US Army Expands Future Soldier Prep Course Amid Recruiting Shortfall

Foreign Affairs

Washington: US Army leaders have spent months grappling with ways to address the ongoing recruiting shortfall and to shore up the pipeline of potential soldiers before readiness issues emerge. After some initial success, the service is officially expanding the Future Soldier Preparatory Course (FSPC) pilot project in 2023, according to media reports.

The Army launched the FSPC pilot at Fort Jackson,  in 2022, where they paid prospective recruits to participate in a new training program for up to 90 days on one of two tracks — academic or fitness — in hopes of getting them in shape mentally and physically to meet the entry standards for basic training.

Service leaders have blamed recruiting woes on a confluence of factors, including a strong civilian labour market, but also highlighted the fact that roughly only a quarter of 17- to 24-year-old US citizens are fully qualified to serve due, in part, to obesity, education and test scores. The FSPC program is meant to give them a head start and enable them to enlist.

As of December 2021, 3,206 students  attended the FSPC, and 2,965 have now graduated and will move on to basic training, the US Army said.

“Based upon the initial positive results from the Future Soldier Prep Course pilot, we will expand this program to provide more opportunities for recruits to achieve the Army standard,” said Yvette Bourcicot, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

This initial expansion will include four new companies participating in the project — two at Fort Jackson and two at Fort Benning, but the service did not disclose when they would be up and running, or how many students they anticipate participating in the program each year.

The expansion decision comes just months after the Army missed its fiscal 2022 end strength goal of 476,000 by approximately 10,000 soldiers. It also missed its active-duty enlisted recruiting goal for the year by 25 percent, or roughly 15,000 soldiers, when it only brought in 44,900 new soldiers.

“We don’t expect this shortfall to negatively impact our ability to fulfil our requirements as outlined in the current National Defence Strategy,” Army spokesperson Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Hewitt wrote in a December 20 statement. “We continue to consider and develop options that allow us to demonstrate to qualified young people how Army service can contribute to their personal and professional goals.”

With an eye toward ISR-as-a-Service, Leidos makes the new Army ISR platform available through a Contractor Owned, Contractor Operated (COCO) program. As the military emerges from the counter-terrorism era and pivots toward a focus on near-peer conflicts, new needs are coming to the fore around aerial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

In addition to the growth of the FSPC course, the Army is rolling out additional enlistment incentives including bonuses up to $50,000, $65,000 in student loan repayment, incentives for various critical career fields and more, Hewitt added.

It will likely take time to see if these measures will be enough to rectify the downturn, but some defence analysts argue that this dip in FY22 and FY23 will have a lingering impact for years to come.