The Army’s Plan to Reorganize and Reduce Its Combat Brigades
June 25, 2013
Today, the Army announced that it plans to redesign its combat brigades from an organization that currently has two maneuver battalions to one that has three. To do so, the Army plans to eliminate 12 brigade headquarters and “realign” the subordinate combat battalions to existing brigades over the next four years. To the extent possible, the Army plans to realign those battalions at the same installations where they are currently stationed, minimizing the churn associated with the change. At the end of the reorganization, the Army will have 33 combat brigades (down from 45 at the beginning of this year), but will maintain 95 of today’s 98 maneuver battalions. The Army argues that fewer, but more flexible and capable, combat brigades better align with current strategy than maintaining the force that was modified to meet the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Q1: Why is the Army reorganizing?
A1: The Army has traditionally had three-battalion brigades. To meet the need for sustained rotational forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, they went to a two-battalion design. With operational demands decreasing, the Army examined whether the two- or three-battalion design best met current and future needs. That analysis indicated that the three-battalion design will provide greater operational utility across the full range of potential missions than the two battalion alternative. The redesign also provides the opportunity for the Army to eliminate headquarters staffs while preserving combat power as it downsizes.
Q2: Is the reorganization due to sequestration?
A2: No. It is tied to downsizing, which was part of the $487 billion in defense cuts over 10 years that was agreed to as part of the Budget Control Act. Those funding reductions included Army plans to cut its active duty endstrength by approximately 90,000 by the end of Fiscal Year 2017. Subsequent guidance from the Office of the Secretary of Defense required the Army to cut at least eight combat brigades as part of those reductions (i.e., to a new total of 37 combat brigades), and a larger (but unspecified) number if the decision to reorganize was taken. Thus the changes announced today address budgetary and policy guidance that preceded sequestration. As budget deliberations continue to play out to include the possibility of prolonged sequestration, further endstrength reductions are possible. This could lead to the elimination of still more brigades, some of which would likely be cut altogether, without reallocation of subordinate battalions.
Q3: What will be the congressional response?
A3: It likely will be mixed. Some will welcome the way in which the Army is choosing to manage the drawdown in endstrength (cutting structure as opposed to leaving units in place that would then be under-manned and less ready). Others, particularly those most affected by changes in bases in their states and districts, may advocate that the Army take the necessary reductions from higher headquarters or overseas units rather than from brigade combat teams. Some members of Congress may recognize that reductions are necessary, and that, for many installations, the preservation of the battalions helps to offset what could otherwise be much more substantial cuts in personnel absent reorganization.
Q4: Which brigades will be eliminated?
A4: Of the twelve brigades planned for elimination, two are in Germany (and were previously announced for elimination this year and next). The remaining ten are at Forts Bliss (TX), Bragg (NC), Campbell (KY), Carson (CO), Drum (NY), Hood (TX), Knox (KY), Lewis (WA), Riley (KS) and Stewart (GA). The brigades are a mix of armored units and infantry, with one airborne brigade and one Stryker unit. The ultimate force mix of heavy and light units is still being analyzed, and will ultimately be determined by the reassignment of battalions into new brigade headquarters.
Q5: How much will it cost?
A5: The Army claims that the costs of the change will be minimal. There may be some military construction needed if battalions are moving to installations with insufficient housing, training, or other facilities, but one of the primary objectives of the plan was to minimize those costs as much as possible. As noted above, the Army plans to realign battalions to brigades at the same installations in most instances, which should keep costs minimal. There are likely to be a few cases, at least, where new construction will be needed. There may also be instances where some additional funding for moving service members and their families will be required, although the Army will attempt to conduct as much of the reorganization within normal rotational cycles as possible. Finally, there may be costs associated with moving or buying additional equipment, but the Army believes that this can also be minimized.
Maren Leed is a senior adviser with the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies and Ground Forces Dialogue at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2013 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.