Despite increasing threats across the globe, the U.S. Army will cut its maximum number of authorized personnel to its lowest level since before World War II.
Over the next three years, the Army will shed 40,000 troops and drop its end strength — the number of troops allowed at the end of the fiscal year — to 450,000 active-duty soldiers, in part due to the continued budgetary pressures it has faced since the passage of the 2011 Budget Control Act.
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The largest single cut, totaling about 7,500 troops, are being absorbed by the dismantling of two brigade combat teams: the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the 4th Airborne BCT, 25th Infantry Division at Fort Richardson, Alaska.
But a dozen other installations across the U.S. will see their brigade combat teams significantly reduced. For example, the Army's Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas are set to lose about 4,500 soldiers through the planned cuts.
Army Brig. Gen. Randy George said the service hopes to accomplish many of the cuts through soldiers retiring or finishing enlistment contracts. But it knows it will need to also kick others out. George said the Army expects to have more details prepared on how it would approach those cuts this fall.
The Army plans to reduce its end strength to 475,000 by 2016; 460,000 by 2017 and then 450,000 by 2018. The cuts are expected to save an estimated $7 billion.
As word of the cuts has circulated over the last two days on the Hill, members have been quick to decry the loss of end strength at a time of such great strategic risk.
"Any negative impact is regrettable," George said. "But the Army has to operate in the budget provided."
Yet the House and Senate approved the Army's first cut — to 475,000 — in the 2016 defense bills each has moved through Congress.
The Army was quick to say that at 450,000, it could still respond to the increasing demands for presence. For example, both Russia's incursion into Eastern Ukraine and the Islamic State's rampage through northern Syria and Iraq have been met with U.S. ground forces and other assets. In Europe, the U.S. has rotated in hundreds of paratroopers and trainers with the Army's 173rd Brigade Combat Team to help train Ukrainian military forces. The service has also sent more than 3,500 Army personnel, including troops from the 82nd Airborne, back to Iraq to rebuild Iraq's Army.
But going under 450,000, the Army contended, creates "significant risk" in fielding a force to meet the threat, George said.