The National Commission on the Future of the Army, or NCFA, made its recommendations public Jan. 28 at the Hall of States in Washington, D.C.
Chief among those recommendations, one of 63 in total, is that the Army National Guard should retain some of the AH-64 Apache helicopters it currently has.
The NCFA was tasked by Congress to examine the structure of the Army and policies related to size and mix of the force. Additionally, the commission was charged with evaluating the Army’s decision to move all Apache aircraft from the Guard to the Regular Army. The team of eight commissioners and about 40 staffers began meeting in April 2015, and were given until Feb. 1, 2016, to deliver their recommendations. Lawmakers and the Army will decide which of the recommendations to implement and how.
“The Army appreciates the independent insights and recommendations provided by the National Commission on the Future of the Army,” said Brig. Gen. Malcolm Frost, chief of Public Affairs for the Army. “We are currently assessing the report and expect its recommendations to provide opportunities to strengthen the effectiveness of our force. That assessment process will be led by the secretary of the Army and chief of staff of the Army and include the coordinated efforts of the director, Army National Guard and chief of Army Reserve. The Army’s evaluation of the costs, benefits, and risks outlined is just now beginning. We thank the commission for their insights and hard work.”
Within the commission’s report was an evaluation of the Army’s Aviation Restructure Initiative, or ARI, which directs movement of all Apache aircraft out of the Guard and into Regular Army units as a readiness and cost-saving measure. The Guard, which disagreed with that initiative, championed its own solution, which involves keeping six battalions of Apache aircraft in place.
“The task to evaluate the Apache transfer was perhaps the most polarizing of the issues we had to look at,” said retired Gen. Carter F. Ham, former commander of U.S. Africa Command, and one of the eight commissioners on the NCFA. “There were strong feelings on all sides with regard to how Apaches should be distributed and employed across the force. We felt it important for us to try to understand the issue from as many different perspectives as we could.”
Ham said the ARI is a “well-crafted program, it saves costs, while retaining a good level of operational capability. But it does take all the Apaches out of the National Guard.”
The Guard option, he said, provides “strategic depth” for having Apaches in the Guard, but costs more than the ARI.
“In some of the wartime modeling we did, the NGB [National Guard Bureau] alternative was less able to satisfy demand over time in a wartime setting,” Ham said. “The commission looked at a number of other alternatives.”
The NCFA looked at both plans, conducted their own studies, and concluded that the total Army should keep 24 Apache battalions. Of those battalions, 20 would be located in the Regular Army, with 24 aircraft each. The Guard would retain four battalions of Apaches, each with 18 aircraft.
To arrive at its recommendation, the commission met with the secretary of the Army, the chief of staff of the Army, aviation leadership in the Regular Army, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, the director of the Army National Guard, and aviation experts in the Guard at both the state and unit level. Additionally, commissioners and staff held meetings with personnel in 31 aviation units: 12 Regular Army, 16 Army National Guard, and three Army Reserve.
“One of the specific tasks to us in the law was to be comprehensive,” Ham said. “We took that matter quite seriously.”
Also in the commission’s report are suggestions on how the Army can fund 24 Apache battalions across the force.
Drawdown too deep
The Regular Army expects to draw down to 450,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal 2018. The NCFA has said that level of manning must be the bottom floor. Ham said the commission found that number to be enough, though barely enough, for the Army to accomplish the missions it will inevitably be asked to do in the future.
In all, the commission recommends that the total Army not dip below 980,000 Soldiers. The breakdown by component is 450,000 in the Regular Army, 335,000 in the Guard, and 195,000 in the Army Reserve.
“That’s the absolute minimum necessary to fulfill the Army’s requirements to the nation,” Ham said.
Even with that 980,000 soldiers across all three components, there will need to be better interaction between them, he said. The commission found “gaps” and “seams” across what is supposed to be a Total Force, and they will have to be repaired, Ham said, in order for the Army to be effective at the bare minimum of 980,000. More resourcing, and difficult decisions will be required to make up for the capability gaps that limited number of Soldiers are unable to support, he said.
“We identified some specific capabilities, including aviation; air and missile defense; military police; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response teams — some capabilities that still have significant shortfalls even in that Army of 980K,” Ham said.
Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks, former principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, and one of the eight commissioners on the NCFA, said the commission supports Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley’s prioritization of readiness within the Army.
“The commission endorsed the CSA’s priority on readiness,” she said. “We agreed that readiness should be the first priority for funding. The environment is not settling down. It is an environment of persistent conflict. As a result, you need to make sure you have the forces for the Army ready for the range of missions they are facing.”
