Hagel Forecasts Massive Cuts to Troop Numbers


The Army would shrink to 380,000 troops, the Marines Corps to 150,000. The Navy would lose three carriers, and the Air Force would begin mothballing its B-52 bomber fleet under a worst-case budget scenario outlined Wednesday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

In addition, Tricare fees would go up, housing allowances would be slashed, pay raises would be scaled back, and commissary subsidies would be reduced, Hagel said -- unless Congress and the White House can agree to lift the sequestration deficit-reduction process that is projected to take $500 billion out of defense budgets over the next 10 years.

The re-balance of forces to the Pacific under the national defense strategy introduced by Preident Obama would also come under renewed scrutiny from the budget planners.

"We are committed to sustaining that effort in a significant way," a senior Pentagon official said of the so-called "Pacific pivot" to counter the rise of China. However, "it would be very challenging to implement that as conceived," he said.

Hagel and Adm. James Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed at press briefing the findings of the Pentagon's Strategic Choices and Management Review after first consulting with Congressional leaders.

A guiding principle in the review was "maximizing the military's combat power by looking to reduce every other category of spending first," Hagel said. To that end, the review led by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter sought to make a "basic tradeoff" between the military's "capacity and capability," Hagel said.

The choice under the automatic budget cuts of sequestration came down to one between troops and new weapons systems, Hagel said. Defense leaders who led the review favored funding cyberwarfare, and such weapons systems as the F35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Littoral Combat Ship over personnel.

"We did not find any particular capability that we could do away with" and still maintain overall combat power, a senior Pentagon official said at a later background briefing of the proposed new weapons systems.

Winnefeld said the review was the result of a "deep and very painful look into every corner of our institution."

"Nobody was very happy" with the outcome, he said.

Under sequestration, "we don't know how much money we're going to have," and "{we don't know what the rules are going to be when we do know."

Both Hagel and Winnefeld called on Congress to give the Pentagon more flexibility in implementing the cuts by pushing the more drastic reductions to the end of the 10-year cycle of cost-cutting that went into effect on March 1.

"Unless we can backload, all we can do is grab money wherever we can," Winnefeld said.

Hagel and Winnefeld also noted that the sequestration cuts were doubly painful, since they were coming on top of $487 billion in defense spending cuts that were already in place under the Budget Control Act.

In discussing the review, Hagel stressed that he was presenting "a menu of options and not a set of decisions." However, the menu appeared to fall particularly hard on the Army.

For more than a year, as the Iraq war ended and Afghanistan was winding down, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army's chief of staff, has been warning that sequester might force him to cut troop strength below the cut from 570,00 soldiers to 490,000, which was already underway.

The review said that the number of soldiers in the Army could fall as low as 380,000, but a senior Pentagon official said later that the troop strength would more likely fall in the range of about 450,00.

The Marine Corps, which now has slightly more than 200,000 troops, had been projected to come down to about 182,000, but the defense leaders outlining the review said the number could be as low as 150,000

Hagel said the number of aircraft carriers in the Navy might have to drop from the current 11 to eight, and he also said that the Air Force would have to retire older bombers and slash the number of tactical squadrons.

Even with the proposed cutbacks, the savings projected by the review would not be generated quickly enough to meet the demands of sequester, and "we will be forced to take even more draconian steps in the future," Hagel said.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the review was shortsighted, but "what it does make clear is what I've been cautioning all along -- further cuts will cause catastrophic readiness shortfalls."

"We will lose our workforce and ability to recruit and retain the all volunteer force and our influence around the world will diminish," McKeon said in a statement.

Hagel concluded his briefing with another plea to Congress to lift the burden of sequestration on the military.

"It is the responsibility of our nation's leadership to work together to replace the mindless and irresponsible policy of sequestration," Hagel said.

"It is unworthy of the service and sacrifice of our nation's men and women in uniform and their families," Hagel said. "Even as we confront tough fiscal realities, our decisions must always be worthy of the sacrifices we ask America's sons and daughters to make for our country."

Show Full Article
Budget Congress