Budget Stresses and Service Tensions

So here’s to the Regular Army, for they have such a wonderful plan,

They call out the G***’D***** Reservists, whenever the **** hits the fan!
-Reservist Song dating from the Korean Conflict


The contents of the proposed FY15 budget from the Department of Defense and the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) make it clear that a significant rebalancing in force structure and funding priorities is imminent across the whole of the US military in the post-Afghanistan drawdown. In attempting to define that environment’s challenges and opportunities, the QDR 2014 has outlined the core of US future strategy as centered on three principle objectives. These three are, namely, protecting the homeland, building global security through partnership and joint efforts, and maintaining the capacity for power projection with decisive force.[1] Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Christine E. Wormuth, the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Force Development, argued that the QDR reflects the need to balance capacity, capability, and readiness while budget tightening and the vexing problem of sequestration make hard and painful choices a necessity.[2]

The budget-mandated reductions in force capacity are evident in both the FY15 proposals and the 2014 QDR across the whole of the DOD, and have already been subject to diverse Congressional reactions. The reductions have also sparked a rather pointed discussion between the regular Army and the Army National Guard and Reserves over accelerated reductions to their respective numerical capacity. The numbers quoted in the QDR and the FY15 proposals envision a reduction of the active force to 490,000 personnel by the end of FY15, with additional cuts in future to make a reduction to the area of 440,000-450,000 (without factoring in future cuts from continuing sequestration). The Army National Guard would see a reduction to 335,000 personnel by FY17, a 5.6% percent cut as opposed to the 8.8% previously suggested by Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno.[3] The disproportion in the percentage cuts taken by the Army and the further reduction in readiness training for active components has caused a few tremors in the relations between the Regulars and the Reservists, at least in a few instances of pointed commentary and barbed remarks that have accompanied the announcements of budget-driven personnel and readiness reductions.

Tensions over this issue are nothing new. Similar arguments between the National Guard and the regular Army have been present throughout US history. The integration of the two in the Total Force doctrine brought the issue of manpower proportions and readiness into further contestation, especially during the post-Cold War drawdown of the 1990s, which saw large reductions in both components. Yet, despite the occasional difficulty, the reliance on the Reserve components to expand the capability and manpower requirements of the regular Army appear to have worked satisfactorily during the post-9/11 conflicts, with the Reserve playing an integral role in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.[4]

Funding priorities set out in the FY15 proposal have already stirred disagreement between the regular Army and the Reserves, both of whom compete for funding and justifications for reserving theirs from impingement. Regular personnel argue that reserve mobilization is simply too slow for future fast-developing conflicts on a global scale, and that the time required to train them to proficiency consumes resources that would be better spent towards creating a leaner active force capable of rapid deployment with reduced drag. The National Guard’s political advocates argue that the Guard and Reserve are the obvious cost-effective solution to fiscal difficulties in defense. The Guard’s advocates also reject the idea that future conflicts will be concluded decisively before mobilization can be completed, as well as the notion that Active components enjoy any edge in future combat operations over trained and mobilized Guard components.  Both [1] Odierno and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have attempted to take a middle path by arguing that it is necessary for both components to take cuts and define their roles in a compatible, not adversarial, relationship.

It is likely that the future of the force structure, and the budgeting priorities between the regular Army and the Reserves, will be greatly impacted by the demands of foreign and security policy in the period of the force readjustment. If the primary placement of homeland security in the QDR is anything to go by, the National Guard already enjoys a literal home advantage, being tasked with domestic operations from domestic defense to disaster relief and crisis response.

When it comes to expeditionary commitments, however, it does appear that the general consensus remains that the regular Army still holds a qualitative advantage in rapid response combat operations, and that the two are not interchangeable in this regard.[5] While the regular Army reductions are larger in percentage, there is no evidence that relying on an expanding reserve element (such as the British are trying to do under their force restructuring) is the panacea, no matter how fiscally sound this solution may appear. If the United States intends to keep its capabilities to meet the QDR’s objective of a simultaneous decisive combat mission and additional mission on a global scale, both components will need to be extensively utilized due to overall reductions in capacity; in this instance, the Regulars will no doubt be called upon to take the lead in their specialist combat role, with the Reserves still primarily fulfilling support roles. At the same time, the leaner Army will also need to make full use of its resources if indeed the conflict of the future requires more than a rapid and decisive active deployment, and this will require the working integration of the Reserves.

While the drawdown of Afghan operations has been seen as the right time to perform the downsizing and the readjustment of the American force structure to meet renewed 21st century objectives, there is no guarantee that international security will cooperate. The recent tensions in Ukraine highlight the swiftly evolving nature of future threats worldwide. At the same time, it appears that the DOD desires to wind-down protracted operations and commit to a more resource-conservative strategy while addressing future complexities beyond mere hard power projection. Hard choices will have to be made about what level of readiness the Army as a whole will be ready and able to operate on, and the FY15 and the QDR 2014 are likely just the beginning of the debate over the structure and funding of the forces to complete the missions they outline.


[1] 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, p. V, http://www.defense.gov/pubs/2014_Quadrennial_Defense_Review.pdf.

[2]Claudette Roulo,’2014 QDR Presumes Future Includes More Risk, Less Money’, American Forces Press Service, March 11, 2014, http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=121811.

[3]Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “Army, Guard Chiefs Strive For Compromise As Subordinates Quarrel”, Breaking Defense, March 13, 2014, http://breakingdefense.com/2014/03/army-guard-chiefs-strive-for-compromise-as-subordinates-quarrel/.

[4] Michael D. Doubler, The National Guard and Reserve: A Reference Handbook (2008:Praeger Security International: London), p. 41, 137.

[5] FY15 Budget Preview, Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Pentagon Press Briefing Room, Monday, February 24, 2014, http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1831.


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