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Army Secretary: Thinly stretched force must modernize

U.S. Army Secretary Eric Fanning speaks with soldiers during a warehouse tour September 19, part of the rolling stock of the 401st Army Field Support Brigade, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

JUSTIN GRAFF/U.S. ARMY

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 3, 2016

WASHINGTON — Increased training in recent months has boosted the Army’s military readiness, but rising demand worldwide for its soldiers and a lack of budget stability threaten the service’s traditional combat advantages over potential foes, top Army leaders said Monday.

The U.S. Army is currently “stretched thin” with about 187,000 soldiers deployed to more than 140 countries on missions that range from deterring potential military rivals in Europe and the Pacific to fighting terrorist groups including the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, Army Secretary Eric Fanning said. But the service needs Congress to provide the necessary funds to continue those assignments and to prepare for a future that could include war with a near-peer adversary.

“We have to dominate,” the Army’s top civilian said Monday morning during the Association of the United States Army’s annual convention in Washington. “… We must make sure our Army is so fierce that nobody wants to fight us, and if they do -- they lose.”

That would require consistent funding from an oft-deadlocked Congress that last week passed an emergency continuing resolution to fund the federal government – including the Army – through Dec. 9. Budget constraints and the perpetual threat of automatic cuts due to sequestration have forced the Army to “mortgage future readiness” for the sake of preparing the current Army to respond to today’s threats, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said.

Only one year since then-Army Secretary John McHugh declared that shrinking budgets and increased missions had left the Army at the “ragged edge of readiness,” Milley said the service is in somewhat better shape today.

“We’ve made good progress over the last year in terms of readiness, but we are not there yet as an Army on where we need to be to deal with the multiple and varied challenges we anticipate in the near future,” he said.

The Army has 7,000 more soldiers deployed this year than it did last year, and accounts for 70 percent of American troops in Afghanistan and 60 percent in Iraq.

During the same period, it has increased by 25 percent the number of units training at its top-echelon posts such as the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. Milley said 19 brigade combat teams have trained on monthlong rotations at those installations in the last year and have conducted brigade- and battalion-level combined arms live fire exercises, which “demonstrate power that gives our greatest adversaries pause.”

The Army must do more to modernize its force to respond to challenges from military rivals like Russia, China and North Korea, who have committed to increasing their capabilities and have somewhat narrowed the military gap that the United States has long held, Milley said.

“We’ve made trade-offs and tough choices,” Fanning said. “When our overmatch has diminished in a number of areas, we must modernize our force. … And we must remain laser-focused on our Army’s most solemn mission – fighting and winning our nation’s wars.”

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

 

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