Questions over whether President Trump intends to back away from the nation’s commitment to its allies’ security around the globe, including basing tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Europe and Korea, are unlikely to reverse existing plans to increase the military’s end strength. The administration’s request to add 15,600 personnel across the four services in fiscal 2019 is designed to improve readiness, partially by ensuring units are fully staffed. “Remember what has happened over the last several years. In order to have units ready to deploy, we’ve cannibalized other units,” Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told Military Times. “The bigger geo-strategic decisions don’t affect the need to make units whole,” Thornberry said.
Adding personnel would increase dwell time and allow more time for training, explained Frederico Bartels, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “Even if we were to draw down folks from overseas, you still have units that need to be ready to go,” he said.
Until House and Senate conferees finish reconciling competing versions of the defense authorization bill, the exact increase in end strength next year is not clear. The House endorsed the administration’s request to add 15,600 active-duty service members, but the Senate version calls for adding only 7,000 troops next year.
The discrepancy between the current plans to expand force levels and the president’s comments could come to a head, however. “I think we’re seeing a lot of lawmakers in denial here,” said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They want to grow the force, have been pushing for that, but are ignoring [Trump’s] comments on reducing security missions because it doesn’t fit with their goals.”
Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Allyson Manners