Budget cuts: When does Army become at risk, hollow, ineffective?
At what point does the Army become a hollow and ineffective fighting force if the drawdown and budget cuts continue?
Army leaders were asked that question during a media roundtable at the Pentagon, March 5, just a day after the Army’s proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget was revealed.
Weighing in on the question was Brig. Gen. John G. Ferrari, deputy director of Army program, analysis and evaluation.
At some point, the Army’s ability to sustain combat in strategic depth would be eroded, he said, describing it not in terms of a magic number but as a continuum of risk level.
By sustained combat, he meant a protracted conflict where forces deploy, say for a year, rotating back to reset, retrain and redeploy.
As they rotate back from the fight, other units would then backfill them in theater.
At a certain point, if manpower is reduced enough, those forces held in reset would simply not be there and the forces in the fight would theoretically need to remain there indefinitely or until the war is over, however many years that would take.
The other equally bad option, he pointed out, is that the size of the force could be reduced, so half of it remains in reset/retraining to rotate in at a later time.
The risk to that is that the size of the force in the fight might be inadequate to accomplish the mission depending on the size of the operation and the capabilities of the opposing force.
If the assumption of risk is wrong and the force level is inadequate or troops are not properly trained or equipped, "the cost would be to the nation and to those troops," he said.
Maj. Gen. Karen E. Dyson, director, of the Army budget, who was also at the media roundtable, also weighed in on the risk factor.
"We’ve been at war so long now, we’ve got leaders whose only experience is counterinsurgency and not combined arms maneuver," she said, explaining that their training needs to be broadened to include more full-spectrum, decisive combat operations to build that capability which will reduce risk.
To demonstrate the shift to combined arms maneuver training, the Army has gone from seven decisive action combat training center rotations in FY13 to a planned 13 in FY14 to a planned 17 in FY15, she said.
Another area the Army is working on to prevent risk, she said, is building partner capacity and shaping regional interests through regional alignment.
Another focus on risk reduction is building readiness in the Army’s contingency force and prioritizing funding there, she said.
This funding "will allow the contingency force to conduct progressive training through combat training center rotations that validate combined arms maneuver capabilities and comprehensive readiness," she said.
However, that does not remove risk, since those not in the contingency force will train only to company or battalion level as affordability levels allow, she added.
Roy A. Wallace, assistant deputy chief of staff, G-1, added his take to the risk factor.
"It takes 18 years to grow a lieutenant colonel to take a battalion" into those types of high-intensity operations Ferrari mentioned, he said.
"So I’ll have a finite number of lieutenant colonels to take over battalions as we move down to [an end strength of] 450,000. So if I lose one of [those lieutenant colonels], I don't have another.
"And it takes a certain amount of experience to do that job and if I start promoting ahead of schedule massively, then I get the wrong kind of individual with the wrong kind of experiences."