By Kristina Wong - 01/21/16 10:42 AM EST
Army secretary nominee Eric Fanning on Thursday told lawmakers he is worried about the downsizing of the force.
"I do worry about the size of the Army today," Fanning told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing.
Fanning said only about a third of brigade combat teams are ready to fight, not a marked improvement from July. He pledged that improving combat readiness would be his top priority as secretary.
The Army is slated to shrink to 450,000 troops by 2018, and possibly further to 420,000 by 2021, due to defense budget cuts passed by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Defense hawks have since tried to reverse those cuts, but budget hawks and some liberals advocate leaving them in place.
A two-year funding deal passed in December lifts some of the military cuts, but they will begin again in 2017.
"These budget-driven force reductions were decided before the rise of ISIL or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine," said Armed Forces Committee Chairman John McCainJohn McCainGOP senators split over Cruz's aid on campaign trail Why a power grid attack is a nightmare scenario Senate fight brews over Afghan visas MORE (R-Ariz.).
"And if mindless sequestration cuts are allowed to return, the Army will shrink to 420,000 troops, increasing the risk that in a crisis, we will have too few soldiers who could enter a fight without proper training or equipment," he said.
Sen. Angus KingAngus KingSenators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels Lawmakers push to elevate Cyber Command in Senate defense bill House, Senate at odds on new authority for cyber war unit MORE (I-Maine) agreed that the cuts were based on assumptions that no longer hold true.
"They're no longer valid. We're facing a new round of challenges around the world," said King, who caucuses with Democrats.
Under questioning from Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Fanning said not all of the 450,000 troops would be deployable.
About 1,500 troops are musicians, about 1,100 are prisoners at Fort Leavenworth and about 15,000 are out-processing, Fanning said.
The cuts are causing a "huge number of involuntary separations," said Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteMcConnell: ‘Ticket-splitting’ will preserve GOP Senate majority Kaine, Murphy push extension of Iran sanctions GOP senators split over Cruz's aid on campaign trail MORE (R-N.H.).
"To get a pink slip after you come home and served our country is appalling," she said.