Change, or rather, adaptation, is coming.
Much of it is forced by budget cuts: The Army’s fiscal year 2013 budget request calls for about $18 billion less than fiscal year 2012, with additional cuts coming over the next several years, but the Army has embraced the resulting need to adapt, seeing it as an opportunity to become a stronger, better, more modern and agile force, one that will always be committed to keeping America safe.
“The Army’s not really changing, per say,” Under Secretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal explained in an interview. “The Army will still be very committed to doing three major things that it has always done for this country.”
“We have the strongest, most prominent, most effective force in the world,” he said. “A strong Army is a deterrent to future conflicts, and we want to continue that. We want to do everything we can do to prevent future wars, and a strong Army sends a strong message across the board. We will continue to have a strong Army, a very capable, very effective force.”
The Army will still be able to win any conflict it does face, he continued, adding that it will remain deeply engaged in the Middle East and Pacific theaters, not only because of the threat of terrorism, but because seven of the 10 largest armies in the world are in the Asia-Pacific region. Westphal sees this opportunity to work and train with allies and new partners as a way to “enhance our collective security, and then promote economic prosperity.”
The Army just has to be smarter about how it does business, Westphal suggested, saying that sustainability is at the forefront of senior leaders’ minds. “You have to ensure that you can do effectively what you’re required to do today, but that you leave the capacity and the capability for future generations to carry on the mission. So our biggest challenge is to ensure that the future Army, the Army of 2020, will have the capability and the capacity to prevent, shape and win.
“We need to be more strategic in our thinking at the top leadership levels. We have to focus a lot more on leadership development, both on the military and civilian side, and we have to invest properly in the reserve component so we have a ready reserve to address any expandability that we need in the future.”
Of course, no one can predict exactly what conditions the Army and America will face in five or 10 years, but Westphal said the Army will always need infantry, armor and other combat specialties. And as the Army reduces the budget, he added that its leaders are committed to protecting, and in some cases increasing, funding for special operations; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programs; space and cyberspace capabilities. The Army also uses simulators and gaming more than ever before, and “these are areas where our Soldiers can be on the leading edge of helping us shape the future of our training, the future of our readiness for the force.”
“Assuming that between now and 2020, there isn’t another major conflict out there that would cause the Army to grow significantly to address it, I see an Army that’s a little bit smaller, but not very small,” Westphal continued. “I see an Army that will have an opportunity to go through a very significant modernization to ensure that the Army of 2020 is as effective and as modern as it needs to be. I see an Army that is going to be technologically more advanced, scientifically more sophisticated. I see a continuous growth to an even more effective force, building on the lessons of the last 10 years of conflict and on the maturity of our leadership over the future.”
The real challenge lies in not knowing exactly how much money the service will be working with. If the sequestration measure in the 2011 Budget Control Act remains unchanged, for example, DOD as a whole will face an additional half trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next decade, an event that every senior DOD leader has said will devastate the military’s capabilities. The political and budgetary “gridlock” in Washington doesn’t help planning either, Westphal said.
“Getting to a balanced force,” he said, “that is, the appropriate level of modernization, the appropriate end strength and size of the Army, the appropriate resources required for training and (for) readiness is both an art and a science. You can model it. You can statistically work it all out. But at the end of the day, because of the politics that surround all of this, we don’t operate in a vacuum. We operate in an environment in which Congress has a big say in everything that happens, obviously the president directs us and proposes to the Congress, and there is a public out there. So we have to do our thinking, our strategizing, our planning, our execution in a way that understands that environment.”
Department of the Army civilians, Westphal added, are a crucial part of that force, and attracting and retaining talented people, both Soldiers and civilians, will remain a top priority. In fact, he said that it would be impossible to run the Army without the experience and depth of knowledge civilians bring. One of the ways you reduce cost is manpower, he acknowledged, but said that so far this year, manpower reductions are less than one percent of the overall budget. Most of the cuts will be manageable through natural attrition, hiring freezes and incentives for retirement. He did say, though, that in this day and age, everyone should have an updated resume and be prepared to move around.
The force, according to Westphal, also includes families, and slowly ending combat operations, first in Iraq, and soon in Afghanistan, gives the Army a chance to integrate families better. Wounded warriors are an integral part as well. He said that the Army is committed to investing resources in not only treating them today, but ensuring that they’ll have the long term care they need, and also helping them integrate back into the work force and their local communities.
“As dollars get tighter, we (need to) ensure that we don’t compromise on the very things that we’ve been saying, which is that we’re going to always support our families and our Soldiers,” Westphal said. “We’re going to stand by them.
“We have probably the most capable force this country has ever had coming off of these combat operations,” he concluded. “We have a highly educated force. We have a force that has been through quite a lot of turmoil so this is an opportunity for us to really reshape the force of 2020, taking into account that now we have the opportunity to bring these Soldiers back to garrison, unite them with their families and begin to address long-term issues of how we can evolve a more educated, more sophisticated training doctrine for our forces, how we can adapt technologies now to these individuals who are so highly skilled in technology.”