US Army Cutting 24,000 Job Openings in Future Force Design

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
February 27, 2024US News
The Pentagon plans to cut 24,000 jobs and restructure its forces. The move is significant as it also signals after two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. army is moving away from counter-terrorism in the Middle East and shifting its focus to threats from China and Russia.

The U.S. Army has decided to cut about 24,000 positions from its ranks as the service attempts to refocus its warfighting efforts and adjust to ongoing recruiting challenges.

This week, the Army finalized a plan to reduce its force structure by about 5 percent by fiscal year 2029. The plan comes about following extensive consultations between Army leaders and members of Congress over the past year.

According to a presentation on the force structure transformation, the Army seeks to reduce its current goal force structure from a 494,000-troop active force to a 470,000-troop force by 2029.

“The Army is currently significantly over-structured, meaning there are not enough soldiers to fill out existing units and organizations,” the service’s force design document states.

The force redesign comes as the Army has missed its recruiting goals over the past two consecutive fiscal years. Of note, the Army currently has about 450,000 active-duty troops and would still have to add thousands more troops to its ranks before it hits its new 470,000-troop goal.

Rather than removing any existing troops, the Army is primarily scaling back its expectations for the future and shifting its focus away from filling out combat arms units and instead expanding on other capabilities.

“These planned reductions are to authorizations (spaces), and not to individual soldiers (faces),” the force design document states. “The Army is not asking current soldiers to leave. As the Army builds back end strength over the next few years, most installations will likely see an increase in the number of soldiers actually stationed there.”

Army to Cut Spec Ops and Combat Arms Slots

One area of focus for the Army’s restructuring is its special operations community.

The Army’s special operations components had doubled in size over the past 20 years as the service focused on the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency missions of the Global War on Terror era. Now, as the entire U.S. military is restructuring for a fight with more technologically advanced nation-states like Russia and China, the service is seeing less need for these special operations troops.

“Recognizing the importance of these highly skilled and slow to mature forces, the Army conducted extensive analysis examining special operations requirements for large scale combat in multiple theaters and applied additional modeling to understand the requirements for special operators during the campaigning phase of great power competition,” the Army document explains. “This analysis indicated that existing Army SOF force structure meets or exceeds demand in large-scale conflict relative to other capabilities.”

Working in consultation with the Pentagon’s Office for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict and with the U.S. Special Operations Command, the Army determined it would shrink its special operations component by approximately 3,000 slots.

“Specific reductions will be made based on an approach that ensures unique SOF capabilities are retained,” the Army said. “Positions and headquarters elements that are historically vacant or hard to fill will be prioritized for reduction.”

The Army’s restructuring plan also calls for the inactivation of some cavalry scout squadrons in some U.S.-based Stryker and infantry brigade combat teams. The plan also calls for downsizing weapons companies in certain infantry brigade combat teams into smaller platoon-sized formations.

The Army plan calls for eliminating some other positions in Army security force assistance brigades, which are Army components specialized in training and supporting partner forces.

“These close combat force adjustments, which focused on elements of brigade combat teams that are less relevant to large scale combat operations, account for roughly 10,000 additional reductions in authorizations,” the Army planning document states.

The restructuring approach also entails cutting about 10,000 positions for engineers and similar specialties that had been attached to brigade combat teams under Global War on Terror-era force designs.

The Army said it found room to cut another 2,700 spots by focusing on units that don’t frequently deploy. The service believes it will cut more than 6,000 additional spots by reducing the overall number of transients, trainees, holdees, and students winding their way through the ranks at any given time.

Army Expanding Air Defense Components

While the Army is planning to trim about 13,000 spots from its special operations and close combat force components, the service is looking to add another 7,500 spots for emerging Army needs, like air defense and counter-drone components.

The Army is seeking to establish four new indirect fire protection capability (IFPC) battalions responsible for manning defenses against enemy indirect fire weapons like artillery, missiles, rockets, and mortars.

The Army wants to stand up another four battalions worth of maneuverable short-range air defense systems, including those capable of countering drones, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft operating at low altitudes.

The Army also wants to specifically add nine new Counter-small Unmanned Aerial System (C-sUAS) batteries within its IFPC and division air defense battalions.

Drones have become ubiquitous in the ongoing war in Ukraine, with both Russian and Ukrainian forces utilizing these systems to scout for enemy forces, direct attacks with more traditional long-range fire elements like shell and rocket artillery, and fly into enemy positions with explosive payloads.

Working Through Recruiting Challenges

While the new Army force plan envisions a service with 24,000 fewer spots than it’s currently designed for, the service still has a ways to go if it hopes to hit its mark by 2029.

Fiscal Year 2022 saw the service come up 15,000 troops short of its recruiting goal, a 25 percent miss for the year. The service notched a smaller 15 percent miss this past fiscal year, bringing in 55,000 new recruits instead of the 65,000 it had set out for.

“Concurrent with its force structure transformation, the Army is undertaking a similarly important transformation of its recruiting enterprise so that it can man units sufficiently, continue to bring the right types and amounts of new talent into the Army and rebuild its overall end strength,” the service stated. “The Army must solve its recruiting challenges to successfully transform for the future.”

In recent months, the Army overhauled its recruiting mission. Where many of the Army’s recruiters have consisted of soldiers with different military occupational specialties (MOSs) doing stints at recruiting stations, the service has established more permanent recruiting MOSs.

While past recruiting efforts had focused on bringing in fresh high-school graduates, the Army’s recruitment overhaul has called for a shift to attract candidates with higher degrees of education.

The Army has also set up the Future Soldier Prep Course to help individuals who may not yet meet the minimal physical or academic requirements for service overcome those obstacles to serve.

The service has also launched the Soldier Referral Program, offering promotion incentives for current soldiers who can get others to join.

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