How Big Should the Army Be?


By Debbie Gregory.

As the U.S. winds down the Afghan war, the government has been eyeing a much reduced military force, with numbers at the lowest level since World War II. The downsizing is also due to defense cuts mandated by Congress.

The 2011 Budget Control Act required $500 billion in defense cuts over a decade, on top of $487 billion already planned.

The Army had drafted plans to reduce its troop size to 420,000 by 2021. But when the plan to reduce troop levels to that number was drafted, it did not take into account a sizable continuing force in Afghanistan and the need to defend against ISIS.

According to a report by a congressionally appointed commission, the size of the Army should not fall below 450,000 active-duty troops and 530,000 reservists for the foreseeable future.

The commission has also recommended that the Army add an armored brigade in Europe and leave an aviation brigade in South Korea.

“An Army of 980,000 is the minimally sufficient force to meet current and anticipated missions at an acceptable level of national risk,” said an executive summary of the report by the National Commission on the Future of the Army.

Former senior Army and Pentagon leaders who took part in the commission included: retired generals Carter Ham, Larry Ellis, and James D. Thurman, former assistant secretary of the Army Thomas Lamont, retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler, former Pentagon comptroller Bob Hale, former deputy under-secretary of defense for policy Kathleen Hicks, and retired Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz.

Lawmakers reached a two-year agreement that would reduce the level of cuts for 2016 and 2017, but the cuts are slated to return in 2018. But even if the cuts remain in place, the Army may still reduce to 420,000 personnel.

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