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Tomorrow's "balanced" Army

The Army of tomorrow -- whether it's the same size or smaller -- must be a "balanced" force with the ability to take a range of different jobs, Army Vice Chief Gen. Peter Chiarelli told reporters on Thursday. That doesn't mean there aren't places to look for cuts or efficiencies as part of the Pentagon's austerity measures, he said, but Chiarelli emphasized that DoD not try to "specialize" the force before or after the planned cuts in end strength in a few years. Cutting back too much on any one area "is a recipe for having it wrong when you need to employ it," he said.

The trick for tomorrow's Army will be to simultaneously reset itself after Iraq and Afghanistan, remake itself to keep the broad focus and general-purpose qualities that Chiarelli praised, and also to endure, if necessary, cuts and efficiencies as a part of the larger Pentagon spending reductions. It can do it, the top brass has said; Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey has said he plans to steer the force in the right direction even as he tackles all three of those obstacles, and that he's not just going to try to set the service up for a "soft landing."

Chiarelli also was bullish on the Army's prospects when he met with reporters Thursday morning. Will it lose a generation of experienced young officers as its units return to the U.S. in numbers and the Army goes back to a garrison mindset? Not necessarily, Chiarelli said -- not if the Army encourages those officers to go to school, become West Point instructors, and help take the service into its next phase. But first: "It's absolutely crucial that we change the perception that if you're not downrange, you're wasting your time," he said. "We've got to get people to be willing to take a knee."

How can the Army endure Austerity America? It needs to join with the rest of the Pentagon in making sure the servies aren't duplicating the same programs or capabilities, and then make decisions accordingly to get the most savings. Many of the services could be overlapping their unmanned surveillance programs, for example, and Chiarelli said the services need to look at how they can cooperate to save money on precision munitions. The Army's "portfolio reviews" are another way the service can make sure it doesn't repeat its mistakes with what Chiarelli called "broken programs."

And as for remaking itself, Chiarelli praised Dempsey's recent announcement that he wants to focus on improving the basic infantry squad, where American soldiers have the least "overmatch," the Army brass says, when they go up against bad guys. Chiarelli used this as an opportunity to plug the Ground Combat Vehicle, which he said will give a huge boost to tomorrow's squads. The GCV will be built to carry all nine members, as opposed to today, when a squad may need to travel in three MRAPs, then dismount and reassemble before it can get to work.

"When we were reviewing the requirements for GCV, we said, 'my God, I want my entire squad in it. It makes all kinds of sense," Chiaralli said.

Another big change for tomorrow's Army could come in the structure of its units, Chiarelli said. The service's "modular" divisions, which permit brigades to break off and deploy on their own without the need for the need for their division headquarters units, have begun to cause "second and third order effects," he said. The Army of the future still needs to keep a version of its brigade combat team structure, but commanders should use the projected post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan drop in operational tempo to try to sync up the BCTs and their headquarters, Chiarelli said.

At one point at Fort Lewis, Wash., for example, the local corps headquarters was getting ready to deploy to Iraq, while BCTs were getting ready to head to Afghanistan, and the division headquarters may have been somewhere in between, Chiarelli said. Tomorrow's Army must discover some way to keep its modularity and flexibility while "reconnecting" the brigades to their higher headquarters, he said.

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