The U.S. Army's chief of staff said Thursday he is prepared to brief the incoming Trump administration on plans to increase modernization and add more soldiers to the ranks.
"We do want to be bigger," Gen Mark Milley told an audience at an Association of the United States Army breakfast. "We, the Army, think our capacity needs to increase ... we think our capability -- the technical capability of our systems and formations -- needs to increase, and we think our readiness needs to increase."
The Army, like the rest of the U.S. military, is poised to reverse a persistent trend of deep cuts to end strength and modernization under the Obama administration with the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump next week.
"We fully understand that it's an expensive proposition," Milley said. "We know specifically what we need to do, and we are prepared to discuss that when asked by the new administration."
The Army's top priority continues to be readiness, he said.
"In many of the ways we measure readiness, we have made some significant improvements," Milley said. "Our equipment statuses are better than they were, our training is better now -- we have got units rotating through decisive-action rotations at the [combat training centers and] a lot of home-station training.
"We are not there yet; we are not at the level of readiness that we need to be at to fully execute the national strategic plans to the level that I would be comfortable with," he said.
The top challenge to maintaining readiness, Milley said, is that many units do not have the number of available soldiers they are required to have.
"Manning has been the biggest problem area, dragging readiness back," he said. "We are still significantly challenged on the manning front with a significant amount of non-availables, so we have got to work hard at that."
Currently, the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2017 has directed the Army to make sure its active force end strength is at 476,000 by Oct. 1, Milley said. This is a shift from the Obama administration's original request for the same period, which had the active force decreasing to 460,000.
"If we do get additional people, the very first thing we need to do is improve the manning levels in the existing organizations because our formations are under-strength," he said. "We set a target of 95 percent, depending on the unit, but when you take out your 10 percent of unavailables, you take our your day-to-day activities that strip people out of training, you find units going to training sometimes down around 80 percent or, in some cases, even lower."
But Milley warned that the Army will need additional funding if it is required to grow its end strength.
"So if by example we did have additional people, it's important to get the money with the people -- because when you just get additional people or additional end strength but we don't have the money, that leads you down the road of a hollow force," he said.
Milley also said that increasing modernization "is going to be a major effort this year."
"The other piece of it is modernization, of course, which is nothing more than future readiness, and we have got to pick the pace up there," he said. "We intend to do that this year and next, to try to recoup some of the lost years of modernization accounts we have had over the past 15 years."
Milley said he had made a list of modernization priorities, but he would not be specific nor would he rank them in any order of importance.
"Ground mobility is a big deal," he said. "We have introduced some programs, and we are working on that especially with our light force; we want to give them ground mobility capabilities there."
Protecting the Army's helicopter fleet is also a priority, Milley said.
"Aviation is very vulnerable against a near-peer, high-end threat," he said. "It's one thing to fight guerrillas and terrorists where you have almost exclusive freedom of the air, but it's another thing to fight some near-peer, higher-end threat. So protection of our aviation is a big deal, and we have a variety of creative initiatives going on to protect rotary-wing aviation, extend their range with engine improvements etc."
The Army also wants increased lethality, Milley said. In the long term, the service is "looking at non-traditional kinetics, such as railguns and lasers."
In the short term, the Army wants more "munitions that give us extended range for a variety of our firearms platforms, specifically artillery, both rocket and tube artillery," he said.
Ensuring that the Army's command and control systems can withstand enemy electronic warfare and cyber-attacks is another important modernization priority, Milley said.
It's highly unlikely that the Army will have the freedom of action in the electromagnetic spectrum it has enjoyed for the last 15 years of war, he said.
"The probability of that happening against a near-peer is zero; you are just not going to have that kind of freedom of action," Milley said.
The Army is working on ways to harden its radio, GPS and mission command systems so units can continue to operate in areas where the electromagnetic spectrum is under attack, he said.
"You have heard me many times talk about the various challenges around the world, and if you are paying close attention to the Senate confirmation hearings, you will see those challenges repeatedly asked in questions to the nominees," Milley said.
"They are serious challenges; they are challenges that our nation, regardless of who is in the White House, is going to have to come to grips with. And our part of that, as an Army, is to be ready."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.