Hicks said the commission identified two potential areas where the Army might have its readiness tested: Europe and Korea.
Threats in Europe
In Europe, she said, looms the specter of an increasingly aggressive Russia.
“What the commission looked at quite carefully is the threat that could be posed by Russia going forward,” she said. “Russia has annexed Crimea. The neighbors to the west are quite concerned about it. And so are several NATO allies.”
Europe also serves as a logical staging and launch area for crisis in the Middle East as well, she said. The Army needs a strong and ready presence there.
Hicks said the commission’s analysis of the Army in Europe has left them concerned about the Army’s ability to contribute there in the event that conflict should arise, and the ability of the force in Europe now to deter further aggression by the Russians.
“As a consequence, one of the recommendations we had was to place permanently into Europe an armored brigade combat team,” she said. The ABCT would replace the rotational ABCT the Army has already assigned in Europe.
She said in the case of a North Korea attack on the south, or a collapse of North Korea, it is “highly likely” the Army would need to engage in long-term stabilization operations there.
“We think there is significant risk in not having the Army prepared for that kind of contingency,” she said. “That’s why we make the recommendation that 980K is minimally sufficient. We do think there is an ability to plan for forces to be mobilized over time to deal with that contingency. But we haven’t seen evidence of strong planning for that.”
The commission, she said, recommends against the Army’s idea to replace a permanent combat aviation brigade now in Korea with a rotational one.
“We felt that the decision the Army was prepared to take in 2019 to move to a rotational combat aviation brigade in South Korea is a wrong decision,” she said. “We argue instead the Army should retain the permanently stationed combat aviation brigade it has in South Korea now.”
Hicks also said the commission identified readiness and capability gaps within the Army, including things like Army artillery, air defense; and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives, or CBRNE, capability. Those gaps might be hard to fill with just 980,000 Soldiers. Hicks said the commission sees other current Army capabilities as less at risk, and said if need be those units could be reduced to provide the capabilities the commission believes the Army has in short supply.
“We tried to point to different areas of potential risk mitigation inside the current Army,” she said. “An example we pulled forward is that the [infantry brigade combat teams] are at less risk than other parts of the force. And if forced to make tradeoffs, we think that some key enablers and even combat aviation should be enhanced, if necessary, at the risk to reducing infantry combat team capacity.”
The commission recommended that if end strength cannot be increased above 980,000, the Army should consider reducing two infantry brigade combat teams in the Regular Army to get the manning it needs for those shortfalls in capability.
In the future, the Army will need to make do with a force that is barely big enough for its many missions. To make that happen, it will need to become more adept at taking full advantage of all three of its components: the Regular Army — often mistakenly referred to as “active duty” — the Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve. Together, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve are referred to as the “Reserve Component.”
One of the primary tasks for the NCFA was to make recommendations on force mix — how the Army makes use of Soldiers from all three of its components.
“There was a lot of discourse about the mix of Regular Army versus Reserve Component, modernization, the cost, the size of the Army,” Ham said. “Congress looked for an independent assessment to provide them some recommendations to work through some of these difficult issues.”
Ham said the commission spent a substantial amount of time looking into how the Army and the nation can make better use of the Total Force. Most of its recommendations, in fact, are a result of that effort.
“The Total Force policy, of the Regular Army, Army Reserve and the Army National Guard has some gaps and seams in implementation,” he said. “It’s not being fulfilled in the manner that the secretary of the Army, the chief of staff of the Army, the chief of National Guard Bureau, the Congress or the president fully envisions. So we made some recommendation in regard to enhancing the Total Force policy of the Army.”
The commission recommended, for example, that the Army create a pilot program to test multi-component approaches in aviation, and it even identified some approaches that could be considered in designing such a program.
Now retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III served as one of the eight commissioners on the NCFA. He, along with other commissioners, participated in some 320 engagements across the United States, during which they met with all 54 adjutant generals from across the United States and its territories.
Coming away from meetings with Soldiers in Guard units, he said he was left with the understanding that Guardsmen want to be a part of the Army’s activities — they don’t want to be left behind, he said.
“There are a lot of soldiers out there in a lot of the units that we spoke to that are very interested in deploying,” Chandler said. “They want to be in the mix. They want to get out there and serve their country. They don’t just want to go to battle assemblies.”
Equitable dwell, BOG
One recommendation of the commission, Chandler said, is for the Army to take a harder look at dwell time and “boots on the ground,” or BOG time, for soldiers across all components of the Army, to find a way to make them more similar.
