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QDR Watch: Army Force Structure

It could have been the big story of the Quadrennial Defense Review -- major increases or decreases in the number of Army soldiers and changes to how the service is organized to fight.

But it looks as if the move by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to bring on 22,000 troops over three years may trump any longer-term plans to beef up or rebuild the service, according to a service official familiar with the deliberations. Instead, it looks as if Gates wants to see how things go in Iraq and Afghanistan and provide the Army with a bit of a cushion to get through the next three years. That cushion is desperately needed, as the Army suicide rates, tales of troubled troopers and broken marriages testify.

In fact, this relatively small growth may considerably tax the service. The Army can comfortably accept infusions of about 10,000 new troops each year, according to the official. Any more than that and budgets and people have to increase at Training and Doctrine Command. They would need to boost the number of drill sergeants and find places for those soldiers to live.

Barracks loom as a major constraint today. The last base closure round left the Army left with so little room to grow that it can't really accept a major force structure increase without the creation of new bases. "BRAC has completely hemmed in the Army's ability to grow," the service official said.

These new troops won't be built into the Army. Instead they will serve as pool to cushion the service and help it field units that are at least 95 percent of their official full strength. At the same time, Gates said the money for this will have to be stripped from programs, showing just how tight the zero sum budgeting has become.

One of the interesting back stories to the added troops is that Gates was presented a range of options, to add anywhere between 9,000 and 22,000. "Gates immediately approved the larger size," our source said. He did so even though it will cost about $100 million through Sept. 30, and about $1 billion in the next fiscal year. Gates did not offer any estimates beyond that.

This all happened against the backdrop of OSD suggesting at the beginning of the QDR that the Army might have too many heavy brigades. You aren't likely to hear many of those complaints any more.

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