Gen. Ray Odierno has already committed to paring Army active duty troop strength from 570,000 to 490,000, but he’ll likely have to go much lower as the military enters what he called a “Bermuda Triangle” of fiscal uncertainty and funding cuts.
“My guess is we’ll go a little bit smaller” than 490,000 on the active duty side under current projections, Odierno said, but far more drastic cuts could come about if Congress and the White House fail to avoid the process called “sequester” on March 1, which would result in an additional $500 billion in military funding cuts over 10 years.
Under sequester, “my guess in the end is that over 200,000 soldiers will have to be taken out” of the Army’s active duty, National Guard and Reserve total strength of about 1,129,000, Odierno, the Army’s chief of Staff, said Friday at a Brookings Institute conference on “The Future of the Army.”
Odierno’s appearance at Brookings capped a week of dire warnings from all the service chiefs to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees on the impacts of sequester on training, readiness and and the overall ability of the military to respond to national security threats. Odierno even ventured the opinion that sequester itself was now the greatest national securirty threat.
"The Army has been in a state of continuous war for nearly 12 years, the longest in our nation's history," Odierno said, "but today, in my opinion, the greatest threat to our national security is the fiscal uncertainty resulting from the lack of predictability in the budget cycle."
Odierno did the doomsday math for his audience. In 2010, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cancelled several programs that would have cost about $300 billion and in 2011, another $487 billion in defense cuts over 10 years was added under the Budget Control Act.
"We are now just beginning to implement that almost $800 billion worth of cuts," Odierno said, and "now on top of that with sequestration, we'll take an additional $500 billion worth of cuts in the Department of Defense, so we're now up to $1.2 trillion."
One of his major concerns is that he’ll have to cut back on training stateside, which will have an effect on providing the remaining rotations for troops in Afghanistan, who now serve tours of nine months, Odierno said.
"The rest of the forces that are now back in the United States will not be able to train (adequately)," Odierno said. "They'll be able to do very small level, squad level training. They will not be able to do platoon level, company level, battalion level training."
“I told a Congressman the other day I have two choices if I can’t make that training up quickly -- I’ll either have to send in forces that aren’t ready or I have to extend those that are already there,” Odierno said.