By David Alexander
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army said on Tuesday it would eliminate 10 brigade combat teams at bases across the United States and cancel some $400 million in construction projects as it cuts about 80,000 soldiers over the next four years.
General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said the move was part of the largest organizational change in the Army since World War Two as the service winds down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and responds to tighter U.S. budgets.
The Pentagon announced plans to cut the Army's overall force structure last year, but Odierno on Tuesday detailed where and how the service would reorganize as it draws down from a wartime high of 570,000 soldiers in 45 brigade combat teams to 490,000 in 33 brigade combat teams by the end of 2017. The reduction represents about a 14 percent drop in force size.
Odierno said the force would eventually drop to 32 brigades, but a decision had not yet been made on the final unit to be cut. He said as the 13 brigades are inactivated, some of the forces would be transferred to other brigades to make them "more lethal, more flexible and more agile."
"The army is ... reorganizing our brigade combat teams, which will reduce the overall number of headquarters while sustaining as much combat capability as possible," he said. "In other words, we're increasing our tooth-to-tail ratio."
While headquarters units would be eliminated, battalions of infantry, Stryker combat vehicles and armor would be shifted to other brigades along with engineering and artillery units, Odierno said.
The cuts mainly affect the active-duty force. The Army Reserve will remain at 205,000 soldiers and the state-based National Guard militia will lose 8,000 soldiers, dropping to 350,000 from 358,000.
Ten brigades would be inactivated in the United States and two in Europe. The two European brigades - both in Germany - had already been announced, one at Baumholder and the other at Grafenwohr.
Brigades would be inactivated at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, Fort Carson in Colorado, Fort Riley in Kansas, Fort Bliss and Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Polk in Louisiana, Fort Stewart in Georgia, Fort Campbell and Fort Knox in Kentucky, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Drum in New York.
The reorganization of the brigades in the United States and Europe will lead to a reduction of 29,000 soldiers, Army officials said. The remaining personnel reductions would come from other categories of troops, many of who were added temporarily because of the wars.
Odierno said the reductions in force size were in line with the $487 billion in defense spending cuts over the next decade that were included in the Budget Control Act of 2011, $170 billion of which would come out of Army funding.
The Budget Control Act also included an additional $500 billion in defense cuts unless Congress could agree on a compromise package of spending reductions or revenue hikes to replace them. So far Congress has been unable to agree on an alternative, and the additional cuts went into force this year.
Odierno said if the additional cuts continue in the coming years, the Army would have to look at reducing force structure again, possibly by as much as another 100,000 personnel from active duty, reserve and National Guard.
He said the Army had deferred $788 million in military construction projects while it was undertaking its review and would eventually permanently cancel about $400 billion worth of work.
Odierno said reorganization of the force followed extensive study, including 6,500 hours of simulated combat, evaluation of 34 different scenarios and a visit to 30 installations to look at the potential socio-economic impact.
(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)