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Hagel Proposes Retiring A-10, Cutting LCS to 32 Ships

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made official Monday many of the expected cuts to legacy and modernization weapons programs across the military to include historic favorites like the A-10 and controversial platforms like the Littoral Combat Ship.

Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey outlined the Pentagon’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 as the Defense Department set the tone ahead of a series of expected battles with Congress who have fought cuts to these programs in the past.

The Pentagon announced its plan to cut the entire A-10 and U-2 fleets as the Air Force transitions to the F-35 and Global Hawk respectively. Air Force leaders had said in the months leading up to the announcement that the service can no longer afford aircraft that fly niche missions.

The Army saw the service’s number one vehicle modernization priority get whacked when the Pentagon announced the end of the Ground Combat Vehicle program. Slated to replace the Bradley, Army leaders struggled to settle on requirements and costs continued to spiral for the vehicle that didn’t seem to match the Army’s push to become lighter and more agile.

Hagel seemed to poke the Army for another failed modernization program with his request that the Army deliver “realistic visions” for vehicle modernization  in the coming year.

Meanwhile, the defense secretary took a shot at the Navy’s plan to build 52 Littoral Combat Ships. He said the Navy is “relying too heavily on the LCS to achieve its long term goals for ship numbers.” The defense secretary said there will be no new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships even though Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has supported the ship in the face of critical evaluations that questioned the ship’s combat worthiness.

Hagel also outlined how the Pentagon plans to follow through on President Obama’s promise to keep an 11-ship aircraft carrier fleet. The Navy needs to pay about $6 billion to complete the mid-life refueling and overhaul of the USS George Washington to keep the carrier in service.

It was unclear until Monday where the Navy was going to find the extra funding. Hagel announced that half of the Navy’s cruiser fleet – or 11 ships – will be laid up and placed in reduced operational status in order to find savings as the fleet is modernized.

However, Hagel said the Navy can only keep 11 carriers in the fleet if Congress can repeal the sequestration cuts the military is facing.

“We would have no other choice than to retire [the USS George Washington] should sequestration-level cuts be re-imposed,” Hagel said.

The Navy’s variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, is similarly under pressure from sequestration cuts. Hagel said the Pentagon would have to halt procurement of the carrier variant for two years if sequestration remains.

Of course, the Pentagon and Congress have already waged many of the battles where lines were drawn by Hagel and the military brass Monday afternoon. Few expect these proposals to work their way through Congress in a mid-term election year as many lawmakers have a lot to lose if these legacy fleets get retired.

The A-10 is a good example. Air Force leaders and lawmakers in both houses have battled for the past two years to retire large chunks of the A-10 fleet. Congress has stymied the Air Force’s past attempts and few analysts expect the service to succeed this year either.

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