Army warns against higher troop levels without more funding

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The Army's civilian and military leaders are warning Congress against increasing the size of the force without providing more funding.

“If someone put into law that the Army would be at number X, but no money came with it for readiness or modernization, that would actually hurt, not help,” Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, told the House Armed Services Committee. “If someone wanted to increase the end strength of the Army, I’m all for it. I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s necessary, but it would need to come with the additional monies for readiness and modernization.”

Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would halt planned troop cuts in the Army and Marine Corps.

Under current plans, the Army would drop from 480,000 to 450,000 active-duty troops by the end of 2018. The Marines would drop from 184,000 to 182,000 troops.

But under the bills introduced last month, the Army would stay at 480,000 and the Marines at 184,000.

The congressional efforts to reverse planned cuts come after the National Commission on the Future of the Army warned against further downsizing of the force.

Milley said the Army could do the job it needs to at the proposed reduced level but at a high risk. An increased force size would help lower the risk, as troops wouldn’t have to be deployed for as long and could come home to train.

Milley also cautioned that force size is only one factor in lowering risk. Others include technology and readiness.

“I caution everyone about getting fixed on a fixed number, on an end strength, a million, 500,000, 2 million or whatever the number is,” he said.

Patrick Murphy, the acting secretary of the Army, concurred about needing funding to match force size. If the Army had to increase the number of troops without more funding, it would have to cut from other areas such as modernization.

“Congress could pass a bill that gives us higher end strength, but if it doesn’t come with funding, that will very much hurt our Army,” he said. “Unless that end strength number comes with higher funding, it will hollow out our Army, and that would not be a wise decision.”

For the Marines, more troops would also allow for more time to train, said Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marines.

It would also help fill holes in capabilities, he added. Specifically, he said the Marines need more people for cyber warfare and intelligence.

Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), who introduced the House version of the bill with Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), said he agrees troop increases would have to come with more funding.

The threats in the world today necessitate a larger force, he added.

“In terms about the European Reassurance Initiative, dealing with the Islamic State, concerns about North Korea, some challenges potentially with China,” he said, “this is a very important bill that we need to muster the political will to pass.”