U.S. Army leaders were tight-lipped about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's proposal to boost the size of the armed forces.
Speaking Monday at the Association of the United States Army's annual conference in Washington, D.C., Army Secretary Eric Fanning and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley didn't directly respond to Trump's plan.
In a speech last month, the candidate called for increasing the size of the Army to about 540,000 active-duty soldiers. By comparison, the Pentagon's $583 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2017, which began Oct. 1, requests funding for 460,000 active soldiers.
"Numbers are one way to measure the effectiveness of the Army, and lots of things get lost in that conversation when you just talk about force structure -- 540, 450, 490 -- whatever number that is," Fanning said at a briefing with reporters, referring to end-strength figures in the hundreds of thousands of soldiers.
A danger would be if the Army is told to maintain a larger force structure without any additional resources, the secretary said.
"Our modernization investments are down … we're trying to get our readiness up, and if we had to maintain a larger force structure without additional resources, it would further unbalance the program that we have for the Army," Fanning said.
Milley said the Army is constantly studying manpower needs.
"I'm not going to share those numbers because it's not so much about numbers as it is about capabilities and what we need to make sure … we have the most capable Army to deliver specific effects on a battlefield relative to U.S. national security interests," he said.
The general added, "I don't publicly discuss specific numbers … because it can be unhelpful and depends on which way you're looking at it, and people can turn those into different things. Yes, we do have specific requirements."
More importantly, Milley said, "What is it you want to do? What is the national security requirement? What does it say in the defense spending guidance? And those will vary depending on the contingencies you're looking at."
His predecessor, retired Gen. Raymond Odierno, frequently warned of the dangers of the Army shrinking too much, given the levels of contingencies around the world
"It’s easy to say, 'I just don’t see us having another conflict again,' " Odierno said in 2014. "Well, I heard that in 1980. I heard that in 1990. And I heard that in 2000. And yet, we're constantly engaged."
In response to another question from a reporter, Milley warned against comparing the Army of World War II -- the service had eight million soldiers and 89 divisions in 1945 -- to today's smaller but more capable force.
"That can be misleading," he said. "A platoon of M1s -- you have four M1 tanks -- could arguably defeat Patton's Third Army with hundreds of M4 tanks."