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Thousands will PCS in reorganization of BCTs

Feb. 25, 2012 - 09:17AM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 25, 2012 - 09:17AM  |  
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Thousands of soldiers and their families will move to new installations with a good number of them moving across the ocean as the Army cuts at least eight brigade combat teams and looks to reorganize its remaining formations.

The first wave of these moves will begin later this spring and into the fall">as the Army prepares to inactivate the 170th Brigade Combat Team in Baumholder, Germany.

The unit, which is returning from a yearlong tour in Afghanistan, will be inactivated in October. This means the majority, if not all, of the brigade's 3,500 soldiers and their families will be moved to new assignments and new bases by that time.

The 170th, however, is just the first of at least eight BCTs the Army will cut as part of a five-year plan to reduce the active Army from about 560,000 soldiers to 490,000.

The active Army has 45 BCTs 17 heavy, 14 infantry, eight Stryker and six airborne. Each BCT can have anywhere from 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers.

More brigades could be cut if the Army goes ahead with plans to boost its remaining BCTs with additional forces such as a third maneuver battalion or a full engineer battalion.

"The reduction in end strength drives the eight-brigade reduction," said Col. Mark Elfendahl, chief of joint and Army concepts at Training and Doctrine Command. "It's the reorganization that would further increase that number [of cuts]."

If those changes are made, more soldiers likely will receive permanent change-of-station orders as maneuver battalions are added to and shuffled among the brigades.

"Our biggest concern, no kidding, is making sure we're doing the very best we can, that we're taking care of soldiers and their families in a very challenging time," said Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, which will inactivate the 170th BCT and the 172nd BCT over the next two years.

Apart from announcing the inactivation of the two brigades in Europe, the Army has not said which other brigades or what type of brigades heavy, infantry or Stryker will be cut from its inventory of 45 active-duty BCTs. The first official clue to possible brigade cuts came Friday, when Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said the Army eventually">could have as few as 32 brigades.

It's likely that the Army will take a close look at its heavy brigades as officials emphasize building a military that's leaner and more rapidly deployable.

Over the past several years, the Army has shown an affinity for Stryker brigades. It would therefore seem unlikely that Stryker brigades would be significantly affected by the impending cuts.

Final decisions about reorganizing the brigade combat teams are pending.

"Included in the already announced force structure cuts projected out to 2017 is an opportunity for the Army to potentially redesign our structures to make them more focused on the types of operations we project we'll have to conduct in the future," Elfendahl said. "There is a window of opportunity for the Army to look at how we can make improvements to the combat effectiveness of our formations."

The modular brigade combat team has been invaluable to the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Brig. Gen. Thomas James, commandant of the Armor School at Fort Benning, Ga., who is leading the effort to evaluate and potentially reorganize the Army's BCTs.

"What we're doing now with this effort is looking at what did we learn from those 10 years, and let's project out into the future and look at future threats and operating environments we're going to have to operate in," said James, who commanded 4th BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, and led it into Iraq during the surge in 2007. "What capabilities do we have to increase? What do we have to adjust? One of the things we've learned is there's value in having a heavy brigade combat team, an infantry brigade combat team and a Stryker brigade combat team because they all have unique capabilities."

As part of the process, the Army brought almost two dozen brigade commanders and command sergeants major to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., James said.

"We took the brigade combat team designs and ran them against 34 scenarios, from major combat operations to stability operations with varying degrees of threat implications, environmental implications," he said. "[And] we voted on which formations were best against the particular scenarios."

More maneuver

One of the key options being studied is adding third maneuver battalions to the heavy, airborne and infantry brigades, Elfendahl said.

Those brigades have two maneuver battalions, while the Stryker brigades have three.

If the decision is made to go to three maneuver battalions, the infantry and airborne brigades would gain infantry battalions while the heavy brigades would gain combined-arms battalions with two tank companies and two mechanized infantry companies, Elfendahl said.

If third maneuver battalions are added to the brigades, the Army also will have to boost units' sustainment base, he said.

"Any time you change an Army formation, you need to sustain it," he said.

A brigade with an extra maneuver battalion would need more medics and supply staff. It also would need a reconfigured artillery battalion going from a two-battery battalion to a three-battery unit that could support each of the three maneuver battalions when they operate on the battlefield.

In discussing the possibility of adding a third maneuver battalion to the infantry and heavy brigades, the Army is taking lessons from the Stryker brigades.

"We're learning from it and making some tweaks to the armor and the infantry brigades," James said.

The Stryker brigades already have three maneuver battalions, and they have some of the enablers and capabilities that the heavy and infantry BCTs don't have, Elfendahl said.

However, the Army also is examining the design of the Stryker brigades, James said.

