WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Despite the stress of global missions on the U.S. military, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday he had seen no conclusive evidence yet that America’s 1.4 million troops should be increased.
Rumsfeld said he was studying the problem with top military officials but that other avenues for making the military more efficient remained available, including shifting tens of thousands of non-combat jobs handled by troops to civilian defense workers.
“At the moment I don’t believe that anyone that I’ve talked to has evidence that argues that we have done those kinds of things sufficiently effectively that one could make a current case for increasing end-strength,” he told reporters.
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also warned at a Pentagon news conference that increasing end strength, including the Army’s active 480,000 troops, was a very expensive and laborious step.
“Sixty percent of our budget is in the personnel line,” Myers said, adding that “if you’re going to do it, you’re going to have to live with it probably for a long time, and you better think that through carefully…”
Top Army generals have suggested that the services might soon formally press the Defense Department and Congress to increase the size of the active duty Army.
They say the service is stretched almost to the breaking point cleaning up after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as deployments from the Korean Peninsula to Kosovo and the U.S.-declared war on terrorism.
‘WE’RE FINE’- RUMSFELD
But Rumsfeld noted that Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace was heading a high-level team assessing military strength and monitoring the armed forces’ ability to work with currently authorized numbers.
“And thus far, the analysis that’s been done by Pete Pace and his people indicates that we’re fine,” the secretary said.
New Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker told Congress last week that he needed to formally assess Army deployments and needs of the world’s only superpower.
“But I’m going to take a little risk here and I’m going to tell you that, you know, intuitively, I think we need more people. I mean, it’s that simple,” he said in testimony at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Army Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. John Keane told reporters on Tuesday that the service needed more infantry troops, military police, chemical-biological specialists and other soldiers.
“But before we come up with a number, we have got to check and see what kind of conversions we can make to do that,” he said.
Rumsfeld has previously balked at the idea of adding more troops until other steps are examined and a final analysis is made of the balance between the active duty military and the 1.2 million members of the part-time military reserves and National Guard.
The Pentagon is pressing Congress to give the Defense Department greater flexibility in the control of its huge civilian workforce.
Rumsfeld stressed on Tuesday that some contingency plans for troop use have been antiquated by new technology and joint military operations as well as newly developing deployment and redeployment concepts.
“To the extent we need more or less end strength, obviously we would ask the Congress for it. We don’t have a bias one way or another on it,” he told reporters.