Army inches toward new mission

Army inches toward new mission

After nearly a year of planning and preparation, the U.S. Army is on the cusp of a major strategic shift that will likely redefine the way America's largest land-based fighting force will wage war in the years and decades to come. 

Many defense pundits, military officials and lawmakers questioned where the Army would fit into the Pentagon's newfound focus on U.S. national security interests in the Pacific, which was announced by the Pentagon in February. 

But while many inside and outside the Pentagon wondered aloud where the service would fit into DOD's post-Afghanistan plan, Army leaders since last October have been quietly positioning themselves to play a key role in that strategy. 

Army leaders are already reviewing options to shift the service's massive stockpiles of prepositioned equipment out of Iraq and Afghanistan and into the Pacific. 

Service leaders plan to have a list of possible locations and amounts of equipment moving to the Pacific sometime next year, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said following a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 17, shortly after DOD's announcement of the strategic shift. 

On Wednesday, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter shed more light into what the service's newest incarnation will look like in Asia. 

While the strategy will be primarily supported by increased air and sea power in the region, the Army's ground presence will be key in securing the necessary military partnerships with Asian allies, he said. 

With 10 of the largest land armies belonging to regional powers in the Pacific, partner nations "will see more of the Army [units] rotating through the region" as those forces begin to cycle out of Afghanistan, Carter said Wednesday in a speech at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference in Washington. 

Army units had plenty of practice training and advising foreign militaries. They have played a key role in standing up the Iraqi and Afghan security forces, as well as training local militias in counterinsurgency operations in both countries. 

As a result, the Army is now a "battle-hardened ... total force" ready to take any "tailored and scaled" mission required to support U.S. initiatives in the Pacific, Carter said. 

Army leaders have already begun to put significant dollars into the Pacific shift, beginning in fiscal 2013. 

Service leaders plan to funnel nearly $1.3 billion into international training and engagement operations in the Pacific and elsewhere, according to the Army's fiscal '13 budget plan. 

To that end, the Army is also preparing to send out its first regionally-aligned brigade to Africa Command beginning next year, according to Carter. 

That force, roughly the size of a brigade combat team, will be primarily tasked with training and assisting foreign militaries. It will be the first of several the Army hopes to create over the next few years. 

These brigades will be the first regular Army units designed to do partner nation engagements with countries in the Pacific and across the globe. 

But that shift does come at a cost. 

The ground service is set to shed thousands of soldiers from its ranks as part of the Pentagon's plan to draw down the Army's total force at the end of the Afghan war. 

While the Army will be folding nearly 60,000 troops coming home from Afghanistan back into the force, critics of the drawdown are questioning whether the service will have the necessary manpower to support the Pacific shift and still deal with potential threats elsewhere in the world. 

Europe is one region where the Army will be significantly pulling back. 

"The Army writ large, as well as the other forces, are struggling with the strategies for our new world," Lt. Gen Mark Hertling, head of U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army, said Tuesday. 

"If you take [the] presidential directive to rebalance toward the Pacific in the national security strategy, that causes some challenges in terms of force posturing, force structure, relocation and just overall strategy," Hertling told reporters during a breakfast in Washington. 

The Pentagon has already committed to pulling a number of large Army units out of Europe, despite concerns by a handful of lawmakers emphasizing the threat Russia could play against American interests there. 

However, the smaller Army footprint in Europe is manageable, according to Hertling. 

The smaller number of Army troops will be offset by increased cooperation with partner nations in the region, in the same way Army units will band together with military powers in the Pacific. 

"I think there is a requirement to understand national security strategy [since] we have already reduced the force in Europe," the three-star general said. 

"We are partnering with European countries. There is a requirement to do that . . . [and] I think we do a good job," he added.