WASHINGTON -- When the Army's chief of staff retires this August, he said one thing he will be leaving for his successor is the unfinished business of how big the Army will be and how it will be appropriated.
"I thought by now we would have had that resolved," said Odierno, adding that uncertainty about the final size of the Army has brought "angst to our Soldiers."
Odierno spoke, May 28, during a media roundtable with the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C.
The final end strength of the Army - the total number of Soldiers that will be allowed to serve - is still "up in the air," Odierno said. It is "based on what happens with the Congress and the president as they continue to wrestle what the budget would be."
He predicts the issue will still be a concern for the new chief of staff for two to three years to come.
The general said that while popular consensus might hold that the Army is now at rest because it is largely out of Iraq and Afghanistan - the opposite is true. The Army has 143,000 Soldiers forward-stationed and deployed throughout the world today, he said.
Odierno told journalists that continued cuts to defense must stop, "with the world the way it is today ... this is not the right time. We've taken enough out of defense. Let's stop and move forward."
Continued cuts will damage the Army's modernization efforts and readiness into the next decade, the general said.
"If we don't get the dollars and continue down the road of sequestration, it's going to affect readiness," he said. "It's going to put us in a readiness hole for five years. It's going to put us in a modernization hole for 10 years. And our ability to continue to meet the current mission is going to be challenged."
Security issues, such as the city of Ramadi being taken last week by the Islamic State - and Iraqi security forces fleeing instead of fighting - persist in Iraq. Just five years ago, the general had been optimistic about the future of the country.
"The violence in Iraq was at the lowest levels it had ever been. We saw the economics were starting to grow. Oil was being exported at a higher rate. I felt very good. I thought we were on the right track. But then again, the political piece of it has not taken. They have not been able to overcome the mistrust they have between sects."
The general said that mistrust and conflict between Sunni and Shia, for instance, represents the kind of fractures in Iraqi society that demand a leader strong enough to pull them together to create a stable country.
That continued mistrust, he said, continues to degrade the success that had been achieved in Iraq early on.
"It is incredibly disappointing to me, personally, what I have watched happen," he said. "I felt in, September 2010, when I left, that we were on the right track. And I really believed at that time, that in five years, that Iraq would be doing very well. But frankly they have fallen apart."
The general said he does not support sending combat formations to provide security to the country - a task he said the Iraqis themselves are best suited for. He did say additional advisors would be okay, if those on the ground who are observing the mission of those advisors were to say that additional advisors are needed.
"Right now they feel we are okay with the numbers we have," he said. "If they felt we need to increase that, I'd be supportive."
Odierno also said that he believes that "embedded advisors," which means U.S. Soldiers embedded with Iraqi combat units, could increase the effectiveness of those units - and make the U.S. effort there more successful.
"That puts us at much more risk," he said. "We have not made that decision yet, and I don't think that Gen. Austin [Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command] has asked for that capability."
JOINT LIGHT TACTICAL VEHICLE
The Army has said it plans to purchase 49,099 joint light tactical vehicles, or JLTVs, and Odierno said the Army has "not walked away" from that commitment.
He said the JLTV is a vehicle the Army absolutely needs, that it includes enough space for Soldiers and communications gear, and that it provides adequate protection for occupants.
"I feel really good about what we've done with the JLTV," he said. "I think the way we've developed the requirements, the way it is moving forward, is a really important step for us. I think as we move forward it will be a central piece of the Army."
Odierno also said the Army might be looking for an ultra-light vehicle that will help move airborne Soldiers, who land as part of forcible entry operations. The Army might also be looking for a light reconnaissance vehicle, as well as "mobile-protected fire power" in light, medium and heavy versions. He also mentioned vertical lift, an infantry fighting vehicle, and "a lighter, tank-like vehicle."
Using the Army Operating Concept, or AOC, as a guide, the general said, the Army has been reviewing 20 warfighting challenges and has identified "where the gaps and seams are" in terms of capability.
The effort is more holistic than it has been in the past, he said. The Army is looking across all branches and centers of excellence, rather than at functional "stovepipes."
"I think we are coming up with much better solutions. I think what you are going to see here, one of the things I am proud of is, we have established this AOC, we've looked at these 20 warfighting challenges, and I think now we can ease the way forward on how we start identifying near-team, mid-term and long-term gaps that we can now invest in.
In terms of future modernization and acquisition, Odierno criticized the Army's previous concepts of acquisition, saying that the service had always looked for the best right up front.
"I think one of the problems we've had in the past is that we tried to build a perfect vehicle," he said. "The requirements are so high, and they were difficult to meet, and it ended up being over budget and sometimes we found we couldn't meet them."
Now, he said, he believes that program development might "leave room for improvement" in new systems and that the Army tries to "become iterative in development of a program."
He suggested a new system, where the first iteration of a new system might meet 80 percent of what the Army wants. Later iterations would reach a goal of 90 percent, and then 100 percent.
"That 80 percent is much better than what we have today," he said. "And it's easier to attain."