The final report of the National Commission on the Future of the Army fuels a growing concern in Washington, D.C., that the Army and the nation could be in trouble and without any short-term fixes.

“Even with budgets permitting a force of 980,000, the Army faces significant shortfalls,” the report says, adding that current and planned “aviation assets cannot meet expected wartime capacity requirements.”

There are no short-range air defense battalions in the Regular Army, and many assets in the National Guard are dedicated to protecting the nation’s capital, “leaving precious little capability for other global contingencies, including high-threat areas in northeast Asia, southwest Asia, Eastern Europe or the Baltics,” the report says.

Shortfalls also exist in military police, field artillery, fuel distribution, water purification, missile defense, tactical mobility and watercraft; and with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear capabilities.

“Remedying these shortfalls with i n a 980,000-soldier Army will require hard choices and difficult trade-offs/ the report says.

Retired Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, president and CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army, said he believes the report “provides a rare opportunity to address risky capability shortfalls, reinforce the Total Force concept, and convince a skeptical Congress and American public there are limits to how small the Army should shrink.’’

The commission, headed by retired Gen Carter F. Ham, was established by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015. It was tasked with examining the size and force structure of the Army’s active and reserve components.

For political and budgetary reasons, the report says it is “unlikely, at least for the next few years,” for the Army to have combined active, Army Guard and Army Reserve forces of more than 980,000 soldiers. The smart course may be to take two infantry brigade combat teams out of the Regular Army to free active-duty space for the expanded manning of aviation, short-range air defense and other capabilities in short supply.

Shifting soldiers doesn’t solve all of the problems, the report says. “Even if end-strength constraints can be met, the Army will need significant additional funding,” it says. The Army will be in a better position to ask for and receive money if it works with DoD, the White House and Congress on cost-cutting initiatives to reduce redundancies and improve efficiency. These efforts “will not be enough” to pay for everything. “Added funding will eventually be needed if major shortfalls are to be eliminated.”

The other members of the panel were retired Sgt. Maj. Of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III; retired Gens. Larry R. Ellis and James D. Thurman; retired Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz; Thomas R. Lamont, a former assistant secretary of the Army; Robert F. Hale, a former undersecretary of defense; and Kathleen H. Hicks of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Although the commission acknowledges the impossibility of precisely predicting the future, the commission is certain that U.S. leaders will face a variety of simultaneous, diverse threats to our national interests from both state and non-state actors as well as natural and man-made disasters,” the report says.

The commissioners also warn against any deeper cuts. A total force of 980,000 uniformed personnel “is the minimum sufficient force necessary to meet the challenges of the future strategic environment,” there­ port says, listing six things the Army could emphasize to be better ready to tackle the unknown:

  • Adaptive and flexible leaders are needed to respond to new technology and unanticipated enemy action. “Army leaders will need to adapt available capabilities and technology to unexpected missions,” the report says.
  • Cyber capabilities need to be improved “due to the Army’s increasing reliance on computer networks and the growth of cyber capabilities by state and non-state actors.”
  • Capabilities need to be expanded for urban warfare and operations in big cities.
  • Flexible and smaller unit formations are needed for future operations.
  • Defenses against air, rocket and missile attacks need to be improved.
  • More investment is needed in “game-changing technologies,” and also in preparing leaders to know how to exploit the new technologies to the fullest advantage.

A crucial part of the report deals with relations between the Regular Army and the reserve components, a situation soured by tight budgets that have caused competition for resources and attention. The commission has a novel idea for having everyone get along, proposing a pilot program that would integrate recruiting of active, Army National Guard and Army Reserve forces into a single effort. This might result in the components better understanding each other, and may also save money.

Reprinted with permission from Army: The Magazine of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). A monthly subscription to Army is a benefit for all AUSA members.


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