One of the big issues facing the US Army right now is how to handle the scheduled drawdown in troop strength that’s required for, mostly, budget reasons. Current plans are for the Army to reduce its active duty manpower from over 510,000 today down to somewhere in the area of 440,000 by 2017. Automatic budget cuts could see that number fall as low as 420,000 by 2019 unless they’re cancelled.
The rationale behind the cuts is that with Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, there’s no need for such a large standing force, and some of the money that goes towards wage costs can be used to upgrade key systems instead. Obviously the administration wants to get its hands on some savings as well, but service chiefs are keen to update the helicopter force as well as replace the aging Bradley and Humvee fleets. However, now the drawdown plans look like they’ve been overtaken by events.
It’s not likely that US troops will return to Iraq in large numbers – unless there’s a dramatic change in the situation there – but the rise of ISIS has demonstrated just what an unstable place the world can be. Right now we have the manpower to cope with the situation easily enough, even on top of the ongoing Afghan operation, but if another crisis blows up we might start to struggle.
At the same time, the situation in Eastern Europe is alarming, with tension higher than at any time since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Again it’s not likely we’ll be facing a resurrected Red Army any time soon, but Russia’s military capability has grown rapidly over the past few years. The days of the collapsing post-Soviet rabble have slipped into the past without anyone really noticing, even though the rapid defeat of Georgia in 2008 should have been a clue. The capability we saw in Ukraine isn’t equal to what NATO can put in the field, but we can’t get complacent. Right now the only European NATO member that’s meeting its defense spending target is the UK, and if the continent doesn’t start investing pretty soon, its decaying military power could find itself outmatched by Putin within a decade. Without the US military to stiffen the alliance, Russia could find itself able to do exactly as it wants in central and eastern Europe.
The US Army’s leadership hasn’t been asleep on the job, and the latest crises have prompted them to speak up about the risks of downsizing. On October 13th, Chief of Staff Gen. Odierno spoke up to say that the planned force reductions are based on “outdated assessments” and went on to warn that even 490,000 active duty troops might be a dangerously low number. The general was backed up by Secretary of the Army John McHugh, who pointed out that budget cuts could cause a lot more harm than anticipated if vital programs had to be cut.
If the Army has to redirect existing funding to sustain current manpower, that’s going to put equipment programs under even more pressure. The conclusion seems pretty clear: to keep America safe, the Army’s budget needs to start rising again.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.