Budget cuts might result in shrinking Army troop levels

Top officials offer warnings, but pledge effectiveness of smaller force

As the Army prepares to face nearly a half-billion dollars in expected upcoming budget cuts, it might be forced to shrink troop levels and make major changes to strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to two top officials speaking Oct. 10 at the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington.

Gen. Raymond Odierno, Army chief of staff, said it is likely that troop levels will fall from 570,000 soldiers to below 520,000. That reduction could render the Army unable to fight dual land wars as it has over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

“We’ll have to change the strategy and what we’re able to do if we continue to fall below a certain level. And that’s what we have to discuss as we talk about matching these budget cuts to strategy,” Odierno said in a press briefing where he was joined by Army Secretary John McHugh.

McHugh said that although he believes the Army is in a good position to deal with an estimated $450 billion in cuts to spending over the next decade, right now it’s impossible to predict what any new strategies would entail or any concrete force numbers.

“Our end strength number is subject to discussion, because right now we can’t see bottom,” McHugh said.

While those cuts might be acceptable, both McHugh and Odierno echoed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s previous public warnings against potentially disastrous hits to spending that could result from a sequestration process triggered by congressional inability to identify some $1.5 trillion in federal spending reductions.

“What I’m deathly afraid of is sequestering, because if we get a sequester, I believe it will fundamentally change how we conduct security operations across all services, to include the Army, because of the depth of the cuts,” Odierno said.

To cope with some cuts that are already all but guaranteed, the Army must focus on balancing its forces, McHugh said.

“What we are focused primarily on, whatever the end strength numbers may be, is making sure we are balanced,” McHugh said, acknowledging that in the past the Army has had a hollow force that was “artificially supported” and ineffective.

That’s something Odierno vowed would not happen this time around.

“The bottom line is, no matter what happens we are not going to have a follow force. We are going to have a force that has the modernization and readiness necessary to be quality. What we’re after is a high-quality force…no matter what the size is, we’re going to have a high-quality force,” Odierno said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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