Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley waits to be introduced at the 2017 AUSA annual meeting's Dwight David Eisenhower luncheon, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley waits to be introduced at the 2017 AUSA annual meeting's Dwight David Eisenhower luncheon, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON – The Army’s top general told lawmakers Thursday that his service’s combat readiness has improved significantly during his tenure, but the force needs at least three more years to reach its goal of producing 30 combat brigades prepared to fight.

Nearly two decades of war and mandatory budget cuts left only two of the Army’s 58 brigade combat teams fully trained and ready to fight when Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s chief of staff, took the reins of the service in August 2015, he told the defense subpanel of the House Appropriations Committee. Today, more than five brigade combat teams are trained to the highest-possible readiness level, he said, adding the exact number of fully trained combat brigades was classified for security reasons.

Several additional brigades are at least partially trained, the general said, promising the House panel that the Army was capable of winning any fight it entered in the near future.

“I can assure you the United States Army has sufficient readiness to take on whatever adversary that the United States meets today or tomorrow,” Milley said. “I’m very confident of that. I wasn’t confident of that two-and-a-half years ago. I am very confident of that today.”

Nonetheless, the service has a long way to go before it achieves full combat preparedness.

Milley and Army Secretary Mark Esper told lawmakers that the Army’s goal is to ensure two-thirds of its 31 active-duty brigade combat teams are fully trained and prepared to “fight tonight.” The service additionally wants one-third of its 27 National Guard combat brigade teams trained to the highest possible level.

But achieving those goals will take time and a lot of training, Milley said.

“If the international environment stays the way it is right this minute, we think on the glide path we’re on we’ll achieve our readiness objectives somewhere in the 2021, 2022 time frame,” he said.

Milley and Esper told lawmakers that Congress could help ensure the Army reaches its goals by providing the service the $182 billion it requested for fiscal year 2019, which will begin in October. Congress in recent years has failed to fully fund Pentagon budget requests, including for fiscal year 2018.

The 2019 Army budget request emphasizes the need to modernize aging equipment that would be needed in a war with a near-peer adversary such as Russia, China, North Korea or Iran. The request includes more than $32 billion to increase “survivability and lethality” in major weapons platforms, including Abrams tanks, Bradley and Stryker fighting vehicles and artillery pieces, Esper said.

The request also seeks to send 16 active-duty and four National Guard brigade combat teams to the Army’s combat training centers at Fort Polk in Louisiana, Fort Irwin in California and the Hohenfels Training Area in Germany to prepare for a fight with an enemy with similar capabilities to the United States.

Esper said those rotations combined with increased home station training, including new virtual training missions, could help speed up the Army’s march toward full combat readiness.

“Readiness isn’t built overnight,” Milley said. Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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