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Defense Budget Said to Shrink Army to Pre-WWII Low

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to shrink the U.S. Army to its smallest force since before World War II, Pentagon officials told the New York Times.

The plans, to be laid out in Hagel's first defense budget Monday, call for the entire fleet of Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft to be eliminated, the newspaper said, citing Pentagon officials ahead of Hagel's release of the spending plan.

The twin-engine jet is the only Air Force aircraft designed solely for close air support of ground forces. It was developed in the 1970s to attack Soviet tanks in case of a European invasion -- capabilities the Pentagon deems less relevant today, the Times said.

The proposed budget includes limits on military pay raises, higher fees for military healthcare benefits and less generous military housing allowances, the Wall Street Journal said.

Pentagon officials describe the cuts as a modest and realistic plan to save billions of dollars needed to protect other critical portions of U.S. defense spending, the Journal said.

The proposed changes, which will be subject to congressional approval, are intended to comply with the Bipartisan Budget Act reached by President Barack Obama and Congress, the Times said. That deal, which passed the House Dec. 12 and the Senate Dec. 18, imposes a military spending cap of about $496 billion for the 2015 fiscal year.

The changes, endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are also intended to conform to Obama's pledge to end two costly and exhausting land wars.

A result will be a military capable of defeating any adversary, but too small for prolonged foreign occupations, Pentagon officials told the Times.

"We're still going to have a very significant-sized Army," an official said. "But it's going to be agile. It will be capable. It will be modern. It will be trained."

The Army, which did the most U.S. fighting and had the most casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, is proposed in Hagel's budget to drop to 440,000 to 450,000 troops, the smallest force since 1940, the Times said.

It was already scheduled to drop to 490,000 troops from a post-Sept. 11, 2001, peak of 570,000.

Money saved by cutting the number of personnel would assure U.S. fighting soldiers would be well trained and supplied with the best weaponry, the officials told the newspaper.

The cuts in housing allowances and other benefits, such as less support for grocery stores that offer discounts to military families, reflect economic realities, the Defense Department said.

"Personnel costs reflect some 50 percent of the Pentagon budget and cannot be exempted in the context of the significant cuts the department is facing," department spokesman Adm. John Kirby told the Journal.

"Secretary Hagel has been clear that, while we do not want to, we ultimately must slow the growth of military pay and compensation," Kirby said.

Hagel's plan calls for a one-year pay freeze for the Defense Department's top military leaders -- a gesture the Journal said was meant to show that even the best-compensated leaders would make sacrifices.

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