"It was put together kind of fast, and there may be some distribution of trucks and things we need to add to the Stryker brigade to make it a little bit better," he said. "But staff, network and three maneuver battalions are the three lessons we've taken from the Stryker brigades."

A second option being studied is providing each of the BCTs with an engineer battalion, Elfendahl said. The brigades now each have an engineer company.

"Our experience in the last decade tells us both vertical and horizontal engineers are a requirement that we should try to figure out a way to account for in our future force designs," he said. "[The engineers] have been very valuable to our formations in our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The projection for the future is that kind of requirement will largely endure and they'll still exist."

The Army also is considering adding a company intelligence support team to each maneuver company within a BCT, James said.

"One of the things we learned in the past is the fog and friction of war was caused because we didn't have enough information," he said. "Now it's because we have too much information. How can we help the point of the spear synthesize all of this information we're processing?"

These company intelligence support teams would each have two enlisted soldiers, and they would report to the company commander, James said.

The Army also is considering ways to adapt the BCTs' support battalion and sustainment capabilities, Elfendahl said.

"It really is a holistic, end-to-end review of our brigade combat teams," he said.

What's next

Elfendahl said he expects some decisions will be made in the spring or early summer. However, the earliest any of those changes might be implemented is fiscal 2013, which begins Oct. 1.

"It's going to take us some time to implement [any changes]," Elfendahl said.

This includes taking into consideration deployed or deploying units where any changes can't be made until the brigade is home and is undergoing its reset phase.

In addition to the BCTs, the Army is taking lessons learned and examining its maneuver enhancement brigades and battlefield surveillance brigades to determine how to best design and use those units, Elfendahl said.

As the brigade cuts begin to take shape, the Army also wants to align its remaining brigades with the six regional combatant commands.

"We're considering a number of options with respect to how might Army forces be configured or aligned in a way that better enables the objectives and requirements of the combatant commanders," Elfendahl said. "There are some things we can do to deepen our expertise, to establish deeper relationships, [but] it's still very tentative at this point."

The regional concept was discussed Feb. 10 at Unified Quest, a gathering of senior Army leaders outside Washington.

"I view regional alignment as an enabler to readiness and not a detractor," Gen. Robert Cone, commanding general of Army Training and Doctrine Command, told Unified Quest. "I think the power of the construct is we are gathering information. We are teaching our great, young soldiers on culture, language the overall climate that exists within those countries."

A senior Army planner interviewed by Army Times, who asked to speak on background, said any forces that are regionally aligned with a combatant command will participate in activities such as military-to-military engagements or exchanges, training assistance and combined training exercises.

The intent is to deploy to the combatant command only the portions of the brigade needed for the activities or training. That could mean a company or a battalion or the whole brigade, depending on what the combatant commander needs. And the activities will mostly be executed as temporary duty and be limited in duration, the senior Army planner said.

However, there is concern that this approach also carries some level of risk.

Participants at Unified Quest pointed out that one danger lies in trying to predict the future, or focusing on certain parts of the world at the expense of others. The Army could study the wrong languages or become experts in countries where conflict never breaks out.

To make these kinds of choices, the Army would look to the national defense strategy and the requirements of the combatant commanders, Cone said.

"At some point, you would need to prioritize," he said. "I don't know how far we'd be able to go down that list, but that would probably be our methodology."

One audience member at Unified Quest was concerned that when Army begins prioritizing certain regions, it might designate some soldiers for "unimportant" places and end up providing fewer resources to them.

"We don't want a situation where you would have haves and have-nots," Cone said. "If there's a conflict that breaks out, we're going to have to have sufficient forces to rotate through that area."

Although the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East will clearly be top priorities based on the new strategic guidance, the Army is trying out the idea in Africa.

"Africa is the first area where the Army is essentially going to do a proof of principle," said Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, which is part of TRADOC. "We are aligning forces to work for [U.S. Africa Command commanding general] Gen. Carter Ham."

The selected BCT will begin aligning with AFRICOM this fall, at the start of fiscal 2013, officials said.

Creating regionally aligned forces is not just about being better prepared for the future; it is also deeply tied to keeping younger soldiers, who are used to the excitement and urgency of being at war, interested and engaged in the U.S. military, the generals said.

"They are so focused on going downrange and that's where the challenge exists," Cone said. "As we transition to the future, we have to make sure that we have realistic, challenging training at home station and at the national training centers, where here they can exercise their capabilities."

Creating these regional linkages could make training more realistic, he said. "This young generation wants to dedicate their intellectual energies to solving real problems in the world as opposed to hypothetical ones."

Staff writer from reader"> from reader">Kate Brannen contributed to this report.

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