With Downsizing in Sight, Army Secretary Tries to Preserve Technology, Assistance to Service Members

Exclusive: Army Secretary John McHugh on issues facing our troops


As Congress grapples with finding an alternative to deep defense cuts that are expected as a result of the massive national debt, the head of the U.S. Army is preparing for downsizing. But Army Secretary John McHugh says it's an opportunity for his branch of service to become leaner and meaner.

"We will be a smaller army," McHugh said. "We'll be supremely resourced but we won't have the full range of capabilities to do everything at once or sometimes two things at once." 

The Pentagon announced last week that new and deep defense budget cuts will cost about 8,700 Army civilians their jobs. Other programs, employees and services to be cut -- part of reductions that the U.S. Congress is debating as it tries to reduce a spiraling national debt -- have yet to be determined. 

In a sit-down interview with Fox News' Jamie Colby, McHugh said he is evaluating how far Army personnel numbers will fall and devising a strategy to avoid the unwanted result of becoming a hollow force. 

"We are going to need to put everything on the table and we are," he said. "We're working real hard to minimize layoffs or RIFs, reduction in forces, using our recruiting and retention efforts, but these are going to be tough times. You can't downsize these budgets -- as will happen across this federal government -- and unfortunately not have some pain."

McHugh said he is always concerned about keeping pace with technology, equipment and staff needed to protect national security and provide soldiers and their families with the resources they need. 

Cuts "will not rest on the shoulders of our military families," he pledged, noting that there are no plans to close any family readiness centers though other programs will be downsized or discarded.

But knowing what will be needed is an exercise McHugh says may be impossible. 

"(Former) Secretary (Robert) Gates always said we have a perfect record predicting what we need. We've been wrong every time," he said. 

Predicting Congress, however, may be a bit easier. Prior to his appointment by President Obama as Army secretary, McHugh served nine terms in Congress. He was both a chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee before leaving office.

Even as the talk of reductions dominates the conversation in Washington, the Army is developing a new combat vehicle that has the space to transport an entire rifle squad to the point of battle using technology and strength that makes it more resistant to improvised explosive devices.

"As we've learned in the past if you are not resourcing -- if you are not modernizing, if you are not preparing for the future and giving those future soldiers what they need, you are really not doing the Army or the nation a great deal of service" he said. 

A U.S. drone in Iranian hands last week and displayed for the world to see offered a reminder that remote missions are sometimes a risky strategy. McHugh said a chief commitment is making sure to have as many boots on the ground as needed, even as it becomes technologically possible to fight some battles from a distance. 

"What we're trying to do is develop our networking systems and our computer systems in a way they are constructed so we can plug and play and bring in new technology that evolves," he said.

The critical challenge, McHugh said, remains real and virtual security. The U.S. is most vulnerable to cyber attacks, an area where the Army is working hardest. 

"It's a daily challenge to try to ensure that a situation such as WikiLeaks, in the future, is far less likely to happen, and we're making progress."