Soldiers train at the notoriously realistic National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.

Soldiers train at the notoriously realistic National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.

PENTAGON: Last year, the sudden budget cuts known as sequestration forced the Army to cancel crucial training for 78 percent of its combat brigades. The budget request for 2015, released today, buys back a lot of that lost readiness — but not all. In fact, the Army has now officially resigned itself to what it once said it would never do: a system of readiness haves and have-nots, in which some units are never fully trained. That’s something the Army Vice-Chief of Staff, Gen. John Campbell, admitted was on the table when he talked to me in August, but now “tiered readiness” is the official Army plan.

The 2015 budget creates an Army Contingency Force — whose size is still to be determined — whose units will be funded to receive the latest equipment and the full training program, whose climax is a brigade-sized wargame at a Combat Training Center. The same priority of training and equipment will apply to the Army’s existing Global Response Force, a brigade of the 82nd Airborne (plus reinforcement) ready to airdrop into crisis zones on short notice, and to the remaining Army brigade in South Korea.

But the rest of the Army won’t get to go to the famously realistic and strenuous Combat Training Centers. In fact, instead of the entire brigade being able to train together in complex maneuvers at a CTC, the have-not Army will only be able to train smaller sub-units of each brigade at their home bases.

“This budget request seeks to sustain readiness achieved in FY ’14 with priority for forces in Korea, the Global Response Force, and the [new] Army Contingency Force,” Maj. Gen. Karen Dyson told reporters at the Pentagon today. “But for those units that are not assigned to one of these categories…training is expected to reach only to company level in some cases and in some select cases to battalion level.” And that’s in the regular active duty force. “The [Army National] Guard and the Reserves are funded to individual crew and squad level,” Dyson said.

Isn’t this “tiered readiness,” I asked Dyson. “Right,” she said. “Under tiered readiness… those in the contingency force will be prioritized for Combat Training Center rotations …. Others will be optimized for training at home station until we can bring the Army back in balance.”

So when is that? “Under the president’s budget, the Army will not begin to establish balance among readiness, endstrength, and modernization until after until after FY16,” Dyson said. What she didn’t say is that the president’s budget plan for 2016 and beyond also assumes that sequestration’s 10-year, $500 billion cut to defense spending will somehow be rolled back. That’s something the White House and Congress have consistently failed to come to an agreement to do.

The problem — as Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno and others have repeatedly pointed out — is that sequestration cuts dollars faster than the military can cut people. (Troops sign contracts to serve for a given number of years, so if you want them to leave early, you have to buy them out, which means cutting personnel too quickly costs more money in the near-term than it saves). That’s especially problematic for the Army, the most labor-intensive service, with 46 percent of the Army budget going to military personnel.

The Army will go down to 490,000 regular active duty troops by the end of fiscal year 2015 and then to 450,00 or lower thereafter, depending on how fully the president’s plan gets funded. The Army can cut readiness spending almost immediately — that’s what happened to training exercises in 2013 — and it can cut equipment modernization relatively quickly as well — which is what’s happening in this budget. Until the personnel cuts catch up, readiness and modernization will have to pay a disproportionate share. That’s what Dyson et al mean when they talk about being “out of balance.”

“We want to keep the balance between modernization, readiness, and end strength,” Gen. Odierno said in February at the Council on Foreign Relations. “So even if we get too small, whatever’s left, we want to make sure it’s ready and modernized.”

But the proposed Army budget is the opposite of what Odierno said he wanted. For at least another couple of years, the Army is going to have more troops than it can afford to properly train. And that means, as every senior budget briefer from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on down has said, more risk.

“What keeps me up at night,” Odierno told the Council, “is if something [happen]s all of a sudden, I get a call saying I got to deploy 20,000 or 30,000 soldiers….we’ll go, but it’ll take us longer and it’ll cost us in lives.”


  • James Hedman

    Good, if we can’t adequately train a unit it should be disbanded and its troops discharged for productive work in the private sector.

  • Don Bacon

    What keeps General Odierno up all night is that he might get a call to send troops anywhere in the world. However this is a strategy that hasn’t worked and won’t work, and it’s not Odierno’s fault that he’s unable to implement it.

    The new QDR has the old US world domination strategy, nothing new there.

    These priorities include rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region to preserve peace and stability in the region; maintaining a strong commitment to security and stability in Europe and the Middle East; sustaining a global approach to countering violent extremists and terrorist threats, with an emphasis on the Middle East and Africa; continuing to protect and prioritize key investments in technology while our forces overall grow smaller and leaner; and invigorating efforts to build innovative partnerships and strengthen key alliances and partnerships.

    Preserving peace and stability has not been a hallmark of recent US military invasions and occupations. Quite the opposite has been true and so the strategy should be changed to one of defense of the United States and not world domination and instability. Then General Odierno could get some sleep.

  • Harold

    Please issue a correction, this part is false “the sudden budget cut”. It wasn’t sudden and not really a cut. The sequester was passed in the Summer of 2011, but the Pentagon pretended it wasn’t real and kept on spending and planning for endless growth.Their growth plans were cut, but FY2015 is actually an increase when the Afghan war slush fund is included. If Army Generals really cared, they’d slash all the headquarters overhead and unneeded overseas bases. There is a list at G2mil.

  • Harold

    Here is how to save lives. When he gets a call to deploy 20,000 to 30,000 troops for some war profiteering idea to a place like Ukraine, just say no, Congress has not declared war.

  • Bob

    Sydney. Did they mention that the units would be rotating through the higher level of readiness, somewhat like they do today?

  • ycplum

    When I went to OCS, a question was asked in class. Through out OCS, we were hammered on taking care of the troops under your command. Details about having enough water, if every one was properly equiped, everyone getting food, if anyone want to to go to religious services, do the socks need to be changed, proper shelter, if anyonehas pay problems, etc ad nauseum. The commander askeed, “What does a commander have to ensure his troops recieve, of all the different areas, in taking care of the troops under his command?”. Soem answered getting hydrated, getting food, pay, make sure they don’t have family problems, etc. None of the above. Being one of the very few candidates who had prior active Army experience (and combat arms to boot), I raised my hand and said you have to make sure your troops are as well trained as they possibly can be. All the other problems are important, but they are not an immediate threat and you can often take care of most of them with some planning. The enemy will actively try to kill you. The equipment we use are often dangerous. Training, above all else, will help you survive and defeat the enemy. Training will allow you to be physically conditioned to properly use your equipment without injuring yourself or others. You can survive three days without water. If you can not load a tank gun proficiently or clear a stoppage in your rifle in the face of an attacking enemy, your survival is probably going to be a lot less than three days.

    • Bradley Mcglothlin

      You are spot on. Too many distractions to meet the current “Hot Topic” last minute tasking’s destroy our long range training.
      We spend our nights and weekends to setup training. Which is washed away by the “Hot Topic” mandatory training delegated by higher echelons.

  • Fist000

    How about we cut or put on hiatus federal aide to foreign countries. This money is given in hopes they will become a democratic nation. How well is that working? We keep shelling out money to our enemies or ones who harbour our enemies with no end in sight. Stop the aide and keep the money at home to make us a stronger nation. I see first hand whenever I go on a new equipment net how poorly our soldiers are trained after a decade of non-standard missions. We need the funds to keep them fully trained and CTCs are a great multiiplier in a units readiness. Having a tiered force wouldn’t be my recommendation.