Army to Increase Overseas Presence Despite Budget Cuts
Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, last year launched a new effort, called “regionally aligned forces,” that is intended to increase Army participation in overseas operations and training exercises, even if most of the force is based in the United States.
Several Army divisions and brigades that permanently reside in the United States, for instance, will be assigned to work with a specific command, such as U.S. Central Command or U.S. Africa Command. They would train and equip small units to assist those commands in operations, to participate in multinational military exercises and to train foreign allies.
The officer who oversees this effort, Brig. Gen. Kimberly Field, the Army’s deputy director of strategy, plans and policy, pushed back on speculation that the Army will have to put these plans on hold because of a lack of funding. “We can do the alignment with existing resources,” Field said May 30 during a conference call with reporters.
Regionally aligned forces are viewed by Army leaders as one of the pillars of the service’s future, post Afghanistan. The broader strategy, called “prevent, shape and win,” assumes that U.S. military interventions can be averted if more resources are spent training friendly militaries.
"The Army represents one of America's most credible deterrents against future hostility," Odierno said last fall.
Under the regional alignment plan, the Army 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division — stationed at Fort Riley, Kan. —will support U.S. Africa Command. I Corps, headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., will be aligned with U.S. Pacific Command. III Corps of Fort Hood, Tex., and the 1st Armored Division based at Fort Bliss, will work with U.S. Central Command. Georgia National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team will support U.S. Southern Command.
Over the next year, 4,338 officers will be assigned across 34 countries, said Field. “We do not have a detailed picture of the demand signal for fiscal year 2014 yet,” she said.
Field said it could take five years to complete the realignment. Units assigned to support specific regions will need some training in the local culture and language, but current budget cuts will not affect those efforts because they do not involve expensive live-fire exercises, Field said. Funding cuts so far have been minor, she said. Support contracts and “things that were nice to have but not necessary” have been axed. “But there have been no reductions in the number of troops,” Field said. “We are using sunk costs to do this.”
The brigade that is preparing to support Africa Command is tapping experts from Kansas State University, she said. “We are pulling expertise that is resident in the Army already.” The regionally aligned forces “don't require combined training center rotations. They require home station training at the small unit level [which is] very inexpensive,” she said. “We use what we already paid for.”
The alignment is taking place even as the Army begins draconian reductions to combat training. In 2013, “We’ve degraded significantly our training,” Odierno told reporters earlier this month. “About 80 percent of the Army is going to only train at very low levels at home station.” Training will be funded at squad level, but “we are not going to be able to do any company, battalion, brigade level training,” said Odierno. He canceled six combat training center rotations the rest of this year and reduced flying hours for aviators.
The Army’s plan to expand overseas presence has been criticized by military analysts who regard these efforts as service-centric attempts to hold on to resources in times of shrinking budgets.
“The regional alignment is worse than foolish,” said Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel. ”We don’t have enough forces to commit to any one theater,” he said in an interview. “It is a show game to try to justify force structure.”
Attempts to secure missions and continued funding are not unique to the Army, Macgregor said. The problem is that every service looks out for itself in the absence of a national strategy, he said. “Everything is service centric. There is no national military strategy or pressure to build forces that are aligned with a national military strategy,” he added. “As a result the services are planning and strategizing to keep what they have. … Four-stars do not have a credible strategy of any kind. The only goal is to maintain the status quo.”
Photo Credit: Army
Map Credit: U.S. Central Command