The chief of the National Guard warned against cutting his force too drastically, arguing that the Pentagon needs the Guard now more than it ever did prior to 9-11.
The Defense Department faces about $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade as part of 2011 deficit-reduction legislation known as the Budget Control Act. That includes almost $500 billion in reductions already planned and another $500 billion in automatic cuts that will take effect unless Congress and the White House agree on an alternative spending plan.
The tense fiscal environment has forced service chiefs to compete for shrinking defense dollars, often arguing that National Guard and Reserve forces should bear the brunt of cuts to protect the active ranks.
Army Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said the active services would lose a lot of battlefield flexibility if they allowed the Guard to slip back into the poorly-trained, under-equipped force it was before the war years began.
“I get asked all the time, why does the National Guard need F16s? Why do you need F15s? Why do you need Apaches? Why do you need tanks? I say ‘we don’t need Apaches. We don’t need tanks and we don’t need fighter jets,’” Grass said during a Jan. 9 speech at the National Press Club. “What we need is whatever the Air Force and the Army need in their reserve. However the Army looks and however the Air Force looks, we have got to be interchangeable.
“We will never be identical to them we are not going to be and we are not trying to be. But we have got to be complimentary of each other so that when the Air Force needs additional capability in fighters … or the Army needs additional brigades, we’ve got to be ready to move. That means being organized trained and equipped the same.”
The Guard and Reserves have always been essential in disaster-relief operations such as Hurricane Sandy. But the Guard has become a key player in homeland defense and combat operations, particularly during the war in Iraq.
“For the homeland, we have 40 fighters and seven tankers sitting on alert right now, so if something happens over the skies of the United States there are pilots and jets; there are ground crews to put those jets up in the skies. In six minutes they are over the United State,” Grass said. “Twenty four/seven, we have been doing that as part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.”
The Army mission takes more time to launch into action, Grass said.
“If you are talking about brigade combat teams fighting in combat, right now the standard we are using, and it is an Army standard, is 50 to 80 days; we can have a brigade combat team ready to go,” he said, adding that heavier brigades take up to 110 days to be ready.
“The further we get away from the current conflict that will get stretched out a bit, but we want to make sure we don’t lose that edge.”
Grass said he has been working with the other services to agree on how deep cuts should be.
“We know we can take some reductions and maintain a quality force,” he said, adding that too many cuts to the active force would also be damaging to the Guard’s operation.
“As the active component loses money, we won’t be able to modernize; we won’t be able send pilots to the training they need; we won’t be able to get people into basic training and advanced schools,” Grass said. “We could win the battle and lose the opportunity to train our folks because most of the training infrastructure belongs to the Army and Air Force.”
Grass, however, isn’t letting the active Army paint the Guard as a lesser force.
In a recent speech, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said that the Guard members were not interchangeable with active Army soldiers because they only train 39 days a year.
“Once you become a leader… you may get paid for 39 day a year, but I’ll tell you those guard men and women are in the armory once a week the leaders are their twice a week,” Grass said. Guard members often attend active schools that take several months to complete, he said.
“The idea of training 39 days a year doesn’t exist anymore,” Grass said.