Policy Bill Orders Army Force Assessments
A compromise 2016 defense budget unveiled Tuesday night does nothing to halt the continued force reductions in the Army, but the measure calls for expedited upgrades in Stryker combat vehicles to fill an urgent request from Army officials in Europe, and also for an assessment by the Defense Department about the adequacy of the Army force structure proposed for fiscal years 2017 through 2021. It remains unclear whether this version of the bill will become law. The White House has threatened a presidential veto of the bill because it uses a budgetary gimmick to increase funding for defense by $38.3 billion above spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act. White House policy statements have said President Obama will not support budget relief for defense spending unless relief is also provided for non-defense programs. On pay and benefits, the bill includes a 1.3 percent basic pay increase for rank-and-file soldiers, and orders no pay raise for general officers in 2016. The 1.3 percent raise would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, and is the amount requested by the Pentagon earlier in the year and also set by President Obama in August through an executive order. Lawmakers adopted a Pentagon plan to cap annual increases in basic allowance for quarters to less than the rise in rental costs. The Pentagon plan calls for allowances to be capped at 5 percent less than the average increase for housing, by pay grade and dependency status, but this would not happen right away. Lawmakers decided to phase in the changes. The active Army would drop by 15,000 soldiers in FY 2016, down to 475,000, under the bill. That is the level requested by the White House and Army leaders last fall. Additionally, the Army National Guard would drop by 8,200 soldiers, to 342,000, while the Army Reserve would drop by 4,000 soldiers, to 198,000. The Guard and Reserve personnel levels are also exactly what the Army requested. The final bill does not include a Senate-passed provision to give the Chief of the National Guard Bureau power to increase Army Guard levels by 3,000 soldiers. The joint explanation describing the bill’s details gives no reason why the provision was rejected. While not ordering a bigger Army, the bill includes a House-originated review of long-term force structure. Specifically, it asks the Defense Secretary and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to do their own assessments of whether an Army that might have 450,000 active-duty soldiers is sufficient to meet the goals of national military strategy. An independent assessment from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs would look at whether a smaller Army could meet the operational requirements of combatant commanders, and would review the planning assumptions and scenarios used by the Defense Department to validate the size and force structure of the Army. That review would include looking at the Army Guard and Army Reserve. If the bill passes, the assessments would have to be completed within 90 days of the bill being signed into law. These assessments would be in addition to the ongoing work of the National Commission on the Future of the Army, which is expected to complete its work and issue a final report, with recommendations, by February 1. The bill includes urgently needed Stryker vehicles upgrades, fulfilling a request related to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Negotiators said they expected rapid production of the upgraded Strykers for delivery to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment.