The Army will shrink two brigade combat teams and convert at least one more as it cuts 40,000 soldiers to reach an active-duty end-strength of 450,000, the service said Thursday.
The Army's plan to reduce the force to 450,000 are not new, but details about where those cuts would be made had not been released until now.
"These are incredibly difficult choices," said Brig. Gen. Randy George, director of force management in the Army G-3 (operations), during a briefing Thursday with reporters at the Pentagon. "This was a very long, thoughtful and deliberate process that took place over the last 18 months."
Driven by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and ongoing budget cuts, these reductions, which are scheduled to begin in October, will affect "nearly every Army installation in the continental United States and overseas," George said.
"For us, it's looking at an Army at 450,000 and what capability do you need more at that level to satisfy what the combatant commanders need," he said. "This gets at satisfying current combatant commander demand, [including] what we're doing in Europe, theater security cooperation in the Pacific, what we have going on in the Middle East and being ready for the unknowns. That's what we have to plan against."
Since 2012, the Army has already cut 80,000 soldiers and shut down 13 brigade combat teams, including two in Germany and one in South Korea, to reach an end-strength of 490,000.
The force structure reductions announced Thursday will take place over the next two fiscal years, running through fiscal 2017. The 40,000-soldier end-strength reductions will be completed at the end of fiscal 2018.
"Our soldiers will not reduce down to 450,000 until the end of 2018," George said. "We want to minimize the turbulence we have for our soldiers and families."
Right now, the Army plans to cut 15,000 soldiers in fiscal 2016 for an end-strength of 475,000. Another 15,000 will go in fiscal 2017, and another 10,000 in fiscal 2018 for an eventual end-strength of 450,000, George said.
In total, the Army will have cut 120,000 soldiers – or 21 percent of the active force – since 2012.
The Army also will cut about 17,000 Army civilians and shrink its two-star and higher headquarters by 25 percent.
The Army continues to analyze which 17,000 civilian jobs will be cut, George said. More information is expected in the next 60 to 90 days, he said.
Many installations across the Army will see "a lot of cuts," George said, but "the Army has to operate within the budget provided."
The Army estimates these cuts will save about $7 billion over four years, George said.
Senior Army leaders have warned for months that the service is being pared too close to the bone.
"I believe that where we are now is about as low as we can go," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said during a May 28 discussion with reporters. "If we continue to go lower, we're going to have to say we cannot do all the things we're doing today."
The Army has "no predictability at all" when it comes to the budget, Odierno said.
"The lack of predictability is killing us," he said.
The cuts to the Army could go even deeper if sequestration returns in fiscal 2016, which begins Oct. 1. The Army could shrink to 420,000 active-duty soldiers by fiscal 2019 if those automatic budget cuts are triggered.
This is a cumulative loss of 150,000 soldiers from the active Army – a 26 percent reduction – over a seven-year period.
Army Secretary John McHugh warned in January that it would take the Army years to recover from sequestration.
"It's not a light switch," he said during a Jan. 21 meeting with Army Times. "You don't regain either end-strength or readiness overnight, even if someone writes a sufficiently large check."
It takes "months and months" to build a new brigade combat team or increase readiness across the force, McHugh said.
"We've got to be mindful of not just where we're going, but what it would take to get us back to a different level should that becomes absolutely essential," he said.
Odierno shared similar concerns in May.
"If we don't get the dollars and we continue down this road of sequestration, it's going to put us in a readiness hole for five years," he said. "It's going to put us in a modernization hole for 10 years, and our ability to continue to meet our current missions will be challenged."
The Army has already taken a "huge cut," and with the instability around the world, "this is not the right time" to be making even deeper cuts, Odierno said.
If sequestration returns, the Army will be forced to make more difficult choices, George said.
"It gets back to what we're being asked to do and weighing it against the unknowns," he said. "Then, it really is about choices and where you apply choices. That's what happens when you shrink anything."
Among the key reductions:
• The Army's brigade combat teams will continue to be reduced from a wartime high of 45 in 2012 to 30 by the end of fiscal 2017.
The first two brigades to go were stationed in Europe. Ten more followed, impacting every major installation in the Army from Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Earlier this year, the Army announced it also would cut the 2nd Infantry Division's BCT in South Korea; that unit is being replaced by rotational brigades from the United States.
The Army will have 32 BCTs by the end of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
• The Army will convert the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, into maneuver battalion task forces.
Each brigade will go from about 4,000 soldiers to a task force of about 1,050 soldiers.
The conversions are scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal 2017.
The 3rd BCT is the 3rd Infantry Division's sole brigade at Fort Benning; the rest of the division is at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Once the 3rd BCT's conversion is completed, it will remain part of the 3rd Infantry Division and provide the division with a "deployable light infantry battalion," George said.
The 4th BCT, 25th Infantry is the only airborne brigade combat team on the western side of the country. The battalion task force that will remain will provide U.S. Army Alaska with "deployable, air-droppable" capability in the Pacific, George said.
