HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The Army is "only generating enough readiness for immediate consumption" while grappling with cuts that have left only a third of the service's brigades ready, the chief of staff said Wednesday.
"It's incumbent on all of us to understand that further reductions simply will put us into a place we simply cannot go," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said at the AUSA Institute of Land Warfare Global Force Symposium and Exposition here.
He amplified the dangers he sees now and ahead, particularly with the effects of sequestration.
"Today our nation is facing enormous challenges. I believe we are at a strategic inflection point," Odierno said. "Our nation is facing determined enemies across the globe that have the desire, the capabilities and with increasing capacity to threaten not only our security, but the security of our allies. We continue to witness change in velocity of instability, unforeseen just a few years ago."
He issued a challenge for the Army community to continue focusing on the importance of a strong national defense.
The enemy is diverse and evolving rapidly, he said. Complex threats come through a combination of transnational extremism and the organizations associated with them.
"In the Middle East we're seeing the expansion of sectarian conflict that we have not seen before. Extremist organizations are aligning with ISIL and attempting to proliferate themselves not only across the Middle East but North Africa," he said.
ISIL is attempting to establish a caliphate centered in Iraq and Syria. Iran's aggression across the Middle East is raising tensions, in places such as Yemen, where order has collapsed, provoking a renewed regional military response, he said.
Anarchy, extremism and terrorism are running rampant in Libya, and parts of north and central Africa. In Europe continued Russian aggression and its intervention in Ukraine is challenging the status quo as well as the resolve of the European union and NATO, Odierno said.
"China's modernization efforts alarm our allies and challenge our regional interests while North Korean belligerance continues. We also continue to face directly every day a threat to our homeland. The unfortunate part is … we continue to divest of our military capacity, and therefore our risk continues to grow," Odierno said.
The Army has cut 80,000 soldiers out of the active force, reorganized and cut 13 brigade combat teams and three aviation brigades from the active component. Investment in modernization is down by 25 percent, Odierno said, sidelining "much-needed" infantry fighting vehicle modernization and a scout helicopter development program.
"The unrelenting budget impasse has compelled us to degrade readiness to historically low levels," Odierno said.
"Even today we only have 33 percent of our brigades ready, when our sustained rate should be closer to 70 percent. We are unable to generate readiness for unknown contingencies, and under our current budget Army readiness will at best flatline over the next three to four years."
The ability to deter and compel more than one adversary at a time is in doubt.
The situation "requires us to hope that we can predict the future accurately, something we've never been able to do," Odierno said.
He outlined a new Army operating concept designed to meet future strategic challenges.
The operating concept, "Win in a Complex World," is intended to develop capabilities while focusing on 20 warfighting challenges, Odierno said.
"The assessment of the Army's warfighting challenges identifies what are the first-order capabilities we're going to need," he said. The soldier and squads will remain the centerpiece of our formations and a heart of this strategy.
Objectives to achieve the strategy include:
• Enhance the soldier by improving lethality, protection and situational awareness.
• Increase the lethality, deployability, mobility and survivability of maneuver formations.
• Enable mission command by investing in the network and agile and expeditionary tactical command posts and remain prepared for joint combined arms maneuver with tailorable and scalable resource.
The Army will use combat centers and test centers to adapt and evolve concepts and solutions, Odierno said, calling for breaking new ground in training centers by rebuilding combined arms capability.
The Army must make some improvements, Odierno said.
"We must invest in mobile protective firepower and develop combat vehicles that provide land forces with the appropriate combination of mobility, lethality and protection," he said.
The Army must invest in light reconnaissance and security capabilities, and the lethality of missiles, interceptors and sensors. The Army should also innovate with directed energy, a new infantry fighting vehicle and a future tank with autonomous capabilities.
The Army must also reduce the size of its command and control footprint, but also needs reliable and protected flow of information while on the move.
"It is imperative that we adapt new technologies to warfighting concepts better than anybody else," Odierno said.
But he underscored that while overmatch is important, war is a contest of wills, and people win wars.
Soldiers need to be better prepared through education, realistic training and sustained operations in complex and chaotic situations, Odierno said.
Soldiers and leaders need to understand the cultural, ideological and socioeconomic characteristics of people they're dealing with at national and local levels.
"We must develop leaders who are mentally and physically tough, able to inspire others to accomplish the unthinkable and most importantly, leaders of great character," he said.
They should not only understand the population where they operate, but create "multiple dilemmas for our enemies."
"Never before has America asked so much over such a sustained period" from its soldiers," Odierno said. "They have delivered time after time in a decisive and professional manner. … They are proud of what they're doing.
"It is incumbent on us that we provide them the training and resources so they are able to do the things we ask them to do."