The Pentagon is proposing slight end strength cuts to all its military services in fiscal 2022 -- except the Space Force.
But the fledgling Space Force, which is still in the process of being stood up as its own separate service within the Department of the Air Force, would grow from 6,434 Guardians in fiscal 2021 to about 8,400 next year, a nearly 31% increase.
The Army's proposed end strength would drop by 1,800, though it would still have 1,010,500 soldiers.
Although the Navy and Air Force are getting overall budget increases, their total force end strengths would decline. The Navy would drop from 407,329 sailors to 404,800, a decline of 2,529. And the Air Force would drop 855 airmen, down to 506,900.
The Marine Corps would lose 2,143 Marines, for an end strength of 215,300.
The Pentagon said in its budget documents that it is planning to cut the number of troops because it is divesting outdated weapons, vehicles and other platforms, as well as some units, including older F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters, landing ship docks, tank companies, and helicopter sea combat squadrons.
The cuts will allow the Pentagon to focus on developing advanced systems and capabilities, such as cyber electronic warfare and special operations. Those future capabilities are necessary to allow the U.S. military to keep up with skilled potential adversaries, the budget states.
But COVID-19 threw a wrench into the military's force planning. As the pandemic dealt a swift blow to the nation's economy and job market last spring, many troops who had been considering retiring or separating had second thoughts. Some looked at the chances of finding a job in the private sector and instead decided to stay in uniform longer, officials said late last year. This resulted in "historically high levels of retention," according to the budget documents.
The services also had to adapt their processes for bringing on and training new recruits in order to keep them safe during the pandemic and follow the Pentagon's health protection guidelines, the budget adds.
But even with those unexpected developments, the Pentagon said the military's overall end strength this year has remained within about 1,000 of the force levels called for in the 2021 budget.