Army Preparing for Steep Drawdown, Losing Patience With Congress | National Defense Blog

By Sandra I. Erwin

The Army is drawing up plans for how it would operate with nearly 100,000 fewer troops. The analysis will identify specific missions and duties the Army would no longer be able to do at that smaller size.

“If we go below 450,000, we have to redo the strategy,” said Gen. John F. Campbell, the Army’s 34th vice chief of staff who will soon take over U.S. command of the war in Afghanistan.

The Army already is on a path to shrink from 513,000 active-duty soldiers to 490,000 by 2015, and 450,000 by 2017. But unless Congress repeals the spending limits set by law through 2021, the Army would have to downsize further, to 420,000, by 2019.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno directed a “total Army analysis” of how the service would cope with the tighter budget squeeze. The analysis would look at the way the Army would be organized and what missions it would have to abandon if the spending caps mandated by law stay in place and the size of the force plunges to 420,000.

Campbell, who has served as the second-highest ranking Army officer for the past 16 months, said it is in the Army’s nature to never say “no” when asked to do something, but the budget crunch is pushing the service to a point when it will have to. “What we haven’t done very well is say we can’t do something,” Campbell told reporters Aug. 1 at a Pentagon news conference.

Campbell is scheduled to assume command in Afghanistan Aug. 26. Forces Command chief Gen. Daniel Allyn has been nominated to replace him.

“It’s in our DNA to try to figure out how to do something even with less forces,” he said. But with no sign that Congress will spare the military from the budget law, the Army has to prepare for steep cuts. The total force analysis that is now under way is for the 2017 to 2021 budget period.

“We’re trying to balance how many armored brigades, how many light brigades, how many brigades for the active and for the Guard,” said Campbell. Combat brigades only make up 30 percent of the Army. The Army believes it needs a minimum of 92,000 soldiers in the “institutional” Army, which oversees military schools, training and technology programs. The analysis of how a smaller Army would be organized is still not finished, Campbell said, but he predicted it will conclude that “there are things we absolutely can’t do” with 420,000 troops. The force is “going to be flexible and adaptable. But there will be things we can’t do at that lower number.”

The Army’s drawdown is happening at a faster pace than had been previously anticipated. This month, the service came under fire for sending “pink slips” to 1,100 captains, including 48 who are company commanders in Afghanistan. This month, about 500 majors will be told they must leave the service. The Army is encouraging them to join the Army National Guard or Army Reserve.

Campbell and other military leaders, have signaled growing frustration with Congress, not only for enacting draconian spending cuts, but also for rejecting money-saving proposals that the services have put forth. The Army, for instance, is seeking to cut $12 billion in aviation-related costs by shifting the National Guard’s fleet of 192 Apache attack helicopters to the active force in return for 111 Black Hawk utility helicopters. The Apaches would take on the scout missions currently performed by the Kiowa Warrior aircraft, which would be retired. The Army would cut the number of active-duty combat aviation brigades from 13 to 10.

Congress has stalled the Army’s plan and is leaning toward appointing an independent commission to further study the issue. For the Army, this only creates more fiscal pressure, said Campbell. “Every member of Congress I have talked to fully understands what the Army wants to do,” he said.

Taking Apaches from Guard units in nine states has become a third rail. The Army has made a full-court press, unsuccessfully so far. “We have engaged between 25 and 30 governors the last couple of months,” said Campbell. “We sent teams out with the National Guard to talk to governors.”

Army leaders have sought to make the case that Black Hawk or Chinook helicopters suit the Guard’s mission better than the Apache attack birds. The Guard’s counterpoint is that they want to be a combat force and an operational reserve. “We want the Guard to be an operational reserve as well,” said Campbell. “It just can’t be the way it is today. We can’t afford it.” A commission study, he said, “just pushes this out to the right. And then the money is gone.”

Also stirring the ire of Army leaders is that steep spending cuts have become the new reality even as world crises continue unchecked. “The world is more complex and dangerous, but there’s not a whole lot of discussion on how bad the world is and yet we’re going to continue to downsize the services,” Campbell said. Combat readiness has a “shelf life,” he said. “My biggest frustration as vice chief has been the uncertainty. We have to continue to put money in readiness. … We’re not talking about that, and that’s a dialogue we ought to be hitting hard on.”

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