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Army budget: Fewer dollars, fewer ready units

A CH-47 Chinook prepares to sling load a container in Chorah, Afghanistan, May 12, 2013. The Chinooks, flown by members of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment from the Connecticut and Pennsylvania Army National Guard, have played a vital part in the mission in Afghanistan since their arrival in December 2012 by performing resupply, retrograde, and planned missions.

WASHINGTON — Army officials rolled out budget plans aimed at ensuring the Army could still fight and win land wars despite coming years of falling budgets and declining force structure.

“This budget begins to implement the emerging postwar strategy which decreases funding as the Army begins to draw down,” Maj. Gen. Karen Dyson, Army budget director, told reporters at the Pentagon.

Because funding is declining faster than a drawdown can happen, the Army is being forced to select some units for full readiness while other are allowed to fall to lower levels, she said.

The baseline Army budget request for 2015 of $121 billion continues a downward trend after topping out at $144 billion in 2010, when the fighting in Afghanistan was at its fiercest after President Barack Obama’s troop surge.

The Army on Tuesday did not specify a request to cover overseas contingency funds for warfighting, which added $43 billion on top of 2014’s $125 billion base. Defense officials say that until there is clarity on the U.S. military’s future mission in Afghanistan, no substantive OCO request can be made.

Army end strength will also fall. The current 520,000-troops active duty force — down from a high of about 570,000 during the Iraq war — is larger than needed to implement national defense strategy and too big to modernize with current defense spending, Pentagon officials say.

The Army will drop to 490,000 active duty troops in 2015, and Defense Department officials plan to shrink it to between 440,000 and 450,000 troops by 2017. If, however, Congress fails to defuse automatic sequestration budget cuts, the Army would fall to 420,000, officials say. The Army National Guard and Reserve will in 2015 lose 4,000 and 3,000 troops, respectively, with further cuts planned in later years.

To save money, the Army plans to restructure its aviation forces, getting rid of 898 helicopters and eliminating three active duty brigades by 2019, officials said. The Army also will kill the ground combat vehicle, which is unaffordable in the new budget environment.

Meanwhile, overall spending on aircraft would grow in 2015 to $5.1 billion from $4.8 billion this year, including plans to acquire 79 new Blackhawk helicopters and plans to refit dozens of Chinook cargo helicopters and Apache attack helicopters.

The service also plans to spend over $160 million for enhanced night vision devices for SOF and global response forces, $420 million for new Patriot missiles, and $1.8 billion to modernize and upgrade ground vehicles including Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks.

Carroll.chris@stripes.com
Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_
 

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