(MILITARY TIMES) Congress is on the verge of authorizing the Army to grow by 30,000 active soldiers to reduce the strain of deployments — but whether that increase would be permanent remains in question.
Also undetermined: how to pay for costs that could top $8 billion in just three years.
The extra troops would make up for the number of non-deployable soldiers with mental or physical injuries, legal troubles, or those near the end of their service obligations.
A temporary increase would help the Army weather the next 18 months, during which time troop demands in Afghanistan are increasing faster than requirements in Iraq are easing up.
Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey has said a temporary increase would ease the burden on soldiers, increasing dwell time between deployments. But Casey has argued against a permanent increase, which would require more force structure and add permanent costs to the Army that could handicap efforts to modernize equipment.
“It would have to be temporary,” he said during a May 19 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
Casey said he had discussed expanding the Army with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and a permanent increase was off the table. “What I am not ready to sign up for just yet is whether we need to increase the Army, the active Army, beyond 547,000.”
But under questioning, he added that, “as we continue to watch how units are manned as they go out the door, if I feel the need to readdress that with them, I will.”
HOUSE, SENATE PLANS
The House version of the 2010 defense authorization bill, passed June 25, allows the Army to grow to 577,400 for just two years beginning in 2011.
The Senate Armed Services Committee on June 25 approved a similar provision authorizing the Army to grow by 30,000 for two years — provided there is a budget proposal to fund that growth.
When the Senate takes up the bill in mid-July, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is expected to offer an amendment to increase the number of soldiers to 558,000 by the end of fiscal 2010. His amendment would also set aside funds to pay for the additional personnel.
If passed, such an amendment would put pressure on the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Army veteran Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, to find money for the extra troops. Inouye has not indicated whether he supports a larger Army and was unavailable for comment June 26.
In the House, meanwhile, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, said June 24 that while he did not generally support an increase in the size of the military, he would consider funding a temporary increase.
Casey asked for a 30,000 increase for two years, “and we are going to give it to him,” Murtha said. But “two years is the limit,” he said. After that, the Army must revert to its current size and may even be reduced, Murtha said.
Andrew Krepinevich, a military strategy expert and president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the Army is squeezed between operational needs and the drive to modernize equipment.
“Could [the Army] use an additional 30,000 troops? Of course. But you have to look at the trade-offs. We’re faced with a situation where personnel and operations costs are crowding out procurement,” he said. “So you’re in a situation where you are already short funding and the modernization of the force is lagging. At some point, you have to make tough choices.”
Estimates of the cost of additional troops vary but begin with average direct costs for pay and benefits of about $60,000 per soldier and another $80,000 in related expenses to train and equip each one.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a temporary 30,000-soldier increase beginning in 2011 would add $2 billion the first year, $4 billion in 2012 and $2 billion in 2013.
But if the additions didn’t come until 2011, they would come too late for Casey, who sees the next 18 months as the most critical period because the surge in Afghanistan is taking place before the expected drawdown in Iraq has taken on steam.
Meanwhile, others are pressing for a more permanent increase, among them retired Gen. Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff. “It’s very difficult for the Army right now to conduct irregular warfare and also prepare in a way that they’d like to for conventional warfare,” he said.
“Clearly, the more forces that we have, it’s obvious that it would help us improve our dwell time and also enhance our capacity to train for other things we’re currently not doing,” he said. “Certainly, it would have an effect on reducing stress and strain on the force. I think that’s why it’s so overwhelmingly popular with the members of Congress.”
Another advocate for permanent growth is retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, adjunct professor of international affairs at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“I think growing the Army by 30,000 troops is absolutely the right thing to do,” he said. “That manpower will start making the system operate.”
Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, and a former assistant secretary of defense for manpower, reserve affairs, installations and logistics, said adding 30,000 soldiers would enable the Army to build three more brigade combat teams — but he said that would not be his first priority.
He would instead add more active-duty civil affairs troops and military police — capabilities for which the Army is too reliant on the Guard and Reserve, he said. He also would add trainers to help in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“These are the things you use a lot now,” he said. “Very rarely are you going to get involved in a large, conventional war.”
Congress’ push to add troops comes just two months after Gates announced the Army will halt its growth of brigade combat teams at 45, three fewer than planned.
That decision, announced April 6, was supposed to help the Army “thicken” existing brigades and eliminate stop-loss, the practice of holding soldiers beyond the end of their enlistments or retirement dates until their units complete a deployment.
The Army is now manning 43 BCTs, building the 44th at Fort Bliss, Texas, and preparing to build the 45th brigade combat team in spring 2010, also at Fort Bliss.
But the decision not to build the last three planned BCTs — one each at Fort Stewart, Ga., Fort Carson, Colo., and Fort Bliss — has stunned those communities, which had banked on the Army’s plan. For them, the prospect that 30,000 more troops might be added provides hope that Gates’ brigade decision might yet be reversed.
“To add 30,000 is a fairly substantial number, [so] you’d almost have to add [force] structure,” said a former Army senior executive in Installation Management Command who asked to remain anonymous. “You’d probably have to add the three brigades that weren’t going to be stood up.”
But brigades can’t stand up and deploy overnight.
“A two-year period seems to be problematic to truly make it useful,” he said. “To me, if you’re talking about a temporary surge in Army strength, you really ought to look at five years at a minimum. It’s too difficult to ramp up and ramp down in two years.”