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Trump’s bigger Army could cost $12 billion by official’s math

By TONY CAPACCIO | Bloomberg | Published: January 20, 2017

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — President Donald Trump’s pledge to increase the Army’s active-duty troops to 540,000 from 465,000 today could cost at least an extra $12 billion once the goal is met, based on a formula provided by departing Army Secretary Eric Fanning.

“What do you want the Army to do?” is the strategic question that must be answered, Fanning said in an interview as he prepared to leave office. “The incoming team will define that. But based on current requirements,” such as renewed deployments in Europe, “I definitely think the Army will benefit from added force structure.”

While Fanning declined to say how many more soldiers he would recommend, he said, “If you grow the Army, you just need to make sure you have the necessary resources to support it.”

Fanning’s math underscores the budget challenge that will confront Trump and retired Marine General James Mattis, his choice for defense secretary, in making good on promises that also include increasing the Navy’s fleet to 350 vessel from the 308 now planned. That goal would cost an estimated $25 billion annually, or 60 percent more than the Navy’s annual budget for building new ships has averaged, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Fanning’s formula for expanding the Army: Assume $1.6 billion extra for every additional 10,000 troops. That’s a combination of initial costs such as recruitment, military construction and equipment; recurring annual expenditures; and modernization requirements.

The new administration shouldn’t be fixated on the number of soldiers alone, Fanning said, because if troops are added without the resources they need, “you can actually grow into a less effective, less capable force.”

The Army hit a high of 566,000 active-duty troops in 2011 to sustain the American troop surge in Iraq along with the continuing war in Afghanistan. The number has steadily dropped since the U.S. pullout from Iraq in December 2011. The debate since then has been about the pace of a planned draw-down to 450,000 by the end of fiscal 2018. This year’s defense policy bill mandated that the Army not be reduced to fewer than 476,000.

The estimate of $1.6 billion per 10,000 active-duty-soldiers “is a really rough,” round number, Fanning emphasized, adding that “the Army has traditionally underestimated what it has cost to grow.” Fanning said his number takes in the range of expenses associated with a buildup, described in military budgeting jargon as “fully burdened costs.”

“If we have an Army that is clearly underinvesting in infrastructure and pushing bills into the future, an Army that’s clearly underinvesting in” new equipment, “you’ve got to factor that all in,” Fanning said.

That’s why Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s chief of staff, “would prefer to cap the regular Army at about 490,000 and put the rest of the money into modernization, readiness, and new capabilities,” Mark Cancian, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an email commenting on Milley’s announced position.

Growing too quickly also runs the risk of enlisting lower-qualified recruits — a problem the Army encountered during the height of the Iraq War, when it lowered some standards to attract personnel, Fanning said. “This is my fear.”

The Army’s newest added role is expanding the U.S. presence in Europe to counter Russia after it seized Crimea and intervened in Ukraine. That mission may be reviewed under Trump, who has predicted he will work well with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has questioned whether the NATO alliance is obsolete.

Under a plan announced last year, the Army has begun continuously rotating an armored brigade through Europe instead of depending on periodic deployments. That started with the Jan. 8 arrival in Germany of the 4,000-person 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division from Fort Carson in Colorado for a nine-month rotation.

The proposed Pentagon budget that’s going to be handed off to the new administration would continue the trend of making 30,000 troops located in Europe “look like 300,000,” by paying for the persistent armored brigade rotations and improving U.S. armor and equipment that’s prepositioned on the continent, Fanning said.

©2017 Bloomberg News
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President Donald Trump waves after taking the oath of office as his wife Melania holds the Bible, and Tiffany Trump looks out to the crowd, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
JIM BOURG/POOL PHOTO VIA AP

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