The Army is using increased training, live fire exercises and short-notice taskings to prepare units for rapid deployment.
At the same time, the service continues to balance how much soldiers deploy and how much time they get to spend at home — a ratio that is fast approaching a red line.
As the Army has moved away from back to back deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, it still maintains a steady deployment tempo to both theaters and has taken on increasing demand for boots on the ground in Europe, the Pacific, Africa and elsewhere.
Because of that, units must be ready at all levels to deploy in ways they may not have had to before, said Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of Army Forces Command.
“It is no longer sufficient to focus solely on the next assigned unit mission, as was frequently the case during the Army Force Generation approach,” Abrams said. “The overarching philosophy is for leaders to build or sustain readiness at all times, whether at home station or deployed.”
To build on that, commanders are now getting less time to prepare for deployment exercises, as a way to test their unit’s ability to respond quickly when needed.
Those initiatives feed into the Army’s so-called “Sustainable Readiness” goal, which aims to preserve the “highest possible unit and service level readiness while minimizing risks to meeting operational demands,” Abrams said.
Part of that overarching philosophy is grounded in training, Abrams said.
Since 2015, commanders have focused on improving combined arms maneuver capabilities, a skill some say has atrophied during the recent wars.
Company-level combined arms live fire exercises at home station and brigade-level exercises at the Army’s combat training centers have both increased over the past two years.
The Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, conducted its first ever brigade combat team live fire exercise in February. Both the JRTC and the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, now see brigade and company live fires both in regular Army and Army National Guard rotations.
Nine brigades conducted live fires at Fort Irwin in fiscal year 2017. Four brigades conducted live fires at Fort Polk during the same period.
Another component is meeting deploy-to-dwell ratio targets.
Despite the reduction in large-scale deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, Army units remain in high demand.
“The deployment tempo has not slowed down,” Abrams said.
At the same time, the Army also has gotten smaller, going from a wartime high of 570,000 active Army soldiers in 2010 to just 490,000 two years ago.
FORSCOM data show that division headquarters deploy, on average, every 14 to 16 months. Armored brigade combat teams deploy about every 15 months, while infantry and Stryker BCTs deploy every 12 to 14 months.
Abrams said the secretary of defense’s standard is a 1 to 2 deploy-dwell ratio — or one year deployed with two years at home, for example — with the “red line” at 1 to 1. Current demands put that ratio at about 1 to 1.2 or 1.3, he said.
Some of that stress could be alleviated as the Army grows and gains thousands more soldiers in the coming months, Abrams said, but any relief will take time.