The Army is slated to have 476,000 soldiers next year, 16,000 more than originally planned.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the $618.7 billion 2017 National Defense Authorization Act in early December; President Obama signed the bill on Dec. 23.

The Army has been steadily drawing down the force since 2012, going from a wartime high of 570,000 active Army soldiers to an eventual low of 450,000 by the end of fiscal year 2018. That's a reduction of 120,000 soldiers – or 21 percent of the active force – since 2012.

Under this plan, due largely because of ongoing budget cuts, the Army was slated to drop to an active-duty end-strength of 460,000 by the end of fiscal 2017.

By the end of fiscal 2018, the Army was scheduled to have 980,000 soldiers across the active Army, National Guard and Army Reserve.

However, the 2017 NDAA is poised to change the course of the Army's drawdown. What impact it'll have, or what the new end-strength numbers might look like, especially beyond fiscal 2017, remain to be seen.

The Army still plans to conduct a Selective Early Retirement Board in February for active-duty colonels in operations, operational support and force sustainment career fields who have four and five years of time in grade, said Lt. Col. Randy Taylor, an Army spokesman.

No decisions have been made, as of mid-December, about whether to convene additional separation boards, he said.

Senior Army leaders have repeatedly warned that any increases in end-strength must come with increases in funding.

"If we’re asked to keep more force structure without an increase in budget in some way, then we have more people with less training and less equipment," Army Secretary Eric Fanning said during a recent discussion at the Library of Congress. "That could easily, quickly become a larger Army that’s less effective, less capable than the one we’re trying to build now."

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.

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