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Commission: Army readiness, size, mix of force are crucial issues

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The National Commission on the Future of the Army (NCFA) made its recommendations public Jan. 28 at the Hall of States in Washington, D.C. 

The NCFA was tasked by Congress to examine the structure of the Army and policies related to size and mix of the force. 

The team of eight commissioners and about 40 staffers began meeting in April 2015, and were given until Feb. 1, 2016, to deliver their recommendations. 

Lawmakers and the Army will decide which of the recommendations to implement and how.

Drawdown too deep

The Regular Army expects to draw down to 450,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal 2018. 

The NCFA has said that level of manning must be the bottom floor. 

Gen. Carter F. Ham, USA, Ret., former commander, U.S Africa Command, and NCFA chairman, said the eight-member commission found that number to be enough, though barely enough, for the Army to accomplish the missions it will inevitably be asked to do in the future.

In all, the commission recommends that the total Army not go below 980,000 soldiers. The breakdown by component is 450,000 in the Regular Army, 335,000 in the Army National Guard, and 195,000 in the Army Reserve.

Even with that, 980,000 soldiers across all three components will be needed to have better interaction between them. 

The commission found "gaps" and "seams" across what is supposed to be a Total Force, and they will have to be repaired, Ham said, in order for the Army to be effective at the bare minimum of 980,000. 

More resourcing, and difficult decisions will be required to make up for the capability gaps that limited number of soldiers are unable to support, he said.

"We identified some specific capabilities, including aviation; air and missile defense; military police; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response teams – some capabilities that still have significant shortfalls even in that Army of 980K," Ham said.

Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks, former principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, and one of the eight NCFA commissioners, said the commission supports Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley’s prioritization of readiness within the Army.

"The commission endorsed the CSA’s priority on readiness," she said. "We agreed that readiness should be the first priority for funding. The environment is not settling down. It is an environment of persistent conflict. As a result, you need to make sure you have the forces for the Army ready for the range of missions they are facing."

Hicks said the commission identified two areas where the Army might have its readiness tested: Europe and Korea.

Threats in Europe

In Europe, she said, looms the specter of an increasingly aggressive Russia.

"What the commission looked at quite carefully is the threat that could be posed by Russia going forward," she said. "Russia has annexed Crimea. The neighbors to the west are quite concerned about it. And so are several NATO allies."

Europe also serves as a logical staging and launch area for crisis in the Middle East as well, she said. The Army needs a strong and ready presence there.

Hicks said the commission’s analysis of the Army in Europe has left them concerned about the Army’s ability to contribute there in the event that conflict should arise, and the ability of the force in Europe now to deter further aggression by the Russians.

"As a consequence, one of the recommendations we had was to place permanently into Europe an armored brigade combat team [ABCT]," she said.

North Korea

Hicks also said in the case of a North Korea attack on the south, or a collapse of North Korea, it is "highly likely" the Army would need to engage in long-term stabilization operations there.

"We think there is significant risk in not having the Army prepared for that kind of contingency," she said. "That’s why we make the recommendation that 980K is minimally sufficient. We do think there is an ability to plan for forces to be mobilized over time to deal with that contingency. But we haven’t seen evidence of strong planning for that."

The commission, she said, recommends against the Army’s idea to replace a permanent combat aviation brigade now in Korea with a rotational one.

Total Force

In the future, the Army will need to make do with a force that is barely big enough for its many missions. To make that happen, it will need to become more adept at taking full advantage of all three of its components: the Regular Army – often mistakenly referred to as "active duty" – the Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve. Together, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve are referred to as the "Reserve Component."

One of the primary tasks for the NCFA was to make recommendations on force mix – how the Army makes use of soldiers from all three of its components.

"There was a lot of discourse about the mix of Regular Army versus Reserve Component, modernization, the cost, the size of the Army," Ham said. 

Adding, "Congress looked for an independent assessment to provide them some recommendations to work through some of these difficult issues."

Ham said the commission spent a substantial amount of time looking into how the Army and the nation can make better use of the Total Force. Most of its recommendations, in fact, are a result of that effort.

"The Total Force policy of the Regular Army, Army Reserve and the Army National Guard has some gaps and seams in implementation," he said. 

"It’s not being fulfilled in the manner that the secretary of the Army, the chief of staff of the Army, the chief of National Guard Bureau, the Congress or the president fully envisions. So we made some recommendation in regard to enhancing the Total Force policy of the Army," he noted.

Retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III served as one of the eight NCFA commissioners. He, along with other commissioners, participated in some 320 engagements during which they met with all 54 adjutant generals from across the United States and its territories.

Coming away from meetings with soldiers in guard units, he said, he was left with the understanding that guardsmen want to be a part of the Army’s activities – they don’t want to be left behind, he said. 

Equitable dwell and ‘BOG’ 

One recommendation, Chandler said, is for the Army to take a harder look at dwell time and "boots on the ground," or BOG time, for soldiers across all components of the Army, to find a way to make them more similar.

"Currently, soldiers in the reserve components have a BOG time of about nine months for their deployment," Chandler said. "And some portions of the Regular Army are up to 12 months." 

The commission recommended that the secretary of defense allow flexible involuntary mobilization periods to achieve common deployed periods for all components.

"We think it’s important for each of the components to understand the culture that makes them specific and unique," he said. "One of the recommendations we asked for was the ability for Regular Army soldiers to serve in the National Guard and the Army Reserve, and for Army Reserve soldiers and Army National Guard soldiers to serve [in the Regular Army.] There are some challenges with that, but we think it’s doable."

Chandler said that for the Army to make full use of all three components, soldiers in those components will need to recognize that "together as a Total Force, we are a better Army and much more effective and efficient." 

ARI analysis 

Additionally, the commission was charged with evaluating the Army’s decision to move all Apache aircraft from the National Guard to the Regular Army. 

The commission’s report included an evaluation of the Army’s Aviation Restructure Initiative, or ARI, which directs the movement of all Apache aircraft out of the guard and into active Army units as a readiness and cost-saving measure. 

The guard disagreed with that initiative and championed its own solution which involves keeping six battalions of Apache aircraft in place.

The NCFA recommended the Army National Guard should retain some of the AH-64 Apache helicopters it currently has.

"The task to evaluate the Apache transfer was perhaps the most polarizing of the issues we had to look at," said Ham.

He added, "There were strong feelings on all sides with regard to how Apaches should be distributed and employed across the force."

Ham said the ARI is a "well-crafted program, it saves costs, while retaining a good level of operational capability. But it does take all the Apaches out of the National Guard."

The guard option, he said, provides "strategic depth" for having Apaches in the guard, but costs more than the ARI.

"In some of the wartime modeling we did, the NGB [National Guard Bureau] alternative was less able to satisfy demand over time in a wartime setting," Ham said. "The commission looked at a number of other alternatives."

The NCFA looked at both plans, conducted its own studies, and concluded that the total Army should keep 24 Apache battalions. 

Of those battalions, 20 would be located in the Regular Army, with 24 aircraft each. 

The guard would retain four battalions of Apaches, each with 18 aircraft.

The recommendations of the NCFA are not binding on the Army. 

"I think the commission hopes for a thoughtful assessment and review of the findings and recommendations that we have offered – recognizing that our report is one input among many," Ham said. 

Adding, "We hope our report contributes to the dialogue and the hard decisions that both the Congress, and the Army will have to make, well into the future."

(Editor’s note: This story is based on an article by C. Todd Lopez, Army News Service.)