Repetitive US Army deployments to places like Europe and the Middle East are stressing the force; however, unit training would take a hit if the service moved to permanently forward base additional troops, according to US Army Secretary Mark Esper.
During an 8 November American Enterprise Institute event, Esper fielded questions about force structure, plans to grow the active-duty component above 500,000 soldiers, and how the service's high operations tempo (optempo) is impacting the force.
"There is a good deal of stress on the force, much more than I think most Americans realise," Esper told the audience. "At any one time, I have five brigade combat teams deployed to Africa, Europe, Korea, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, and then I [have] other trainings and activities happening."
Ideally, he added, there would be a 1 to 3 deployment-dwell ratio or at a minimum a 1 to 2 ratio. However, the force is hovering around a 1 to 1.4 ratio.
"Right now, our forces are deployed at an optempo that's less than desired," Esper said, adding it is not just the active-duty force, but also the guard and reserve components.
When asked if moving away from rotational deployments in places like Europe in lieu of permanently forward basing more units, Esper said such a move would hinder training.
"Where we stand right now is working well for the army," he said.
Since not all forward bases provide gunnery ranges or enough training space, Esper said dwell time back in the US enables units to train up and "maintain a high state of readiness". Additionally, the rotational approach enables the service to better prepare for a crisis in which units must rapidly deploy.
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