The Army will cut 10 brigade combat teams over the next four years, bringing the number of active-duty BCTs to 33, Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said Tuesday.
The affected BCTs are:
3rd BCT, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas
4th BCT, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.
4th BCT, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky.
3rd BCT, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.
3rd BCT, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.
4th BCT, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas
3rd BCT, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Knox, Ky.
4th BCT, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.
2nd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.
4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
In addition to these 10 BCTs, which will be inactivated by the end of fiscal year 2017, the Army has already announced the inactivation of two BCTs in Germany — the 170th and 172nd BCTs.
In the future, another BCT, this one overseas, will be identified for inactivation, Odierno said, bringing the final number of BCTs to 32.
These cuts are part of what Odierno described as one of the Army’s largest organizational changes since World War II, and they are in line with the Army’s effort to shrink the active-duty force from about 560,000 to 490,000 as it transitions from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Odierno emphasized that these decisions are the result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, and not sequestration, which potentially could mean even deeper cuts.
The Budget Control Act required a mandatory $487 billion reduction in spending; the Army’s share of that between now and 2020 is $170 billion.
In addition to the cuts, the Army also will reorganize its remaining BCTs by adding a third maneuver battalion to its armored and infantry brigades. The BCTs also will receive additional engineer and fires capabilities, Odierno said.
This move enables the Army to retain 95 of its 98 combat battalions across the BCTs while eliminating headquarters and staff elements.
These changes will make the Army’s remaining BCTs “more lethal, flexible and agile,” he said.
Once the reorganization is completed, each BCT will have about 4,500 soldiers, nearly 1,000 more than they do in their current configuration.
Most soldiers from the 10 BCTs slated for inactivation likely will be absorbed into the remaining – and growing – BCTs. It also is likely, on an installation as large as Fort Bragg, for example, for most soldiers to be moved into new units without a permanent change of station.
The announcement of the Army’s sweeping reorganization ignited furious debate on Capitol Hill and in the communities that depend on nearby military installations as a key part of their economy.
Reaction from Capitol Hill was swift, with Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., saying the Army’s plan “[is] putting us so close to a hollow force that that’ll be the next announcement you hear.”
Asked by Defense News, a sister publication of Army Times, whether he and other senators will attempt to block the Army’s plans when the upper chamber takes up Pentagon policy and spending legislation later this year, Inhofe said, “We’ll do everything we can.”
As an elevator door closed between Inhofe and a reporter, he added: “It’s the last step in disarming America.”
SASC Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., an Obama administration ally, seemed resigned to the plan.
“I’m not sure they have much choice,” Levin said, citing defense spending caps etched in stone by the 2011 Budget Control Act. “They’ve got to find a way to implement the law that was passed by Congress.”
Levin chuckled lightly when informed of Inhofe’s intention to block the plan on the Senate floor.
Inhofe would “have to replace it,” Levin said, meaning any move to keep one or more of the 12 BCTs open would have to identify other defense or federal cuts to pay for it.
“That’s not only a lot of money; some people don’t recognize what we did here. Some people have said, ‘We haven’t done enough on spending.’ Well, [expletive] — excuse my language — this is kind of proof that we did a heck of a lot on spending.”
Other lawmakers, such as House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., were relieved that the cuts to installations in their states weren’t worse.
“I am very disappointed that Fort Carson is one of ten bases around the country that will lose a brigade combat team by the year 2017,” Lamborn said in a statement. “However, the blow is considerably softened by the fact that all but 750 of those soldiers will remain at Fort Carson and be reassigned to other missions.”
The Army anticipates that Fort Carson will actually increase in size by 1,800 active duty Army personnel in coming years.
With a military facility no longer in his district, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., was free to focus on the political moves needed to remove the defense spending caps and void sequestration.
“If sequestration is not removed, then more extensive force structure changes will need to be made to accommodate the severity of the sequester cuts,” he said in a statement.
Smith charged his fellow lawmakers, particularly Republicans, with making it “very difficult for the [Defense] Department to accommodate these cuts.
“Congress blocked each and every one of these attempts and has now forced the military to make a difficult choice: Maintain a larger force that will hollow out over time or convert to a smaller force,” Smith said. “Today’s announcement demonstrates that the Army chose the latter.”