WASHINGTON — The Army is mulling which missions it can drop on in order to reduce the demand on the force, service leaders say.
The service is engaged in several efforts to try to meet the deployment cycle ratio of one-year-deployed, two-years-at-home, set by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
A steady increase in Army end-strength that’s expected in the coming years could help. The Army requested 4,000 additional active-duty troops in FY19 and it plans to request the same in FY20 and FY21 to reach an end-strength of 495,500 active soldiers. The Army’s current active force size is set to 483,500.
But the Army will likely have to do more to solve its deployment-cycle problems.
Army Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville said during a Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, that he is “talking to the Joint Staff [about] some of the missions that we may not have to do in the future, to reduce the demand.”
Army Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday that the current deployment cycle degrades readiness and adds operational tempo for troops at a higher rate than even four or five years ago “or at least at the peak of Afghanistan and Iraq.”
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The service is now — in addition to still being engaged heavily in the Middle East — deploying rotational armored brigades to South Korea and Europe, and there are plans to increase the force size in Europe in FY20.
The high operational tempo would results in a 1:1 boots-on-the-ground to dwell time, Esper said.
The secretary said he has discussed the issue with OSD and is looking at what missions are critical and what missions might take away from troop readiness.
For example, “We have an [Armored Brigade Combat Team] in Kuwait [Spartan Shield], so can we get relief from that mission and bring that unit home so we can get its readiness up to a higher level, put it in the queue for more important deployments out there and really increase that deploy-to-dwell time to something higher than 1:1,” Esper asked.
“It may not necessarily mean pulling everything, it may mean keeping a battalion or it may mean a different rotation schedule, maybe you are not there full-time,” he said. “It’s something we have to look at if we are going to be trying to reduce the deployment churn and increase the readiness of our units.”
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Also on the table are training efforts, Esper said.
“I’ve talked to some combatant commanders and I’ve said, ‘Look, this training is great that we are doing with partners, but it has to have real return on investment. It can’t just be we are sending soldiers out to train and they are exchanging t-shirts and sipping tea. It has to have real value, otherwise I’m hurting readiness,’” he said.
The Army is looking at “everything across the board to see if we can get relief in some areas to try to get us as close as we can to that 1:2 OSD standard,” Esper said.
UPDATE: This story was updated to correct a misstatement from the Army secretary. The Army is considering withdrawing an ABCT from Kuwait.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.