House Panel Seeks to Increase Army Ranks by 45,000 Soldiers

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The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has introduced a defense bill that would increase the U.S. Army by 45,000 soldiers.

Rep. Mac Thornberry's version of the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Bill would provide money to add 20,000 soldiers to the active Army's end-strength, bringing it to 480,000.

The bill would also add 15,000 to the National Guard and 10,000 to the Reserves, resulting in a Guard strength of 350,000 and a Reserve strength of 205,000. The panel was expected to approve the measure on Wednesday.

Under the President Barack Obama's current proposed defense budget, the Army projects its end-strength to be at a total of 980,000 soldiers by fiscal 2018, including 450,000 for the active force, 335,000 for the Army National Guard and 195,000 for the Army Reserve.

"The Chairman's Mark halts and begins to reverse the drawdown of military end strength, preserving the active duty Army at 480,000," according to summary of the proposed bill.

The size of the Army has been a major concern among lawmakers, many of whom have stated that the active force is too small to deal with the growing number of threats facing the U.S.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has testified that there is a "high-military risk" if the service continues to operate at its current size, but also told lawmakers that growing end-strength without additional funding would lead to a hollow force.

Thornberry's revised budget earmarks just over $2 billion in additional funding for the troop increase, according to language in the bill. That's about $2.5 billion short of what the Army would need, according to Army senior leaders that have testified it will cost about $1 billion for every 10,000 soldiers.

"Where possible, Chairman Thornberry's proposal cuts excessive or wasteful expenditures and rededicates those resources to urgent needs," according to the bill's summary. "Even with a vigorous re-prioritization of programs, the Committee was unable to make up essential shortages in the President's budget and simultaneously provide a full year of contingency funding.

"The proposal is designed to restore strength to the force through readiness investments and agility through much needed reforms, while providing a more solid foundation for the next President to address actual national security needs," it states

The proposal also would increase the strength of the Marine Corps by 3,000 and the Air Force by 4,000.

"Perhaps it is also true every year, that when it comes to overall spending levels for defense, we are presented with only difficult, imperfect options," Thornberry said in his opening remarks at Wednesday's committee-wide markup session within the House Armed Services Committee.

"But, the bottom line for me this year is that it is fundamentally wrong to send service members out on missions for which they are not fully prepared or fully supported," he added. "For that reason, I think that it is essential that we begin to correct the funding shortfalls that have led to a lack of readiness and to a heightened level of risk that we have heard about in testimony and that some of us have also seen for ourselves."

The bill, currently in its draft form, will have to be passed by both the House and the Senate. Obama could also choose to veto the bill after passage.

--Matthew Cox can be reached

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