By Carlo Munoz - 03/09/12 10:15 PM EST
Slashing another 100,000 active duty troops from its ranks will be the only way Army leaders can pay their share of the $1.2 trillion in budget cuts aimed at defense coffers under the looming sequestration plan, Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. The Pentagon is facing the possible cuts because of the failure of a supercommittee of lawmakers to agree to a deficit-reduction plan.
“This would result in severe reductions in the National Guard, the Army Reserve and additional reductions in the active component and will significantly decrease what the Army can do for our joint force,” Odierno said. “In my estimation, sequestration would require us to fundamentally relook how we provide national security.”
The Army’s total force topped out at roughly 570,000 active duty and reserve troops at the height of the Iraq war. With that conflict now winding down and budget pressure on DoD ratcheting up, the Army is already planning to drop down to just over 490,000 troops. The reduction was part of the service’s fiscal 2013 budget plan sent to Congress in February.
But sequestration would force that number down to just over 300,000 troops. Losing those 100,000 troops would essentially eliminate the Army’s ability to fight two simultaneous wars, Odierno said.
The White House’s new national security strategy, unveiled earlier this year, was designed to move the Army and the rest of the services away from that kind of two-war scenario, Odierno acknowledged. However, the 490,000-man force still gave the Army some wiggle room, should the Pentagon find itself embroiled in dueling, large-scale ground wars – like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Losing another 100,000 men would likely negate that wiggle room.
The risk of that happening drew some harsh words from some of the Republican members of the committee.
“I think, you know, there needs to be a wakeup call up here that we need to act and act soon in order to avoid that,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said on the need to come up with an alternative to sequestration.
“I don't think we can afford to wait . . . [and] put the Department of Defense and our men and women who have served in uniform and continue to serve in uniform in this position,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) added.
Compounding the problem is that the personnel cuts under sequestration would be executed across the board, Army Secretary John McHugh said during the same hearing. That makes implementation “a relatively easy mathematical change, but it makes it an administrative nightmare,” McHugh said. Earlier this week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told the Senate appropriators the time and effort involved to simply prepare a game plan to adopt the sequestration cuts would effectively shut down the military for months.