“Currently, soldiers in the reserve components have a BOG time of about nine months for their deployment,” Chandler said. “And some portions of the Regular Army are up to 12 months. You want a fair and equitable process that everybody is there for the same amount of time. It helps with unit cohesion and effectiveness.”
The commission recommended that the secretary of Defense allow flexible involuntary mobilization periods to achieve common deployed periods for all components.
Chandler also said that for the Army to take full advantage of all three of its components, it will have to make greater strides toward bridging the cultural divide that exists between them.
“We think it’s important for each of the components to understand the culture that makes them specific and unique,” he said. “One of the recommendations we asked for was the ability for Regular Army soldiers to serve in the National Guard and the Army Reserve, and for Army Reserve soldiers and National Guard soldiers to serve [in the Regular Army.] There are some challenges with that, but we think it’s doable.”
Chandler said that for the Army to make full use of all three components, Soldiers in those components will need to recognize that “together as a Total Force, we are a better Army and much more effective and efficient.”
Chandler said there are several areas across the Army where fixes could be implemented, or where on-going fixes should continue to be funded, so that the Army can in the future make the best use of the Total Force.
Included in those areas identified is a pay system that doesn’t account for all Soldiers, an education and leadership development system that is often duplicative and non-integrated, and a recruiting system that has the components competing with each other when they should be working together.
Regarding pay, Chandler said, the Army has “tried for many years to develop a process that allows each of the components to communicate with each other” in both pay and personnel issues.
The Army already has a solution for that problem, Chandler said, with the “Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army,” or IPPS-A. It is a web-based, self-service, 24-7 system that integrates personnel and pay across all components for a soldier’s entire career.
IPPS-A has already been fielded in one Guard unit, and more will be underway in 2018. The commission recommends that the Army continue to adequately fund the program and also accelerate its deployment.
To create a strong Total Force for the Army, the commission recommended common recruiting and marketing efforts across all three components, Chandler said.
“One of the many challenges we have noticed is … we are all competing for the same person, regardless of the component you are serving in. As the pool of potential recruits continues to diminish in the country, we have to have a process where we are all after the same thing: to ensure as a Total Force the Army has the people it needs, that we can recruit into the service, regardless of component.”
The commission noted that in 2014 the Army recruited 115,000 Soldiers across all three components, using some 11,000 recruiters. But those recruiters were all competing for the same recruits.
Chandler said what’s needed is a “consolidated effort that helps each one of our recruiters focus on the mission of manning the Army, and not manning the Army Reserve, the Army National Guard, or the Regular Army. We believe that will help to ensure we are not in a food fight over the same person.
“So if you want to be in the National Guard, it starts off as a Total Force effort, and then when we sit you down and talk with you, we kind of help you find out where the right component is that will best serve your needs, your ideas, and where you want to go in the future.”
The commission recommended centralized marketing for all three components, as well as integrated recruiting. They also recommended Congress authorize a pilot program that would allow recruiters across all three components to receive credit for any Soldier they put into the Army, regardless of what component they end up enlisting into.
One Army school system
“A National Guardsman who might be an engineer in Florida, flies over Fort Leonard Wood on his way to a school in South Dakota that teaches his engineer military occupational specialty. That’s a very ineffective way to deliver education,” Chandler said.
The Army, he noted, has an engineering schoolhouse at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and the National Guard Soldier could have gone there to school instead.
The commission also noted that the Army National Guard has 54 “Regional Training Institutes” across the United States that have unused capacity, and that Regular Army Soldiers often travel long distances to attend schools when they might instead attend a Reserve Component school that is near to their home installation, or might even be on their home installation.
Implementation of the Army’s “One Army School System,” or OASS, is already underway, and is designed to make more efficient use of all schools across the Total Force.
“We have made recommendations for the Army to move out on this and accelerate the process of this change,” Chandler said.
Chandler said OASS provides benefit beyond efficiency. He said having Soldiers from all three components in the same school house can further the effort to strengthen the concept of the Total Force.
In such an environment, he said, Soldiers from all three components “actually participate in the same classroom and start that sharing experience of what it means to be a Guardsman, a Reservist or Regular Army Soldier.”
The recommendations of the NCFA are not binding on the Army. Instead, the recommendations, and the entire report, will be given to Congress, the president and the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army and Congress will work together to decide what of the recommendations to implement, and how to fund those changes.
“I think the commission hopes for a thoughtful assessment and review of the findings and recommendations that we have offered — recognizing that our report is one input among many,” Ham said. “We hope our report contributes to the dialogue and the hard decisions that both the Congress, and the Army will have to make, well into the future.”