How big of an Army does the United States need? What is the right balance between the active-duty Army and the Army National Guard and Army Reserve?
These are the questions that the National Commission on the Future of the Army were tasked with addressing in their new report. While the report dives deeply into these important questions, the real problem is that no balance of active and reserve component forces can compensate for a total force that has been decimated by budget cuts. The Army is already too small and stretched too thin.
Since 2011, the active-duty Army has cut 95,000 soldiers, or 17 percent of its total force.
Surprisingly the Commission concluded that the current plan to shrink the Army to 450,000 active soldiers is “minimally sufficient.” The reality is that this is a very bad policy and will weaken our national security. This will leave an Army that is smaller than it was on 9/11 but is still tasked with operating in Afghanistan and the Middle East while facing growing threats in Europe and Asia.
Since 2011, the active-duty Army has cut 95,000 soldiers, or 17 percent of its total force. With another 25,000 slated to be cut by the end of fiscal year 2018, the active Army will have cut over a fifth of its strength in eight years. The Army National Guard and the Army Reserve are also cutting their personnel significantly.
Force structure cuts are not the only problem. Budget caps forced reductions in training and operations, significantly impacting near-term readiness. And the Army’s budget for the future—investing in new vehicles and upgrades to current systems—is threadbare. The Army Commission also concluded that today’s Army has significant shortfalls in areas like aviation, air defense, tactical mobility, missile defense, and many more.
The combination of a smaller, less trained Army that is not investing in the future led to the 2016 Index of U.S. Military Strength downgrading the Army from “marginal” to “weak.”
At the same time, the need for the Army is growing stronger. While Russian aggression continues to destabilize Europe, the U.S. Army has only two Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) in the region. A resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan promises to extend the U.S. military presence longer than the Obama administration plans. In Asia, the threat from North Korea is very significant, and land forces continue to play an important role in balancing against a rising China.
The Army’s budget cuts simply have to be reversed. If we include the costs of overseas operations, such as those in Afghanistan and against ISIS, the Army’s budget has been slashed by 46 percent between 2011 and 2016. A dollar can be stretched only so far. The only way to build a stronger Army is to increase the Army’s budget.
While restructuring and prioritizing limited defense resources may improve the efficiency of our remaining force, the Army will remain weak without additional funding. If the United States wants an Army that is strong enough, large enough, and modern enough to protect our vital interests, we need to increase funding for the Army.