Active Forces Face Disproportionate Cuts

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Army is marking its 239th birthday with a two-pronged battle over its future, fighting over its share of the federal budget and an internal skirmish over apportioning cuts. The result could be a much smaller force with dramatic changes in the balance between active and reserve components.

The balancing act coming over the next seven years could make the Army the only branch of the armed forces in which reserve components outnumber the active force, according to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno. “Ongoing reductions coupled with sequestration-level cuts over the next seven years will result in a reduction of 150,000 soldiers, 687 aircraft and up to 46 percent of the brigade combat teams from the active Army,” Odierno told the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense. “The National Guard will reduce by 43,000 soldiers, 111 aircraft and up to 22 percent of the brigade combat teams. The U.S. Army Reserve will reduce by 20,000 soldiers.”

The result of these changes, not yet set in stone, is that the active Army would be responsible for 70 percent of overall reductions in soldiers, while the Army National Guard would be responsible for 20 percent of cuts and the Army Reserve would be responsible for 10 percent, Odierno said. The ratio of cuts is the result of a conscious decision by Odierno and Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh on managing the total force, a decision that Odierno said is the result of “lessons learned during the last 13 years of war.”

“We considered operational commitments, readiness levels, future requirements and costs,” Odierno said. “The result is a plan that recognizes the unique attributes, responsibilities and complementary nature of each component while ensuring our Guard and Reserves are maintained as an operational and not strategic reserve.”

Senior officials are concerned about the result. Odierno said he has “deep concerns that our Army at these end-strength levels will not have sufficient capacity to meet ongoing operational commitments and simultaneously train to sustain appropriate readiness levels.” McHugh had an equally bleak outlook: “In order to protect current operations, our combat power, as well as our soldiers and their families, we’ve been forced to make extremely hard choices in this budget that impact virtually every component, every post, camp and station, and limit nearly every modernization and investment program.”

Seven combat training rotations were cancelled in fiscal year 2013, and home-station training was “significantly reduced,” McHugh said. “Although our readiness levels will increase this year and into 2015, the looming return of sequestration in 2016 will quickly erode these gains.”

The President’s budget submission supports end-strength levels at 440,000 to 450,000 in the active Army, 335,000 in the Army National Guard and 195,000 in the Army Reserve. McHugh said this represents a balance: the biggest force possible without taking money from readiness, while the smallest needed to meet strategic plans. “Nevertheless, this clearly is not without risk,” he said.

Not Without Controversy

Cutting is never easy, and controversy surrounds a proposal involving aviation assets. To generate $12.7 billion in savings, the Army plans what Odierno called an “innovative concept to restructure our aviation fleet.” The plan involves reducing the fleet by 798 aircraft—687 from the active force and 111 from the National Guard. “As with end strength, we are disproportionately taking cuts from the active component aviation,” Odierno said. “We will eliminate three full combat aviation brigades out of the active component while the National Guard sustains all of its brigade structure.”

The savings claimed by the Army for the restructuring is something that Congress is investigating, according to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman.

The National Guard and many members of Congress are not happy with the change, which would transfer Apache helicopters to the active force while transferring some Black Hawk helicopters to the Guard. “Whether or not to keep Apaches in the Army Guard remains a contentious issue,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Odierno said the move is all about the budget. “The issue is we can no longer afford to sustain the amount of aircraft we have, so we have to eliminate obsolete aircraft,” he said. In this case, the Army would have to spend $10 billion to modernize OH-58 Kiowa helicopters used for observation but has decided, instead, to take existing Apaches from the Guard and have them do the scout mission. “We cannot buy enough Apaches to have them do the mission both in the active and the Guard,” he said. “If we keep the attack capability in the Guard, we’d have to eliminate three to four brigades out of the Guard in order to do that. If I had my choice and I had the dollars, I certainly would have kept it in the Guard, but we simply don’t have that choice.”

McHugh warned that if Congress doesn’t accept the proposal, “we’ll have to find that $12 billion somewhere else, out of hide. That is a lot of money.” Options, he said, would be cutting more troops or reducing readiness-related funds.

Personnel Cuts May Be Painful

Army leaders told Congress they are reducing the force as rapidly as possible, and nobody is promising the personnel cuts won’t be painful. “There is no single force-shaping method among the choice of accessions, retention and separations that will achieve the Army’s end-strength goals, and we will be required to use involuntary separation measures,” said Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1. “Reduction programs will focus both quantitatively on soldier populations where projected inventories, by grade and skill, exceed future requirements, and qualitatively by assessing soldiers’ potential for future service.

“As the Army implements its drawdown strategy to balance the force and sustain capability and readiness, we are extremely sensitive to ensuring that we treat our all-volunteer force with dignity and respect, recognizing the service and sacrifices of our soldiers and their families,” Bromberg said.

So far, 239 retirement-eligible lieutenant colonels and colonels have been separated from the Army through selective early retirements, Bromberg said. Results of additional separation and early-retirement boards have not been announced, but about 2,000 captains and majors are expected to have their careers ended. About 1,100 NCOs have been separated using the Qualitative Service Program, which weighs performance, over-strength career fields or fields with promotion stagnation.

“While we will lose some combat-seasoned soldiers through involuntary separation boards, they are required—along with reduced accession levels, competitive selection boards and precision retention—to ensure the Army will balance the force, achieve end-strength goals and retain our most talented soldiers for the future,” he said.

Civilian personnel cuts are part of the mix. The civilian workforce peaked at 285,000 in fiscal year 2010, but it is expected to drop to 263,000 by the end of fiscal year 2015, with additional reductions possible through fiscal year 2019, Bromberg said. “We will use all available workforce shaping tools such as Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay to reduce turbulence in our civilian workforce, while retaining the skills we need.”

In making the civilian cuts, the Army will look at available funds, workload priorities and military missions, Bromberg said. “For example, unit inactivations will drive changes to training, training support and installation support requirements supported by our civilian personnel.” Headquarters and administrative staffs also will be closely reviewed for reductions, he said.