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Report Calls for Restoring Army

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A conservative Washington, D.C., think tank is calling on Congress to use the 2017 defense authorization bill to restore cuts in military capabilities, especially in the U.S. Army. To do this, the Heritage Foundation recommends a base defense budget of $600 billion, $49 billion more than the ceiling set last year in a bipartisan agreement between Congress and the White House.

All the services would benefit from the increase, which would be in addition to about $60 billion in overseas contingency funds, but the Army gets special attention because the active-duty force has dropped from a peak of 570,000 soldiers in 2011 to about 482,000 today, and under current plans would bottom out at 450,000 by the end of fiscal year 2018. “The Army is struggling to meet the mission at 490,000 and further cuts will only make matters worse,” the Heritage Foundation says in a March 28 report outlining what changes the nonprofit organization would like to see Congress make in the fiscal 2017 budget. It also suggested Congress consider increasing the size of the Marine Corps.

Some of the added soldiers should be sent to Europe, the report says, calling for a return to having four brigade combat teams based in Europe, twice the current number. “These forces do not have to return to their previous home bases in Germany, but could be placed in newer NATO members in Central and Eastern Europe,” the report says.

U.S. military force levels in Asia would be maintained, especially land forces. “Regional militaries want to interact with their ground force counterparts,” the report says.

Bigger defense spending and a bigger Army would require agreement to modify the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, a difficult task in an election year. The House Budget Committee’s 2017 budget plan, passed March 17, provides $551 billion in the base defense budget, the level set by the 2015 agreement. The full House of Representatives has not yet taken up the budget resolution.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley told the House Armed Services Committee on March 16 that he is concerned about the Army’s ability to respond to new contingency operations. “I think the cost in terms of time, casualties and troops, and the ability to accomplish military objectives, would be very significant,” he said. “Right now, the readiness of the United States Army, all components of the United States Army is not at a level that is appropriate for what the American people would expect to defend them.”

Speaking at the same hearing as Milley, acting Secretary of the Army Patrick J. Murphy called the 2017 budget “minimally adequate.” “We are taking high risk as an Army and as a nation when you fund our Army at this level,” Murphy said.