There were "numerous deliberations" before these two BCTs were selected for reduction, George said.
"We had to line up and make very difficult choices as to where these could would be taken," he said. "Wherever you look, there are not good options when you talk about cutting."
• The 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, will be converted into an infantry brigade combat team with two maneuver battalions. This means the brigade will lose not only its Strykers but also one of its maneuver battalions. Stryker brigades have three maneuver battalions, while infantry brigades outside the continental United States only have two.
• The Army will study a proposal to transfer the Stryker brigade equipment from Hawaii to the Army National Guard. If approved, the Army would convert the Guard's 81st Armored Brigade Combat Team into a Stryker brigade.
This move will give the National Guard a Stryker brigade on both coasts, George said.
The Guard currently has one Stryker brigade combat team; it is stationed in Pennsylvania.
The 81st BCT has its headquarters in Washington State, with subordinate units in California, Oregon and Washington.
"The stationing of the SBCT on the West Coast would reinforce the Asia-Pacific rebalance and enhances the National Guard's homeland defense mission," according to information provided by the Army. "This geographic proximity, along with long established habitual training relationships with I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord [in Washington], is another positive cost factor and multiplier."
Local communities that rely on soldiers and families who live on and around Army posts have been bracing for months, waiting to learn how their hometown installations might be affected.
"There is no doubt that communities will suffer under these reductions," said retired Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, vice president of education for the Association of the United States Army, in a statement. "Beyond the local economic impact, AUSA is on record as stating that an active component force of less than 490,000 presents unacceptable risks to America's ability to protect our interests worldwide."
The demand for soldiers around the world is clear, as geographic combatant commanders continue to ask for more land forces for exercises, training, advising and assisting, engagement with partner armies, and more, Swan said.
"Risks will be exacerbated by cutting to 450,000 active soldiers," he said.
If the Army is forced to drop to 420,000 troops, it will not be able to "meet the demands of the current defense strategic guidance," Swan said.
"Clearly, numbers like 450,000 or 420,000 have no real meaning to the public because there is no frame of reference," Swan said. "But significant reductions at local bases will get some attention, certainly by members of Congress who have constituents there. Our hope is that the announcement of these reductions will be enough to change course, but that is an open question at this point."
Officials at Fort Carson, Colorado, which is slated to lose about 365 soldiers, on Thursday released a statement thanking its local community for its support.
The cuts on that post mostly will come out of the 4th Infantry Division headquarters. Fort Carson also will lose soldiers as its armored brigade combat team is reorganized. Also affected are explosive ordnance disposal company elements, officials said.
Fort Knox, Kentucky, which has already lost its only brigade combat team, is one of just a few posts that will see an increase in personnel under this round of reductions.
The post will gain 67 personnel, officials said in a statement.
The four two-star commands on Fort Knox – Cadet Command, Recruiting Command, Human Resources Command and the 84th Training Command – each will be reduced by 25 percent, but Fort Knox will gain the 1st Theater Sustainment Command and its 550 positions from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The 1st TSC is expected to move by July 2016.
In turn, the 3rd Sustainment Command and its 280 positions will move from Fort Knox to Fort Bragg, officials said.
The 3rd ESC, which moved to Fort Knox from Germany in 2007, will move to Fort Bragg to be collocated with its parent command, the XVIII Airborne Corps. The command's move is expected to be completed by December.
In addition, all nine of the major headquarters on Fort Bragg, including the 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps and Army Forces Command, will see reductions in their staffs, officials from the North Carolina post said in a statement.
"Fort Bragg remains the Army's premier power projection platform and home to multiple strategic crisis response units," said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the XVIII Corps, in a statement. "The Army is making tough but necessary choices to better posture our forces to meet future challenges."
Fort Campbell will lose about 360 military positions, said Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, in a statement.
The cuts will be made by inactivating an EOD company from the 52nd EOD Group, reducing the size of the 101st Airborne Division headquarters, and small training and base support reductions, Volesky said.
At Fort Bliss, Texas, the total soldier population will shrink by 1,200, officials there said in a statement.
This includes cutting about 225 soldiers from the 1st Armored Division headquarters and reducing about 900 soldiers through the reorganization of the division's 2nd and 3rd Brigade Combat Teams. Another 70 or so soldiers will be cut from other brigade headquarters across the division, officials said.
The Army is focused on balancing force structure, modernization and readiness, George said.
"We're fielding an Army within the budget we've been provided," he said.
Cuts by installation:
|Installation||Military Authorized FY15||Change FY15-17||Percent change FY15-17||Military Authorized FY17|
|Joint Base Lewis-McChord||26,308||-1,251||-5%||25,057|
|Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson||4,603||-2,631||-59%||1,895|
|Aberdeen Proving Ground||2,614||-126||-5%||2,488|
|Fort Leonard Wood||5,168||-774||-15%||4,394|
|Joint Base San Antonio||5,566||-329||-6%||5,237|
|Joint Base Langley-Eustis||3,790||-94||-2%||3,696|
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.