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The U.S. Army is restructuring as the future looks more uncertain


The U.S. Army is continuing to fight to fill its ranks. Last fall NPR went to the Minnesota State Fair, where Sergeant Robert Pederon was trying to convince some college students to sign up.

ROBERT PEDERON: There's the part-time option, where you only go - you only do the Army one week in a month, two weeks during the summer. But we'll pay for your college.

SHAPIRO: He didn't have much luck. Now word comes that the Army is restructuring, partly because it's having trouble filling its ranks and also to better prepare for future fights against large-scale adversaries like China or North Korea. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman brought us that reporting and joins us now to talk about this development. Hey, Tom.


SHAPIRO: How is the Army restructuring? What would that look like?

BOWMAN: Well, the Army says it will cut 24,000 soldiers, or roughly 5% of the entire force, Ari. But the cuts will be mostly empty slots and not actual people. And most of those slots will be jobs needed to fight insurgencies as we saw, of course, in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as counterterrorism, like going after the Islamic State. So you're looking at special operations forces, combat engineers, those who operate some armored vehicles and also those troops who train foreign forces. Now, the Army plans to add about 7,500 soldiers in what's seen as more critical jobs - air defense, anti-drone efforts, cyber. The Army created several units that will blend all these skills and be based in Hawaii and Europe, Middle East. And the Army and all the services see a futuristic environment, of course, where drones, cyberattacks will be absolutely key to countering a more sophisticated and powerful adversary, blinding that enemy because Army officials say if you can be seen, you can be killed.

SHAPIRO: And, of course, drones have been a key part of the war in Ukraine, with both Russia and Ukrainian forces using them a lot.

BOWMAN: That's right - drones for surveillance, for dropping bombs. And we've seen the Ukrainians making use of drones that can skim across the water in the Black Sea, of course, targeting Russian ships. They've been very, very effective. Army leaders, by the way, say the Ukrainian forces training at U.S. bases in Germany are actually providing lessons learned to American troops about how to use these drones. Now, there are some challenges for the Ukrainians because the Russians are very skilled at using electronic warfare, breaking their communication link that causes the drones to fall out of the sky. That's something the U.S. is looking at as well.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, I was going to say that has to be a concern for the U.S., right?

BOWMAN: Yeah, right. That's something the Army is watching very closely. How can we protect our own drones before they reach their destination? By countering an enemy trying to disrupt our drones. And the Army says all its units in the coming years will be equipped with a lot more drones. Some, they say, can be built actually in the field with 3D printers.

SHAPIRO: Well, the Army might be cutting its jobs, but it still has to fill its ranks. How's it doing?

BOWMAN: Well, last year the Army, the largest service, was about 15,000 soldiers short of its goal despite the efforts of recruiters we saw out in Minnesota. The Army is now at about 445,000 soldiers. But over the next five years, service wants to increase by 470,000. That's the goal. And they hope they can draw more new soldiers with these new Army jobs that are more high-tech.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Tom Bowman. Thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.