By Sebastian Sprenger
Pentagon leaders have issued internal guidance putting the Army on a path to reducing its active-duty ranks to 420,000 soldiers by fiscal year 2019, according to defense sources.
The guidance, signed at the beginning of this week, also sets in motion an Army plan to reduce the service’s National Guard from 354,000 to 315,000 soldiers and the Army Reserve from 205,000 to 185,000, these sources say. Those reductions are in line with what Army leaders had recommended to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as part of various FY-15/19 program objective memorandum proposals crafted since the fall of last year.
Reserve component leaders had proposed a different course for achieving budget cuts mandated by sequestration, arguing the Guard need only be cut to 345,000. With opposition to the Army’s plan for the reserve component all but certain in the Senate, the latest decision by Pentagon leaders sets the stage for what many observers believe will be a bruising fight similar to one that recently played out in the Air Force.
The fiscal year 2015 budget guidance “makes very clear that the numbers are driven by sequestration,” one defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The guidance also instructs the services to identify “realistic off-ramps” in case more money becomes available in future years, the official said.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment, saying the budget is still considered “pre-decisional.” An Army spokesman also declined to comment.
A bipartisan budget agreement forged last month grants some relief to the Defense Department from annual sequestration cuts for two years, to the tune of $20 billion in FY-14 and $10 billion in FY-15. Making 420,000 the Army’s new end-strength goal beginning in FY-15 may signal that defense leaders have little confidence in the prospect of receiving additional relief beyond that.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno has previously argued that 450,000 soldiers is the absolute minimum number of active-duty troops needed to “fully” implement the Obama administration’s defense strategic guidance. But while publicly arguing against the steeper cut to 420,000, service officials had resigned themselves to that figure if it was accompanied by requisite cuts in the Army Guard and Reserve.