WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 25, 2014) – One of three things that the Army chief of staff worries about most is the possibility that at some point a combatant commander will request forces that are either not properly trained or are simply nonexistent, said his planning and operations point man.
Of 36 brigade combat teams, only about one-third of them have a level of readiness necessary to deploy, said Maj. Gen. Gary Cheek, assistant deputy chief of staff for Operations and Plans, G-3/5/7.
There are 10 brigades now deployed, and a major contingency could require about 20 additional brigades, so there’s a discrepancy between what’s available now and what would be needed, he added.
Cheek and other senior Army leaders spoke at the Veteran and Military Service Organization quarterly summit at the Pentagon, Nov. 20.
He elaborated further.
Today, command-and-control elements of five of the Army’s 10 divisions are deployed overseas, and there have been more than 50 requests from combatant commanders around the world asking for forces that include Soldiers, he said, so with the force already stretched thin, a conventional conflict would exacerbate the Army’s ability to effectively respond.
What’s driving all of this is sequestration, which already has forced manning levels down to 508,000 active now and 490,000 by next October. Should sequestration continue, that would result in 420,000 by 2019, he said.
At 420,000, the current 36 brigades would be cut to 27. As it stands now, the Army is in the process of inactivating six brigades.
Getting back to the chief’s first worry, he’s uncomfortable even now with a force of 508,000, saying it’s already shallow with no margin for error and that discussions with Congress over manning levels took place before events unfolded in Ukraine, West Africa and the Levant, Cheek said.
With a force that’s now beginning to hollow out, what would happen if a war were added to all of the other crises Soldiers are currently responding to?
Guidance from the Office of the Secretary of Defense regarding the way forward in designing the quadrennial review was, “do not size the Army for long-term stability operations,” he said. “In essence, if we do get into a protracted war, it will be like World War I, where we don’t come back until it’s over.”
By that, Cheek meant that units wouldn’t rotate in and out of country like in Iraq and Afghanistan where they reset and retrained. The manning levels and training dollars forced by sequestration would not be available to allow that to happen. Modernization already took the biggest hit and nothing really is left to cut there.
A second worry that keeps the chief up at night, Cheek said, concerns people. There are two parts to that concern, one being the process itself of inactivating the six brigades and transferring Soldiers and their equipment out to other units and getting that done correctly, and the other being the impact of separations to Soldiers and their families — especially those who are being separated involuntarily.
The third worry is trying to get a handle on what the Army needs to look like in the near term and in the future, meaning 20 years and beyond, he said. Decisions today on doctrine, recruiting, modernization and everything else will impact the Army’s capabilities later on, and getting it right now is an awesome responsibility.
Although no one can predict the future with any certainty, Cheek predicted that the Army’s prevent and shape strategies will decrease the chances that the Army will have to fight, which is the third Army strategy — win.
The prevent strategy, he said, is keeping conflict in check through presence, the U.S. presence in Europe during the Cold War being the most successful. Today’s examples would be Army presence in Korea, Kosovo and Kuwait.
The shape strategy is to get Soldiers deployed worldwide to partner with other militaries to train and assist, examples being small teams of Soldiers in Latin America and special operations Soldiers throughout Africa working on training and humanitarian missions.
When Soldiers are engaged in the shaping strategy, they are establishing valuable relationships with leaders and their military counterparts, getting familiar with the terrain, culture and local resources.
“Should we have to go in later to assist, it would be from a position of knowledge,” he said.
“If you look at the 10 deployed brigades, they’re largely preventing and shaping. It’s far less expensive than actually fighting a war with large combat formations and follow-on stability operation,” he said, alluding to the recent conflicts.