The Army has embarked on a six-year plan to boost its combat power by 40,000 troops while reducing the number of noncombat jobs -- essentially giving the nation more forces to deploy without a costly increase in the active-duty Army's authorized strength of 482,000.
But the plan is based on two key conditions that remain far from certain: That no major new demand will arise for U.S. soldiers at home or abroad, and that the Army will be able to recruit between 75,000 and 80,000 new soldiers each year through 2011 -- a target the service missed this fiscal year, when 73,400 signed up.
Moreover, under the reorganization, the Army no longer plans to shorten tours for U.S. soldiers in Iraq from 12 months to six or eight. "We've found this year deployment to be optimum, and we don't have any plans to change it," Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey told reporters yesterday.
Another reason for retaining year-long tours is that Army statistics show most casualties occur in the initial and final phases of the deployments, he said. Shorter deployments mean a greater number of soldiers will spend time in those dangerous periods.
The reorganization reflects an optimism within the Army leadership that progress in increasing the number of combat brigades -- along with an anticipated "ramp down" of forces in Iraq -- will allow a moderately sized Army to meet long-term global demands without undue strain.
"Given our current missions as we understand it" -- and barring the outbreak of a large-scale war or a domestic catastrophe -- the Army will not ask Congress for an increase in its authorized troop level, Harvey said. Instead, the planned internal shifting of manpower "will give us the resources" the Army needs, he said.
The Army has increased the number of active-duty brigades -- each with about 3,500 soldiers -- from 33 in 2003 to 37 today, with plans to reach 43 by 2007. With those numbers, the active-duty Army, National Guard and Reserve units should be able to meet the goal set by the Army leadership of sustaining a pool of 20 brigades for worldwide missions.
The creation of the new brigades means that active-duty soldiers will replace many of the Army National Guard combat troops in the upcoming rotation in Iraq. Guard brigades in Iraq will fall from seven to two, Harvey said, as newly built brigades from the 101st Airborne Division, the 4th Infantry Division and other units flow in.
The plan is a pragmatic response to tight budgets -- every 10,000 additional troops cost $1.5 billion a year -- as well as to war-time recruiting difficulties that constrain efforts to expand the Army overall.
For example, Congress has authorized a temporary emergency increase of 30,000 soldiers in the Army's active-duty manpower, known as "end strength," in an effort to boost the force from 482,400 to 512,400 in fiscal 2007. But the Army fell short of the interim target of 502,400 for the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30. At the end of August, the active-duty ranks stood at 491,000. The Army's new plan calls for returning to the original size of 482,400 by 2011.
Under the plan, the Army aims to increase its deployable combat forces by 40,000, to 355,000 in 2011. It intends to achieve this by reducing the number of noncombat, "institutional" Army jobs from 104,000 to 75,000, and by streamlining training and reducing turnover in units, Harvey said.
So far, a recruiting shortfall has left the Army 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers short of reaching its goal of 335,000 combat troops by fiscal 2005, he said. "It's not a crisis," Harvey said. He added that this year should not prove any more difficult for recruiting than last year.
The plan also assumes that the Army's ability to retain current soldiers will remain robust, at about 65,000 a year. In fiscal 2005, the Army surpassed its target, retaining 108 percent of the number sought, said Lt. Gen. James Lovelace, chief of Army operations.
Solid retention came even though today's soldiers are busier than ever. Seventy-five percent of active-duty soldiers have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and 100,000 are on a second tour. "This is going to be a long war," Lovelace said, but he added: "We're holding it all together."