Defense Media Network

Army Force Structure in Transition

Number of Brigade Combat Teams to be cut, possible third manuever battalion to be added to surviving BCTs

Senior U.S. Army leaders attending last week’s Association of the United States Army (AUSA) 2012 Winter Symposium and Exhibition in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., outlined a number of pending and potential force structure changes stemming from a combination of DoD budget decisions and ongoing service studies.

As directed in DoD budget planning, by the end of FY17 the Army will decrease its active component end strength from 570,000 to 490,000; its National Guard strength from 358,000 to 353,500; and its Army Reserve personnel from 206,000 to 205,000, with the Army Reserve reduction already accomplished.

Speaking to the AUSA gathering, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno emphasized that the end strength reductions would be achieved over “a deliberate and gradual ramp” through the end of FY17 that would allow the service to care for its soldiers, their families, and Department of the Army civilians while still maintaining a force capable of meeting a spectrum of known and unplanned commitments.

“As recently announced, this decreased end strength will result in at least eight fewer active component brigade combat teams, going from 45 to 37,” he explained. “The first two BCT reductions occur in Europe, where the 170th BCT will inactivate in FY13 and the 172nd Brigade Combat Team will inactivate in FY14 – both as they return from deployments from Afghanistan. Decisions on the remaining brigade combat team reductions have not yet been made.”

Odierno also highlighted some potential internal brigade structural changes that could further adjust overall BCT quantities.

“As we draw down and apply the lessons from 10 years of sustained combat and as we look forward to what the characteristics and capabilities of the force must be, I’ve asked TRADOC [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command] to lead an aggressive and extensive analysis of the brigade combat team design,” he continued. “Modularity has served our Army very well. And we will not walk away from it. However, we now have the time and opportunity to study it and recommend changes to our brigade combat team organization, and the execution and oversight of the modular brigades.”

“It is critical that this vital warfighting formation remains dominant against the evolving hybrid threats in tomorrow’s operational environments,” he said.

Pointing to an ongoing analysis process supported by extensive warfighter assessments and additional modeling, Odierno offered, “We will continue this analysis over the next couple of months before making any recommendations to the Secretary of the Army on brigade restructuring.”

“However, the early feedback clearly indicates that significant flexibility and capability would be gained by adding a third maneuver battalion and more engineers to our brigade combat teams,” he said. “If a decision is made to add a third maneuver battalion and some engineers it would cause us to reduce further our brigade combat teams, from a planned number of 37 down to perhaps 32 or 33 brigade combat teams in the active component.”

“However, such a reduction represents an investment in the overall number of battalions in combat formations, while reducing overhead with brigade level headquarters,” he added. “Again, there have not yet been any decisions made by the Secretary [of the Army], but these are foreseeable possibilities based on lessons after a decade of war with deliberate consideration to the characteristics and capabilities needed for Joint Force 2020 so we can support the combatant commanders.”


Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...