Even without sequestration, the Army may be forced to cut its end strength further than the already planned-for 80,000 troops over the next several years and soldiers deployed to Afghanistan next year may see their war tours extended because budget cuts will drastically limit training for brigades to replace them, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Friday. (AP)
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Even without sequestration, the Army may be forced to cut its end strength further than the already planned-for 80,000 troops over the next several years and soldiers deployed to Afghanistan next year may see their war tours extended because budget cuts will drastically limit training for brigades to replace them, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Friday.
Under current plans, the 570,000-strong Army will fall to 490,000 in coming years, as part of the postwar rebalancing of the armed services.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Odierno said, "my guess is that we'll go even a little bit smaller in order for me to balance the readiness and modernization. We're still working that number."
The possible further reductions may be necessary due to the fact that about 48 percent of the service's budget goes to personnel costs, and the price tag of training, equipping and retaining a soldier has doubled since 2000. Odierno said that in order to maintain readiness and fund various modernization programs, the further cuts will likely be necessary.
"Fiscal constraints are here to say and we understand that we have to play a role," the general said.
Odierno told Congress earlier this week that sequestration might force the Army to cull another 100,000 troops from its ranks. Speaking at Brookings he went further, estimating that beginning with the 80,000 already scheduled, "in the end, it'll be over 200,000 soldiers that we will have to take out of the active duty component National Guard and Army Reserve" if sequestration is implemented for the long term.
"We'll take almost a 40 percent reduction in our brigade combat teams once we're finished," he cautioned.
When looking at the Army's bottom line, Odierno said that if the fiscal 2014 budget is implemented without sequestration, the Army will have taken a 45 percent reduction in its budget since 2008, a number that rises to over 50 percent with sequestration.
As for the long-term consequences of such cuts, the general said that such huge reductions would send the wrong message to potential adversaries around the world.
"What I worry about is that we will cause people to miscalculate, and then we have to get involved. So I want to retain the right capacity so people understand that we still have the ability to respond, and still have the ability to maintain our own security," he said.
Odierno said the military will be able to fund training and operations for combat units in Afghanistan now and for those deploying in the summer and fall. But he says there will be delays in training for those deploying in 2014.
If those training delays can't be made up, Odierno said he would have to send forces to war that aren't ready or extend deployments of units already there. A number of combat brigades will be deploying later this year and next year, even as the U.S. winds down the war.
"We will try to divert money so we do not have to extend people in Afghanistan," he said. "That's a very big concern of mine."
Longer deployments have been a difficult issue for the Army.
In 2007, the Army extended the yearlong deployments to 15 months in order to meet the demands of the Iraq war, including the surge of troops ordered by then-President George W. Bush. In many cases, combat brigades returned home and were ordered to deploy again 12 months later, leading top military leaders to worry that the force was being strained almost to the breaking point.
Over time, as the Iraq war ended, the Army deployment times were scaled back to a year, and most are now about nine months long.
Among the units scheduled to deploy later this spring is the 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, but the Army has not announced what units will go to Afghanistan later in the summer in fall.
Defense News writer email@example.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com.com reader">Paul McLeary, and Lolita C. Baldor and Richard Lardner of the Associated Press contributed to this report.