The U.S. Army is going to get smaller, and it’s going to happen soon. Recent reports have indicated that the size of the force will drop by about 100,000 troops over the next five years, from the current 570,000 active duty soldiers to somewhere in the 480,000 - 490,000 range.
That’s a huge slice, but before you hit the panic button remember that having 480,000 active duty soldiers doesn’t mean that the end of the Republic has arrived—unless you think that the Army of 1996-2006 was incapable of carrying out its mission. The Army didn’t actually inch above the 500,000 active duty mark until 2007, when it grew due to the huge personnel demands brought about by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kind of puts all of the complaints over reducing Army end-strength to “pre-9/11 levels” in some perspective, doesn’t it? Remember, a handful of innovative special operators on horseback (along with precision air strikes and local forces) sent the Taliban packing, and that measly 480,000-strong force smoked Saddam’s forces in three short weeks—even if planning for postwar stability operations was bungled by the Bush administration and Pentagon planners—all while conducting various peacekeeping and humanitarian missions elsewhere around the globe.
So, ok. We’re going back to a 2006-era Army. What might this coming force reduction mean for new programs like the Ground Combat Vehicle?
The Congressional Research Service’s military ground forces guru Andrew Feickert writes in a recent report that since a smaller Army will probably have fewer Heavy Brigade Combat Teams (HBCT), combined with the Obama administration’s “strategic shift” to the Asia-Pacific region, the situation “presents questions as to the necessity for HBCTs and, by association, the GCV.”
Last August, the Army awarded General Dynamics $439.7 million and BAE Systems-Northrop Grumman $449.9 million to work on GCV prototypes during a 24 month technology development phase, to be followed by a downselect, with vehicles being ready to hit the road by 2017. But some folks up on Capitol Hill still need some convincing.
Congress cut GCV funding in the FY2012 Budget Request from $884 million to $449 million for research and development, and some members have expressed misgivings about the program in general. Feickert writes ominously that “it might be a reasonable conclusion that the Army has yet to build a compelling case for the requirement to develop and acquire the GCV.” He continues:
While Congress has provided funding for the GCV for FY2012 and has indicated its support for the program, some believe there might still be considerable skepticism that the program is both warranted, affordable, and achievable within the Army’s self-imposed seven-year timeframe. If this skepticism persists, the Army might find it increasingly difficult to maintain the congressional support needed to see the program through to production.
Congress is due back in town soon, and with it the budget battles are about to start up again. The Army is putting a lot of stock in its GCV program as a way to build tomorrow’s force, and they appear ready to fight for the program—as does the defense industry—as one of the few new builds out there. Game on.