If Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno were to receive an order to deploy thousands of troops into a combat situation, he would be hard-pressed to comply. That’s because the U.S. Army reportedly only has two combat-ready brigades right now.
“Even the ones headed to Afghanistan are qualified for the trainer and adviser mission, not combat,” Defense News reports.
That’s also why receiving such an order is currently Odierno’s greatest fear, according to the report.
“There is going to come a time when we simply don’t have enough money to provide what I believe to be the right amount of ground forces to conduct contingency operations,” he said. “We’re not there yet, but it is something we are going to continue to review.”
The chief said he will aim to increase the number of combat-prepared brigades to seven by June 2014.
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Army Secretary John McHugh said he and the chief are committed that “whatever the Army’s end strength and its budgets may look like, we will never send a soldier into war unprepared, untrained or improperly equipped.” But he acknowledged that there are unprecedented uncertainties with which the service must contend.
The cost of sequestration is being covered by readiness and modernization dollars. That is why there are so few brigades trained and equipped for the combat mission. Service leaders look to accelerate the drawdown to help free up some money and balance training, modernization and end strength.
One step in this endeavor is an effort to cut 25 percent of overhead in headquarters. The Pentagon only required a 20-percent cut, but Odierno said the larger slice “can achieve some significant savings” — thousands of soldiers that could instead help fill a Brigade Combat Team, for example.
Another significant problem for the Army, McHugh explained, is Congress’ bad habit of funding the government through “continuing resolutions” rather than yearly budgets.
“By the time any budget is developed through the services, cleared through the Department of Defense, goes through the [Office of Management and Budget], goes through the administration, goes to Capitol Hill, gets through the House and Senate and is passed and is signed by the president, by the time we are executing that budget it is almost three years old,” McHugh added.
It is not plausible to “run the most important military on the face of the earth with three-year-old budgets, he said.
Additionally, sequestration cuts have also reportedly had a negative impact on 485 programs, preventing the service from starting new contracts.
So what does the Army need from Washington? Gen. Odierno lays it out:
“We need to make sure our soldiers have the best equipment possible,” Odierno said. “We need to make sure our individual soldiers have protective equipment, they have the right sights, they have the right weapons. … We need something to replace the Humvee, we need to replace the Bradley. We need to invest in our aviation systems — our UH-60s, our Apaches, our CH-47s. We need to make sure that in the complex environments we are going to operate in that we have a network that enables us to pass information very quickly down to the lowest element. We need all of it. The bottom line is we can’t afford all of it. So we’re going to have to make some tough decisions.”