ASPEN, Colo., July 24, 2014 —
In the debate about how large the Army should be as the Defense Department faces the return of sequestration spending cuts in fiscal year 2016, it's more important than ever to build a balanced force, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said last night.
"I've been very clear … the president's strategy, that he built and we all signed up for in 2012, is a strategy that we think is sound," he said.
Under that strategy, the Army would shrink to about 490,000 soldiers, the general told the audience at the first day of the Aspen Security Forum.
"We believed that that size and the capabilities that come with that would allow us to execute that strategy,” Odierno said. “Since then, we've had some things come in the way, such as sequestration."
Based on the current budget, the Army will instead go down to about 440,000 or 450,000 soldiers by 2016, he said.
"What we don't know is what's going to happen after '16," Odierno said.
"If it goes to full sequestration, we're going to go to 420,000,” he added. “And I've been very clear that at 420,000, we cannot execute the current strategy. We will not have the capacity or capability to do it."
If full sequestration returns as scheduled, the general said, the national defense strategy would have to be rewritten. "For me, that is something that is somewhat concerning, because since 2012, the world has not become a safer place," Odierno said.
The Army must remain a balanced force as it downsizes, he said. Drones and special operations forces provide the capability to go after just one kind of threat -- terrorists, the general said.
"So if you believe that's the only threat we have, that's the way to build your force,” he added. “I personally believe we have much more diverse threats that we're going to face."
Declining budgets and unstable security situations also put greater importance on interoperability with U.S. partners and allies, he said.
"Our NATO partners have significantly decreased their spending on security, so we have to better understand what all our capabilities are,” the general said. “We have to understand what our strengths and weaknesses are. We have to work together to build multinational capability to solve these problems."
The tensions between Ukraine and Russia are a "wake-up call" for NATO, he said, adding that “over the last several years, we've allowed our capabilities in NATO to slip." It's time to rebuild NATO's capacity, Odierno said.
"We have to start doing more exercises, more interoperability,” the general said. “We have to have some reassurance of our eastern partners, and we have to make sure we are serious about those. I think we are doing that through small-level exercises today."
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)