By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 12, 2013) -- Unless Congress acts to counter the effects of sequestration, the Army will be hard-pressed to complete its mission, said the service's senior officer.
"If Congress does not act to mitigate the magnitude, method and speed of the reductions under the Budget Control Act with sequestration, the Army will be forced to make significant reductions in force structure and end strength," said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno. "Such reductions will not allow us to execute the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, and will make it very difficult to conduct even one sustained major combat operation."
Odierno testified Nov. 7, before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill. Also testifying on the effects of sequestration were Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos, and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III.
From fiscal year 2014 through fiscal year 2017, Odierno said, the Army will reduce its end strength to meet new budget requirements. A reduction in end strength also means the Army will restructure itself into a smaller force -- a reduced number of units. The general said the Army will experience "degraded readiness and extensive modernization program shortfalls" during that time.
Army programs during this time will also be restructured or delayed, he said.
"We'll be required to end, restructure or delay over 100 acquisition programs, putting at risk programs such as the Ground Combat Vehicle, Armed Aerial Scout, the production and modernization of our other aviation programs, system upgrades, unmanned aerial vehicles and the modernization of our air defense command and control systems, just to name a few," he said.
Around fiscal year 2018, he said, the Army will begin to "rebalance" readiness and modernization, but at the cost of end strength and force structure.
Odierno said he expects that end-strength reductions will reduce active-duty forces from a wartime high of 570,000 Soldiers down to 420,000 Soldiers. The Army National Guard will reduce from 358,000 Soldiers to about 315,000. The Army Reserve will reduce from 205,000 to 185,000 Soldiers. Altogether, that's a more than 18 percent reduction across the total force over seven years.
That reduction in Soldiers will also mean a reduction in units. He said the Army can expect to reduce its brigade combat teams by 45 percent.
"In the end, our decisions today and in the near future will impact our nation's security posture for the next 10 years," Odierno said. "We've already accepted nearly $700 billion in cuts to the Department of Defense. Today we have the premier Army in the world. It is our shared responsibility to ensure we remain the premier Army and the premier joint force in the world."
He said it is the decisions of Congress that will determine the future size of the Army.
Before the Army sends Soldiers to war, they need to be ready to go. One aspect of readiness is combat training, such as at one of the Army's combat training centers. Another aspect is equipment readiness -- equipment that has been in Afghanistan will need to be properly repaired and upgraded.
Odierno said Soldiers may not be ready for combat.
"So we have a huge readiness issue between 2014 to 2017 that ... frankly, will significantly impact our ability to respond in the way we expect to respond," he said.
Not being trained, he said, means more Soldiers might not come home from combat.
"We will not be able to train them for the mission they're going to have to do. We will have to send them without the proper training and ... actually, maybe [the] proper equipment that they need in order to do this. So that always relates to potentially higher casualties if we have to respond," Odierno said.
In training, the general said that the Army is up to speed on counter-insurgency -- something it's been doing for more than ten years now in Afghanistan. But to prepare for future conflicts, he said, the Army must provide training beyond COIN (counter-insurgency) operations.
"It's about having the capability to do a multiphase, combined arms, joint campaign that operates in a very complex environment that includes a conventional opponent, irregular warfare, counterinsurgency, because that's where future warfare is going and so, we have to train our forces to do that," he said.
Implementation of sequestration earlier this year has had an effect on how many Soldiers can receive relevant training, and how many units are actually ready to go into the next conflict, he said.
"We were supposed to begin training for that in 2013. We were not able to because of the cuts we had to make in our training dollars. So we are now behind," he said. "That's the problem we have. Right now, we have a limited number brigades that are [capable of going into the next conflict] right now, and we're falling further behind as we move forward."
In fiscal year 2013, the general said, the Army had to cancel seven rotations at combat training centers.
"Usually it's a force of about 5,000 to 8,000 men and women who go there, who get a chance to train and really get certified in the kind of operations that we think they might have to deploy and do, so we weren't able to do that."
If due to sequestration, the Army continues to not be able to send Soldiers to training, it will further erode readiness, he said. In 2014, the Army will focus all training dollars on getting seven brigade combat teams ready for combat.
"That's the only money I have to do that," he said. "Everyone else is going to go untrained. They will not be able to do the training necessary."
He said that means only 20 to 25 percent of the force will be trained in its core competency.
PAYING FOR SOLDIERS
Within the Army's budget, the percentage of funds paying for Soldier compensation is now beyond what Odierno calls the "best case" for that Army -- which he says is somewhere between 42 and 45 percent of the total budget.
Soldier compensation includes such things as a Soldier's pay, TRICARE for the Soldier's family and basic allowance for housing.
"On compensation, we have to grapple with compensation within the military. The Joint Chiefs are working very hard with this issue. The cost of a Soldier has doubled since 2001. It's going to almost double again by 2025," Odierno said. "We can't go on like this. So we have to come up with compensation packages, not taking money away, but reducing the rate of increase of pay increases, of basic housing allowance you brought up, look at the commissaries, look at health care. We have to have a total package that allows us to reduce this cost."
Despite budget reductions, and reductions in training readiness and equipment readiness, Odierno said morale is high among Soldiers, though "tenuous."
"There's a lot of angst ... you know, people talking about benefits. People are talking about, obviously in the Army, we're significantly reducing the size of the force, so they're worried about their future," Odierno said.
"What makes me feel so damned good about it is ... that they are -- their morale is high," he said. "They're doing exactly what we ask them to do. They're training as hard as they can with the money we give them. When they deploy, they are there trying to accomplish the mission to the best of their ability."