explicitly ask the commission to look into it.
"It's so foundational to everything else that the Army does, we thought we'd spend a little bit of time and attention understanding that," retired Army Gen. Carter Ham, commission chairman, said last week at an open commission meeting in Arlington, Virginia. "Obviously, the resourcing implications are pretty significant."
Congress established the Army commission in its fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act because the Army and National Guard were deadlocked in a fight over how many soldiers should serve in each component, as well as what kinds of capabilities each should have.
The law requires the commission to assess the size of the active Army and the reserve forces — including the Guard and Army Reserve — and recommend any modifications "related to current and anticipated mission requirements … at acceptable levels of national risk and in a manner consistent with available resources and anticipated future resources."
The commission is also required to study the Army's plan to restructure its aviation assets, particularly its plan to move all AH-64 Apache attack helicopters out of the Army National Guard and into the active force. This is said to be the biggest point of contention between the two service components.
The commission has until Feb. 1 , 2016, to deliver a full report to Congress.
Earlier in October, the commission spent two days at the Institute for Defense Analyses conducting its own analytical review. It was joined by analysts from inside the commission, as well as from Rand, the U.S. Training and Doctrine Command, and others, Ham said.
"The focus of the review was on the size, the balance across components, the deployment and mobilization ratios," Ham said, assessed in "various scenarios to get a sense of how well the various force constructs meet the operational demand."
The commission applied a "variety" of alternatives against the Army's operational plans to include anticipated requirements and geographic combatant commander needs, using the "time-phased force deployment" database as a starting point, according to Ham.
"We did include both [continental US] and [outside of the continental US] scenarios and various sequencing to try to get at, inside, to the stresses that were on the force, on the Army, at various force levels and various capability mixes and various other factors ... such as deployment length, mobilization to dwell periods and the like," Ham explained.
Ham quipped that the effort "did in fact cause my brain to hurt," but that the commission felt it was important to go through its own analytical process, rather than solely relying on other analysis. Yet, he added that the commission's analysis was not an attempt, in two days, to replicate "the depth and breadth" of the work done by others in the field.
The review "yielded some analytically rigorous data" which will inform the commission's ongoing discussions and "will provide the analytical underpinning for findings and recommendations," Ham said.
Ham noted that the commission has decided to include a classified annex to the unclassified report that it will deliver to Congress so that those with clearance can see the origin of some of the commission's rationale based on classified information.
The chair of the commission acknowledged that part of the analysis looked at alternatives to the Army's current plan to transfer Apaches from the Guard.
"That was an important piece of the modeling that we did," Ham said, "to see how that affected the operational requirements of combatant commands."
Ham's takeaway from the two-day analysis effort is that there is "no magic solution."
"There is no 'Boy, if we just turn this dial a little bit, all of this stuff gets better,'" he said. "These are very, very complex, intertwined matters that if you make even a slight adjustment, whether it's [boots on the ground] to dwell [time at home], whether it's mobilization rates or componency, those changes have broad-ranging consequences to the ability of the Army to accomplish these missions."
The commission has, for the most part, finished its fact-finding mission. Members have visited over 18 states and 180 different units — 63 active Army, 72 National Guard, 37 Army Reserve, and eight multi-component units consisting of both active and reserve forces — in the US and abroad. And the team has met with every geographic combatant command, as well as U.S. Transportation Command, U.S. Cyber Command, U.S. Space Command, US Forces Korea and US Forces Japan.
The commission has met individually with five governors at site visits and with 23 governors at the National Governors Association summer meeting in West Virginia. Members also met with over 40 adjutants general.
The commissioners also have a working list of about 69 questions they are focused on, answering, to include detailed questions such as "should the Army increase Patriot [air and missile defense] batteries due to demand," and "what is the impact of Pacific Pathways and other approaches to Army 'rebalance,'" according to a slide presented at the commission's meeting last week.
Earlier this month, two Republican House lawmakers issued a letter to commission leaders stating that they were concerned the commission was headed in the wrong direction.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, and Rep. Steve Womack, R-Arkansas, said that it seemed the scope and breadth of the commission's work is narrower than Congress had directed and was too focused on the near-term.
The vice chairman of the commission, Thomas Lamont, told reporters following the commission meeting last week that said he believe the commission's focus had actually become more broad than what was first anticipated.
"I think we are doing, frankly, what the Congress told us to do in the broad view of things," Lamont said. "We don't want to miss anything. If you look one way, then the door opens, and there are five more things to look at. The more you go out, the mission becomes a little broader."