America’s Next Army
America’s Army is at a crossroads. U.S. troops have transitioned largely to a supporting role in Iraq and Afghanistan, but new challenges loom on the horizon. Russia is increasingly assertive and has modernized its ground forces. U.S. soldiers are training, advising, and assisting partners around the globe. The Army needs to be able to respond to a range of challenges today, while modernizing for future needs. This is not the Army the United States has been building, however. The Army has borne the lion’s share of defense cuts in the recent budget downturn. The result is that while the United States has the most combat-experienced professional Army it has ever seen, readiness is suffering, force structure has been cut to the bone, and much-needed modernization initiatives are not funded. Major investments are needed to prepare the Army for present and future challenges.
Last month, I participated with my colleagues Jerry Hendrix and Elbridge Colby in a strategic choices exercise hosted by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments where we built an alternative 10-year budget for the Department of Defense. We assumed up front that a new Administration was able to achieve a budget deal with Congress that resulted in stable funding, a prerequisite for getting the Department of Defense back on its feet, but assumed only modest budget growth. More money would be nice, but fiscal realities are likely to force defense leaders into hard choices, so we wanted to reflect that in our exercise. We assumed (prior to the election) a total DoD base budget topline two percent above the 2017 President’s Budget request. It’s possible that a Republican-controlled Congress and White House could lead to a higher topline, but President Trump will have to reach an agreement with Republican deficit hawks in Congress. The flush post-9/11 years are likely gone. Despite a constrained budget, in our exercise we were able to significantly improve readiness, capability, and capacity across the joint force. We did this by cutting legacy forces less suited to future challenges and reforming Pentagon processes. For the Army, we were able to increase readiness, modernize the force, and sustain active duty end-strength all within this topline.
Our strategic focus for the Army was building ready, modern, and forward-stationed ground forces oriented primarily to deter Russian aggression in Europe. The Army has a range of missions around the globe, but Russia is the “pacing threat” for the most sophisticated adversary the Army might face in land warfare. Despite the warm rhetoric, President Trump will need a strong military if he is going to have leverage at the negotiating table across from Vladimir Putin.
To meet this threat, we preserved overall active duty Army end-strength at approximately 450,000, while shifting the force mix from light infantry to armor, precision fires, missile defense, and electronic warfare. We increased active duty armored brigade combat teams (BCTs) from nine to 12, reconstituting two of those from reserve component equipment to save money. We also increased active duty force structure in fires and missile defense, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) battalions and Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense batteries. The team further invested in new short-range cruise missile units. These cruise missile units would be equipped with new ground launched cruise missiles that extend the Army’s organic land-based precision fires capability up to the 500 kilometer limit permitted under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. We also invested $3 billion in land-based mobile electronic warfare capabilities to operate in a contested future electromagnetic environment. We sourced these new units with personnel from the four active duty Infantry BCTs that we eliminated. In order to ensure these and other units from across the Army were ready to fight, we increased depot maintenance for vehicles and flying hours for Army aviation.