Under Secretary of the Army Brad Carson posed 10 questions recently, dealing with the size and composition of the Army, modernization and readiness.
The Army's 31st under secretary, who has been in office a little more than four months, spoke to members of the Association of the U.S. Army at their monthly breakfast. He began by discussing the size of the Army, and where it might go in the future before offering questions to ponder.
"At our height, we had 570,000 people in the Army; today we have 503,000," said Carson, a former member of Congress from Oklahoma. He said the Army is on its way down to 490,000 soldiers and then to 450,000. "And if sequestration continues to work its sinister effect on the Army, we'll be down to 420,000," he said, adding there may be great pressure to go even below that.
"We have an active component that has tremendous combat experience; we have about 40 [brigade combat teams] – hallmark fighting units for the Army," Carson said.
He added that the National Guard has 28 brigade combat teams and 350,000 people today. The Army Reserve has a little less than 200,000 people.
"This is the first question I would offer you today," he continued. "And this is a major question to the Army that we must grapple with – are we going to be a threat-based structure or a capabilities-based structure?"
Carson said the second question goes to the heart of his work as the Army's chief management officer – what is the ideal size of the generating force? The generating force is charged with manning, training and equipping Soldiers and it has varied from 80,000 to 110,000 people throughout the last 15 years.
"We don't model with the same fidelity we do with the operating force, so that third question is how is that generating force sized and varied with the size of the operating force – we know it's not particularly linear," he said. "If we draw down the operating force by 10 percent, the generating force doesn't necessarily fall by 10 percent."
While indeed the Army is drawing down significantly, Carson's fourth question to the audience concerned itself with how quickly the Army could grow if it needs to. Meanwhile, the service continues to shrink to its lowest size since before World War II, when it had 280,000 enlisted and 14,500 officers. By the end of the war, however, the Army had grown to 90 divisions and more than eight million people.
"But we grew under very different circumstances back in World War II, with threats directly to the nation and we had conscription with minimal political opposition," Carson said. "Between 2000 and 2011, we had all kinds of incentives in place trying to grow the Army during a war environment, and the most the enlisted force grew in a single year was nine percent."
The under secretary added that if the nation wanted to build the Army back up from 420,000 to 550,000 or 570,000 soldiers, the force would need to grow by 35-40 percent in accessions annually. That's probably not possible, no matter what kind of incentives one puts in place, he said.
"So my fifth question to you is, if we're going down to 420,000 or lower, how do you build it back up – how quickly can we recruit the right people, to make sure we have enough units, field-grade officers, senior NCOs? This isn't an easy question to answer," he said.
"The sixth question I offer you, and this is an important one, is whether the Army's concepts of operations are adequate to a world where precision-guided missiles are proliferating, in a world where the price of computing, power sensors, weaponry is all going down relative to the cost of the means to protect against them, whether it's better armor, stealth of hypersonic speed. Are we ready for that kind of world?" Carson said.
Carson's seventh question revolved around the roles of the National Guard and the Army Reserve. Should the National Guard be operational or strategic, he asked, and should combat-power roles be shared in some way between the two components?
"My eighth question to you deals with modernization," he said. "Should we focus on resetting the vast property book of the Army or should we be thinking about next-generation investments and how do we balance these things? "The Army property book is now $250 billion," he continued. "We have a lot of gear out there. It's expensive to sustain it; it's expensive to recapitalize it as it comes out of theater and some of it may not even be needed for the kind of wars in the future, so how do we balance these priorities?"
His ninth question was about the Army Force Generation model. He said ARFORGEN has been successful in readying the forces needed for Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, "but at a high price." He asked, "Is that the right model of readiness for the future?"
"And, a tenth question, [which is] somewhat controversial, the one that is so great just to me, is whether our emphasis on decisive-action training is adequate to prepare for the range of military operations the U.S. is going to face over the next 10, 20 or 30 years," Carson concluded.