By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 10, 2012) -- With the military out of Iraq, there's more time for Soldiers to train for the next fight, the vice chief of staff of the Army said.
"As we have come out of Iraq, we have more opportunities to train at home station and we are taking advantage of those opportunities," said Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. "And again, as we retrograde our equipment and put that equipment through reset, more equipment is being made available (to use for training.)"
Austin spoke May 10 on Capitol Hill before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, subcommittee on readiness and management support, discussing the current readiness of the Army.
"We are already beginning to reap some of the benefits of that slowdown," Austin told lawmakers.
Even with the Army out of Iraq, it is still preparing to come out of Afghanistan, and the general said, "much work lies ahead," in that regard. The Army is still placing priority on the fight there, while at the same time it is working at home "to help heal and alleviate some of the stress on our personnel."
Austin told lawmakers that with the Army pulling out of Afghanistan it is going to need funding to reset the heavily-used equipment that comes out of the country.
"It will take about two to three years, beyond the complete retrograde of our equipment out of Afghanistan, to reset that equipment," he said. "And we certainly need to be funded to do so."
Without that funding, he said, the Army will be required to accept risk in other areas "at significant cost with a negative impact on readiness."
Also on the minds of lawmakers is what the Army will do with "non-standard" equipment. Austin said the Army is already assessing non-standard equipment in terms of numbers of vehicles and weapons.
"I have a real concern about how much equipment we are asking our troops to maintain that may not be useful to us anymore, and (that) we may not be able to afford to sustain," he said. "So we are going through a very deliberate process of making sure that we keep what we need and we transition things we don't need and can't afford."
Also being assessed, he said, is the status of the mine resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, known as the MRAP, how many the Army will keep once it is out of Afghanistan, and how it will pay to maintain those vehicles.
"We won't be able to rely on contractor logistics for the foreseeable future," he said. "That is very expensive. We are going through an assessment on how many MRAPs we are going to keep and what the disposition of those is going to be and again, we will outline what the maintenance and supply chain will be."
The Army is looking at reducing the number of Soldiers in the Army by 79,000. Austin said to do that, the Army will need continued overseas contingency operations funding to ensure a gradual reduction in forces and to prevent negative consequences that would come from drawing down too quickly.
"This funding is imperative to our ability to manage a gradual reduction to our end strength over the next five years," Austin said. The lack of continued OCO funding will force a steeper drawdown "primarily through involuntary separations and other means that could result in significant hardship for thousands of Army combat veterans and their families, and generate a large bill for unemployment and other related costs."
The active component will draw down 79,000 Soldiers to 490,000 by the end of fiscal year 2017. In the Reserve Component, by fiscal year 2018, the Army National Guard will draw down by 8,000 Soldiers, to reach 350,200 end strength.
Also looming on the horizon is possible implementation of the "sequestration" that was spelled out in the Budget Control Act of 2011. As part of that act, lawmakers who were part of a "super committee" last year were tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in savings, or risk across-the-board reductions in funding. Because a resolution was not reached, as much as half that amount could now automatically be cut from the Department of Defense through sequestration.
While the Army has not actually planned for sequestration to happen, Austin said a "back-of-the-envelope" calculation shows that implementation of sequestration could mean an additional force cut of 100,000 Soldiers on top of the 79,000 it is already planning to cut. About half of the additional cuts could come from the Reserve Component, he said.
Despite the already planned force cuts of 79,000 Soldiers, Austin said the Army is confident that it will continue to be "sufficiently agile, adaptable, and responsive," as well as able to grow capacity as needed in response to unforeseen contingencies.
"The key to our success," he said, "is balancing the three rheostats of force structure, modernization and readiness. That is where we are focusing our efforts."