The Army's top advocacy group and prominent Republican lawmakers warned Wednesday that the plan to cut 40,000 soldiers and reduce the Army's strength to 450,000 over two years posed an unacceptable risk to the nation and would devastate the economies of communities near bases.
"There is no doubt that communities will suffer under these reductions," retired Army Lt. Gen. Guy C. Swan III, vice president of the Association of the U.S. Army, said in a statement.
"Beyond the local economic impact, AUSA is on record as stating that an active component force of less than 490,000 presents unacceptable risks to America's ability to protect our interests worldwide," Swan said.
"Risks will be exacerbated by cutting to 450,000 active soldiers," Swan said, and "things could get worse. If sequestration continues to the end of the decade, the active Army could drop to as low as 420,000 soldiers. At this level, the Army could not meet the demands of the current defense strategic guidance."
The Army confirmed Tuesday that a plan was in the works to cut 40,000 active duty troops and 17,000 civilian jobs by 2017 to reduce the active duty force from 490,000 to 450,000 if the cost-cutting sequestration limits in the 2011 Budget Control Act passed by Congress were continued. In the worst case scenario, the force would be reduced to 420,000 by 2019, the Army said.
At a Pentagon briefing Wednesday, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the projected cuts for the Army were "what we have talked about since the (defense) budget was rolled out in February." He referred questions on specifics to the Army, which was expected to provide details possibly as early as Thursday.
One of the effects of the troop reduction was believed to be a proposal to convert brigade combat teams at some bases from a current strength of about 4,000 to battalion-sized levels of about 1,050.
In his statement for AUSA, Swan also warned of the potential political fallout from the troops cuts, although a force of 450,000 likely "sounds sufficient" to the general public.
However, "significant reductions at local bases will get some attention, certainly by members of Congress who have constituents there. Our hope is that the announcement of these reductions will be enough to change course, but that is an open question at this point."
The proposed cuts have already caught the attention of top Republicans in Congress, who sought to put the blame for the projected force reduction on President Obama and his threatened veto of the National Defense Authorization Act over sequestration.
"Planned reductions in Army force levels have been public for some time and are a result of hundreds of billions of dollars in defense cuts since President Obama took office," Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
"People who believe the world is safer, that we can do with less defense spending and 40,000 fewer soldiers, will take this as good news. I am not one of those people," Thornberry said.
In a separate statement, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: "With global instability only increasing, and with just 33 percent of the Army's brigade combat teams ready for deployment and decisive operations, there is simply no strategic basis to cut Army force structure below the pre-9/11 level of 490,000."
"The Army's plan to cut 40,000 troops from its ranks is another dangerous consequence of budget-driven strategy" from the White House, McCain said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com