Army Leaders Confident They Can Weather Budget Storm
Despite impending budget cuts and expected force reductions, the Army’s top civilian said the service could weather the fiscal crisis. The service’s highest ranked military officer also expressed confidence that the Army can field a quality fighting force with reduced funding, but he cautioned that if cuts go too deep, the United States might have to rethink its ground forces' commitments.
Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh said in a speech at the Association of the United States Army’s annual exposition that the service is prepared to tighten its belt while preserving its ability to project power abroad and remain a deterrent to conflicts. But after a decade of rising budgets, and facing a builddown, the Army will “fundamentally change the way we do business,” McHugh said.
The extent of coming budget cuts is not known. The Defense Department has been warned to expect reductions of up to $450 billion over the next decade. How that forecast would affect the Army remains to be seen.
No matter how the Army copes with the budget crisis, Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said it would be a “quality force.” He said funding cuts will be “tough” regardless of the scope.
“No matter what happens, we will not have a hollow force,” Odierno said during an Oct. 10 news conference at AUSA. “We will have a quality force. The issue then becomes what we can do with that quality force.”
From a low of 480,000 soldiers in 2001, the Army ballooned to 570,000 to fight two wars simultaneously. Odierno said the force would likely again fall below 520,000 soldiers over the next five years as a result of the post-war drawdown.
McHugh has ordered new efficiency measures, including an examination of the Army’s historically troubled weapons-acquisition programs. “We’ve already begun to jettison what we feel are redundant, underperforming and non-working programs,” McHugh said. “We’re pretty far down the road on that.” Army officials have conducted “portfolio reviews” over the past two years in order to set equipment procurement priorities. Those evaluations will continue, said Odierno. “Tradeoffs are being made,” he said, in order to balance “end-strength, modernization and readiness.”
McHugh reiterated a commitment to preserve the Army’s ability to “deter conflicts, project power and win wars.”
“We remain steadfast in support of this, the greatest land force on earth,” McHugh said. “This will be a challenge, but also it will be an opportunity to change and transform the force.”
Past downturns, like those following World War II and Korea, depleted the Army, McHugh said. This time, the downsizing has been anticipated. The Army is “better positioned than at any time in our nation’s history,” to conduct a reduction in force, he said.
“The Army’s end force is going to look different,” McHugh said. “But we have time to do it in a balanced way. Let’s hope all of us have learned from history as we debate and decide the future of manpower and the future of our army."
There is growing speculation within the Defense Department that if budgets do fall and the war in Afghanistan comes to an end by 2014, the Pentagon will boost naval and air forces, possibly at the expense of ground troops. Odierno said that a disproportionate reduction of ground forces would be misguided, as the United States cannot predict what its next war might be. Historically, the Pentagon has a poor track record anticipating future conflicts, so it would be a mistake to assume that air and naval forces will be able to carry the burden in a future war, Odierno said.
- Reporting by Dan Parsons and Sandra Erwin