To help balance US budget, active duty soldiers going from 570,000 today to 420,000 in 2019 and technology modernization is also out

Forbes and other sources are reporting on the the budget cut impacts on the US military. The sequestration provisions of the 2011 Budget Control Act are the big problem for the US military today, because savings goals can only be met in the near term by reducing funding for training and technology. The Army plans to trim its active-duty headcount from 570,000 soldiers in 2010 to 420,000 in 2019, but it costs money to remove people from the service, and that limits the Army to reductions of 20,000 personnel each year (Army Times reports that up to 2,000 captains and majors will be selected for separation from the service this spring alone).

Army leaders have been forced to compensate for the slow pace of personnel reductions in meeting sequestration goals by making oversized reductions in training and technology. But they have to be careful with how much training gets cut because the United States is still at war in Afghanistan and could soon be at war somewhere else, so the biggest cuts have fallen on modernization of technology.

The Politics of defense cuts

The service may desperately need a new troop carrier, but it’s easier to work around the absence of a capability you’ve never had than to fight a war with soldiers lacking key skills. So modernization is being cut more than other accounts because the near-term impact of under-investment in technology is more manageable that the consequences of cutting personnel or readiness.

That’s true not only in operational terms, but also in political terms. Every major change Army leaders want to make must be funded by Congress, and weapons that have not yet been fielded typically have less protection on Capitol Hill than just about any other category of military expenditure. Without a warm production line weapon programs lack a hard-wired political constituency, whereas any effort to trim military compensation, bases or missions provokes a firestorm of opposition. Even if Army leaders wanted to protect modernization programs at the expense of other items in their budget, it would be a hard sell with legislators.

But what makes the Army different from the other services is that its leaders never seem as committed to modernization as the Chief of Staff of the Air Force or the Chief of Naval Operations do. Air Force leaders were so determined to protect their prized F-22 fighter that its fate figured in the decision of defense secretary Robert Gates to purge the service’s top leaders. And despite all the budget uncertainties of recent years, the Navy has never backed away from its plan for a 300-ship fleet — including new classes of aircraft carriers, surface combatants, submarines and amphibious warships.

Army leaders aren’t like that. They often show up in top acquisition jobs with little preparation for making complex investment tradeoffs, and they run out of patience with contractors before Congress has even noticed there’s a problem. They rearrange modernization priorities frequently, and abandon long-established acquisition strategies when exposed to even modest outside pressure. To put it succinctly, they just don’t seem to have deep convictions about the modernization process — which can be lethal in a system where successful development efforts often span multiple election cycles and tours of duty.

Forbes concludes – the US army will be hard-pressed to win wars in a world where potential adversaries have caught up with U.S. technology.

However, NBF notes that the US will not be fighting a technological peer like China or Russia.

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