This weekend, Army leaders used the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting to warn against steep cuts to the Army that could excessively shrink the force, making it difficult to meet the demands of a complex and volatile strategic landscape.
General Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, said the current level of planned cuts would be “very, very difficult, ” and would shrink the number of active-duty soldiers below the planned 520,000. As Thom Shanker recounts in the New York Times, Odierno fears decisions based on budgets rather than strategy could lead to repetition of past mistakes.
“General Odierno noted that the Army’s force level was about 480,000 before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and at that number was supposed to be able to join the other services in carrying out two major wars at one time, according to the national military strategy…Then came the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and the Army proved too small to sustain both conflicts, growing to its current strength of 570,000.”
Jason Ukman of the Washington Post writes that Army Secretary John McHugh has heard proposals to cut the Army before.
“Army Secretary John McHugh said Monday that this is hardly the first time he and others have heard suggestions that it no longer makes sense to maintain such a large ground force. Predictions about future conflict, he said, inevitably envision battles primarily carried out by land and sea.
“‘We heard [such predictions] just prior to Sept. 11, we heard them with respect to Bosnia and Kosovo,’ he said. ‘We went into Iraq under the rubric of shock and awe…After we shocked, after we awed, to secure victory we had to march.’
“McHugh added: ‘The fact is, at the end of the day, if you’re going to control territory, you have to have a capable land force.’”
Both General Odierno and Secretary McHugh were unequivocal that further cuts beyond those currently enacted would be dangerous, especially under a scenario in which the supercommittee fails to agree to a deficit reduction plan. Odierno said he was “deathly afraid” of what would happen to the force if automatic across-the-board cuts were triggered. McHugh said defense budget cuts beyond about $450 billion planned over the next decade would “be catastrophic.”