The current fiscal crisis also offers an opportunity for the Army to downsize its incredibly inefficient basing structure. Although the Pentagon -- with President Barack Obama's support -- asked Congress for one or two more Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission cycles, the historical mechanism used to close bases, Congress demurred for political reasons. The Army should ask again and make the only argument that can break the current political logjam in Congress over basing: that basing inefficiencies will cost the Army valuable training dollars that could save lives in future wars.
Finally, and recognizing the enormous costs associated with the manpower-centric Army of today, the Army must now invest more heavily in unmanned systems and concepts that will produce the Army of tomorrow. Over the past 100 years, the "American way of war" has evolved to increasingly substitute technology for labor, to send a machine instead of a man. The technology exists today to field unmanned tanks, artillery batteries, and logistics convoys, to name just a few. Today's Army leadership should embrace these new technologies and find ways to better incorporate them into the force. This might start with a grand challenge to design and build unmanned tanks, or a large-scale simulation at the National Training Center which pits a manned tank formation against an unmanned one. The time to invest in these technologies and concepts is now, not immediately before or during the next war. The current fiscal crisis may provide a window of opportunity to do so because of the enormous potential that unmanned systems offer to reduce manpower costs.
It's possible (but unlikely) these troop cuts are a bluff, a gambit that Congress will react negatively to the threat of furloughing troops and closing bases, and respond instead with more military funding. It's also possible (and more likely) the proposed cuts are merely an opening round of negotiations with Congress -- and that the final troop count will settle somewhere between the Army's current strength and its proposed slimmer self. If so, either proposition carries enormous risk. In this fiscal environment, Congress may well call the service's bluff -- or take these voluntary cuts as a sign the Army has enough fat that it can cut even more.
Historically, changes like those described above have not happened without military leaders standing up and stepping forward, because of the enormous political influence they wield by virtue of their positions and the extreme deference on Capitol Hill to the uniformed military leadership. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, and his colleague Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, must seize this opportunity to do more than reshuffle their battalions. The Army of the future will bear as much resemblance to today's force as today's force bears to the Army that fought the Vietnam War. But the nation's oldest service will not get there from here if it continues to embrace such incremental change.