Army Wants 485K Active-Duty Soldiers, the Force It Had on 9/11

Army soldiers M-777 Howitzer Estonia
U.S. Army soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, operate the M-777 Howitzer during a live fire exercise during Swift Response 21 at Tapa Central Training Area, Estonia, May 10, 2021. (Michael Gresso/U.S. Army)

The Army is focusing on supporting and maintaining an active-duty force of 485,000 -- the same size the service was on 9/11 but smaller than Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville previously said he wants.

Speaking with Acting Army Secretary John Whitley at a forum hosted by the Atlantic Council on Monday, McConville said they "have agreed … [that we're] not going to grow the Army above 485,000-ish with the resources that we're anticipating now."

Combined with Army Reserve and National Guard forces numbering slightly more than 500,000, it's a "million-person force" that serves as an "anchor" on which to base the service's planning and resources, McConville said.

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Just last week, McConville told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee that he believes the Army needs a force of 540,000 to 550,000 active-duty personnel but "recognizes that, quite frankly, we just can't afford that."

"What we must do is keep the force we have ready," he added.

As of March 31, the Army had 483,742 active-duty members, 187,260 reservists and 335,741 National Guard members.

The 485,000 projected number marks a flattening of Army active-duty end strength and allows the service to focus on modernization of equipment and weapons and supporting ongoing operations in the Middle East and elsewhere, McConville said.

"When you look at the levers, you have your readiness in your current operations, you have end strength and you have modernization," he said. "What we primarily are trying to do right now is fund that modernization."

Fiscal 2022 Army budget discussions have been hampered by a delay in the release of the full federal budget: The Biden administration released a preliminary plan that calls for $1.5 trillion in spending, including $715 billion for the Defense Department, but details of the proposal have yet to be released.

McConville said it is imperative that the Army pivot from a focus on irregular warfare and counterinsurgency operations to Russia and China -- the "Great Power" competition based on "peace through strength."

The need to transform the force has occurred every 40 years since 1940, McConville said -- right before World War II, again in the 1980s and now.

"We're standing up new doctrine. It's joint all-domain operations in which our contribution is multi-domain operations. … We're standing up a system that we're working very closely with our sister services and our allies and partners with a combined joint all-domain command-and-control system so we can pass data very, very quickly between each of our weapons systems. ... We're standing up organizations to help us deal with the information environment," he said.

Whitley said the Army has combed through its budget lines and reallocated $30 billion toward modernization. But as budgets get tighter, "We'll continue to have to make hard choices," he said.

Still, the service may see additional resources freed up as the United States pulls its troops from Afghanistan, he added.

"That'd be nice if that [funding] stayed with the Army. That probably won't be the department's position, so how much of that becomes available is to be viewed by the leadership at the bench level," Whitley said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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