Pentagon Weighs Guard and Reserve Cuts

The Pentagon is reportedly considering substantial cutbacks in the Guard and Reserve in order to achieve cost savings and invest in equipment.

Military weighs cutting Guard (Baltimore Sun)

Pentagon officials are considering cutting as many as 34,000 soldiers — the bulk of them from the National Guard — at a time when U.S. ground forces are stretched in Iraq, according to defense officials. The proposed cuts are part of a reduction in the growth of defense spending over the next five years ordered by the White House. The manpower cuts stem from a decision by top Army leaders to sacrifice troop strength in order to provide money for new weapons systems and other equipment, said defense officials, who requested anonymity.

The plan, not yet approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, is likely to spur criticism from members of Congress, who have pressed for a larger Army, and to prompt even greater opposition from the nation’s governors, who command the part-time Guard soldiers unless they are called to federal duty. State officials rely heavily on the 334,000-soldier Army Guard for natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

The plan calls for a reduction of about 26,000 Army Guard soldiers. It would eliminate as many as six brigades — each about 3,500 soldiers — and two division headquarters, officials said. One aviation brigade would likely be targeted, along with five ground brigades, including as many as four armored and mechanized units, officials said. No specific states have been singled out for cuts, but those types of ground units are in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Washington, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Minnesota and Idaho.

The rest of the proposed cuts would come from the 189,000-soldier Army Reserve, which would lose 4,000 soldiers, and the 492,000-soldier active-duty Army, which would be cut by one brigade, officials said.

Whether this is a trial balloon, a leak from disgruntled bureaucrats who are losing the internal battle, or an erroneous report is unclear at this stage. If true, however, this would seem a grave error and further proof that Don Rumsfeld is undeterred from his original realignment agenda despite very expensive real life lessons demonstrating that we need more troops, not more high tech toys.

It may well be more complicated than that: a sign of poor prioritization at the inter-service level.

The official said much of the Army’s budget — 40 cents of each dollar — goes for personnel costs, compared with 16 cents of each dollar for hardware, from radios and night-vision goggles to Humvees and tanks. In the 1990s, the Army reduced the amount of money it devoted to such hardware and now finds itself with equipment shortages, which have been exacerbated by war losses and damage from its missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the same time, the Army hopes to field the Future Combat System in the next decade, a complex network of armored vehicles, unmanned drones, sensors and weapons systems. Last month, the Pentagon said the system will cost $161 billion, a 64 percent increase from last year’s estimate. “The Army decided to put an emphasis on quality, with the best equipment we can provide for,” which, the official said, would result in a reduced risk to the individual soldier.

At the same time, the Army has embarked on a plan to increase the combat power of both the active-duty Army and the Army National Guard by creating “modular” brigades that include more modern equipment.

Given that the Army and Marine Corps have borne the brunt of the post-Cold War opstempo, it seems ludicrous that they would have to make the choice between needed troops and needed equipment in an environment with virtually unlimited military budgets. Spending on new fighter jets and the like can certainly be postponed, given the acknowledged lack of a peer competitor.

Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who is a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has argued that the Army should consider increasing its size due to its heavy reliance on soldiers for current overseas missions. Krepinevich said the proposed force cut of 34,000 soldiers raises questions about a new military crisis that might require sending additional U.S. troops, such as the collapse of the government in Pakistan or the rise of an increasingly aggressive Iran. “If you’re faced with an Iran or a Pakistan, how do you plan to deal with that?” he asked.

Focusing troop reductions largely on the National Guard, he said, raises new questions about the future of the Guard: “What role do you have in mind for the Guard in homeland security, stability operations and combat operations? It’s not clear to me.”

Nor to me.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. James Joyner says:

    The official said much of the Army’s budget — 40 cents of each dollar — goes for personnel costs, compared with 16 cents of each dollar for hardware…

    That is only a part of the overall personnel cost us taxpayers have to handle. We pay retirement benefits, disability and medical costs to ex service people in far greater proportion than does the private sector. Just as these benefits are being cut in the private sector I’m afraid they will have to be even more drastically cut in the military sector. Otherwise the cost will destroy our ability to fund a military at all.

  2. ken says:

    Whoa, how did that happen?

    The above post was made by me, not by James. I have no clue how it ended up being posted with James name as author.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Weird. You inadvertantly posted it on the Beltway Traffic Jam instead of this post, so I moved it but I typed in your name. Somehow, it posted wrong.

  4. RA says:

    We do not have unlimited military budgets. Hardware breaks, gets blown up and wears out. Especially when you use it daily.

    In the real world you go to war with the army you have and there is only so much money to go around. As any business owner knows budgetary decisions are not always easy.

    Remember the flap over up armored humvees? Hardware matters too.

  5. anjin-san says:

    Hmmm are tax cuts for billionaires still a good idea?