WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2016 —
Three members of a commission on the Army’s future shared their findings with defense reporters here last week.
Retired Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commission’s co-chairman, was joined Jan. 29 by Robert F. Hale and Kathleen H. Hicks at a Defense Writers’ Group breakfast to discuss the report they submitted to Congress earlier in the week. Hale is a former Defense Department comptroller, and Hicks formerly served as the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy.
The commission recommended a total Army of 980,000 soldiers, with 450,000 in the active Army, 335,000 in the National Guard and 195,000 in the Army Reserve. Ham called this number the “absolute minimum” needed to defend the United States, its allies and its interests.
The number is controversial, because the service is on a glideslope to go below it. Ham said the commissioners deliberated long and hard on the right number and component breakdown for the force. “So in regard to the 980,000 force broken into the components, the phrase ‘minimally sufficient’ was carefully thought through,” he said, “meaning if you go below that, you start to increase risk pretty rapidly.”
Part of the Joint Force
The commission never lost sight of the fact that the Army is always part of the joint force, Ham said, noting that the services are now intertwined. “That is a strength,” he added, increasing reliance of each service on the others in terms of the capabilities they bring to the battlefield.
The Army is the executive agent for a number of different capabilities in the Defense Department, ranging from delivering mail to chemical demilitarization, Ham noted, as well as providing significant baseline forces for theater structure.
“Those are the less sexy parts of the Army, but they are nonetheless essential for joint operations anywhere in the world,” he said. “There is a tendency to focus on the brigade combat teams, aviation brigades – kind of the pointy end of the spear – [but] the sustaining parts, the generating force, are equally important to the Army, and we tried to make that point throughout the report.”
The commission made 63 specific recommendations, but these are not pie-in-the-sky options, Ham said. “If it was unconstrained,” he added, “we would obviously have many more recommendations about size and capability, but we felt that it was responsible to stay within reasonable bounds of what we anticipated the level of resourcing might be.”
The commissioners decided that the level of funding in the president’s budget for fiscal 2016 “is the minimum level of funding necessary to sustain the Army at levels of readiness and modernization to meet the nation’s security objectives,” Ham said.
‘Hard Choices Are Necessary’
The commission recommended keeping some AH-64 Apache helicopters in the National Guard, and offered a specific offset to pay for that, Hale said, stressing that “hard choices are necessary.” Aviators need more flying hours, he said, and the Army should station an armored brigade combat team in Europe. Air defense and missile defense capabilities all need to be built up, Hale added. The service should even look to disestablishing two infantry brigade combat teams to pay for these and other recommendations, he said.
“It’s always hard to get people to talk about offsets,” Hale said. “But we need to raise that issue, unless the budget is going to go up significantly.”
The bottom line, Hicks told the reporters, is that there are too many missions for the available force.
“We felt it was our responsibility to point out this mismatch,” she said. “We have set forth a set of missions and conditions for the Army participate in through the joint force, and the way we have it set up – including through modernization and structure – probably is not sustainable in the long term.”
The reduction of two infantry brigade combat teams highlights “the very hard choices the nation is going to have to make,” Ham said. The threats are out there, and in some cases, they are here, he said. What is new, Ham said, is the breadth of threats facing the United States, its allies and its interests.
“What I heard from the combatant commanders is they are concerned about the complexity, the diversity and the ever-evolving nature of the threats we have to face and the time we have to face them,” Ham said. “Think back to the campaigns the U.S. military has engaged in. In most cases, there has been time to prepare and respond to a threat.
“One of the concerns we heard was in this emerging security environment that we anticipate for the future, that time may not be there,” Ham said.
Hicks said commanders are concerned about the diffusion of technology and the effect that is having in thinking through how a land force can engage in the world.
“Many [commanders] are concerned that the United States cannot count on a modernization edge in many types of conflicts,” she said. “You have to make sure you have the leadership training and agility … to adapt quickly.”
Brig. Gen. Malcolm Frost, the Army’s chief of public affairs, issued a statement on the commission’s report shortly after it was released Jan. 28.
“The Army appreciates the independent insights and recommendations provided by the National Commission on the Future of the Army,” he said. “We are currently assessing the report and expect its recommendations to provide opportunities to strengthen the effectiveness of our force.”
The secretary of the Army and the Army chief of staff are leading that effort, which will include the coordinated efforts of the Army National Guard director and the chief of the Army Reserve, Frost said.
“The Army's evaluation of the costs, benefits and risks outlined is just now beginning,” he said. “We thank the commission for their insights and hard work.”