Amid a major land war in Europe, the Biden administration’s fiscal 2023 budget request would temporarily shrink the active duty Army to 473,000 troops if enacted by Congress.
That could leave the service at its smallest size since 1940, when it had just over 269,000 troops. Other historical lows include an authorized 476,000 in fiscal 2017 and nearly 478,000 in fiscal 1999 at the nadir of the post-Cold War drawdown.
The administration’s proposed budget would:
- Reduce the active duty force from 485,000 — the end-strength authorized in the fiscal 2022 bill — to 473,000.
- Maintain the Army National Guard’s current strength of 336,500 and the Army Reserve’s 189,500 troops.
- Reduce the total Army, across all three components, to 998,500 soldiers. It’s not clear when the force last dipped below 1 million troops.
Army officials who briefed reporters on the budget request claimed they “proactively made the decision to temporarily reduce our end-strength” due to struggles recruiting quality soldiers. The service has also requested to reduce its end-strength target for fiscal 2022 to 476,000. The plan is to regrow the active force back to 485,000 troops across the five-year budget plan, though it’s not clear when that will occur.
“The genesis of [the cut] was really recognizing that as we look ahead to recruiting projections...we weren’t going to be able to get where we needed to be in [fiscal 2022 and 2023] without making some decisions about changing our standards,” said Army Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo.
Camarillo added that “this is not a budget-driven decision — it is entirely about quality, and we will look to build back up our end strength.”
He pointed to “a tight labor market” as one of the reasons behind the Army’s recruiting struggles, though the Army is “looking...at our recruiting approaches to see what changes we need to, or what we can, make to adapt to the current recruiting environment.”
Army Recruiting Command, or USAREC, is implementing significant updates to its recruiting strategy, though it’s not yet clear whether the efforts will succeed. Their “mission modernization” push has also coincided with the labor squeeze and more stringent medical and prescription history screenings for applicants.
The service has also loosened short-term enlistment options in an effort to bring in more troops. But that seemingly did not prove enough for the Army to meet its end strength goals.
Camarillo did not directly answer a question about whether the Army will bring back voluntary separation or early retirement authorities to facilitate the end strength cuts.
Camarillo only added, “how we take the cuts and where we absorb the cuts is still something that we’re looking at.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.