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Budget cuts to slash U.S. Army to smallest since before World War Two

The Pentagon Cuts: A Closer Look Behind the Scary Headlines


By David Alexander and Andrea Shalal

(Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Monday it would shrink the U.S. Army to pre-World War Two levels, eliminate the popular A-10 aircraft and reduce military benefits in order to meet 2015 spending caps, setting up an election-year fight with the Congress over national defense priorities.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, previewing the Pentagon's ideas on how to adapt to government belt-tightening, said the defense budget due out next week would be the first to look beyond 13 years of conflict, shifting away from long-term ground wars like Iraq and Afghanistan.

He cautioned, however, that the country needed to be clear-eyed about the risks posed by lower budget levels, which would challenge the Pentagon to field a smaller yet well-trained force that could cope with any adversary, but might not be able to respond simultaneously to multiple conflicts.

"We ... face the risk of uncertainty in a dynamic and increasingly dangerous security environment," Hagel said. "Budget reductions inevitably reduce the military's margin of error in dealing with these risks, as other powers are continuing to modernize their weapons portfolios."

The cuts come as the Pentagon is attempting to absorb nearly a trillion dollars in reductions to projected spending over a decade. A two-year bipartisan budget deal in December eased some of the pressure on the department, but still cut its planned spending by $31 billion in 2014 and another $45 billion in 2015.

The Pentagon's budget for the 2015 fiscal year beginning in October is an estimated $496 billion, about the same amount as the current fiscal year. Beginning in 2016, the department's budget is slated to assume even larger spending cuts, an event Hagel said could jeopardize national security.

Defense analysts said the budget priorities sketched out by Hagel would begin to move the Pentagon in the right direction on issues like military compensation reform and eliminating waste but could have difficulty winning support from lawmakers facing mid-term elections to Congress.

"Congress always modifies the president's budget request. They will again. The question is will they do it in small ways or large ways," said Kathleen Hicks, a former senior defense official who is now an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

"I think the personnel pieces are the trickiest for them," she added, saying the challenge for the Pentagon was judging "in advance what is most likely to be accepted, particularly in a mid-term election year, and what is off the table."

The proposed cuts ran into resistance from senior lawmakers in both houses of Congress.

Representative Buck McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it would be "foolish" to change military benefits before a report on the issue next year, while Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon would have "heavy challenge" convincing lawmakers to retire the A-10 fleet.

Hagel said the Pentagon plans to reduce the size of the Army to between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers. The Army is currently about 520,000 soldiers and had been planning to draw down to about 490,000 in the coming year.

A reduction to 450,000 would be the Army's smallest size since 1940, before the United States entered World War Two, when it counted a troop strength of 267,767, according to Army figures. The Army's previous post-World War Two low was 479,426 in 1999.

"We chose further reductions in troop strength and force structure in every military service - active and reserve - in order to sustain our readiness and technological superiority and to protect critical capabilities," Hagel said.

Despite a congressional rebuff of Pentagon efforts to reform personnel costs in recent years, the defense chief announced a series of new steps to try to curb military and civilian personnel spending, which now makes up about half its budget.

Hagel said the department would seek a 1 percent raise in pay for military personnel but would slow the growth of tax-free housing allowances, reduce the annual subsidy for military commissaries and reform the TRICARE health insurance program for military family members and retirees.

Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank, said the Pentagon was heading in the "right direction with military compensation reform," and that notions of keeping faith with troops were about more than just pay.

"Keeping faith also means ensuring our troops are the best trained and equipped in the world," Harrison said, adding that the proposed reforms sought to balance tradeoffs between pay and benefits and training and modernization.

"The clear message is that if Congress chooses to ignore these reforms again, it will force additional cuts in training and modernization which will break faith with the troops," he said.

Hagel also said the Pentagon would eliminate the Air Force fleet of A-10 "Warthog" close air support planes, which are much beloved by ground troops, in order to ensure continued funding of the new long-range bomber, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and a new aerial refueling tanker.

In a reversal of an earlier decision, he said the Pentagon decided to retire the 50-year-old U-2 spy plane in favor of the unmanned Global Hawk system after success in reducing the operating costs of the newer plane.

The defense secretary added the Pentagon had decided to build only 32 of its new Littoral Combat Ships, down from the 52 originally planned. He said the funds would be plowed back into developing a fast, new, more lethal ship similar to a frigate.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and David Lawder; editing by Sandra Maler and G Crosse)

Join the discussion

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thunderdogui February 25 2014 at 8:03 AM

THE WAY I SEE IS THIS SECRETARY AND THE CLOWN NEXT TO HIM THEY ARE OUT OF THE REALITY AND ONLY LISENT TO THE KING OBAMA TO MAKE THE USA A THIERD COUNTRY
THAT WAY THE SELF IMPOSE KING CAN RULE WITH OUT OPOSITION LIKE NOW ALL THE USA FORCE MADE A PLEACH TO DEFEND THE CONSTITUCION ANS WHAT HAPPEN THEY ARE BLIND AND NOT LONGER CARE ABOUT OUR FATHERS CONSTITUCION THAT THE GOVERMENT IS FOR THE PEOPLE BY THE PEOPLE AND NO KINGS IN THE USA GOOD SAVE THE USA

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1 reply
Chris thunderdogui February 25 2014 at 8:13 AM

When the majority of people vote for a candidate, sit him in the Oval Office and he makes hard decisions, its called de-moc-ra-cy.
And I'm curious, are you drunk at 8am or do you not know how to use spell check?

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1 reply
TeaPartyPatriot Chris February 25 2014 at 9:11 AM

Oh Chris, are you drunk at 8 am everyday. America was founded as a Republic not a de-moc-ra-cy. I guess you haven't ever read the Constitution or you just can't read.

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tmoschetti February 25 2014 at 10:28 AM

This should complete Barack Hussein Obama's promised "Fundamental transformation of the United States of America." Incredibly, as the world becomes a more dangerous place, Barack Obama decides to weaken our country so that we are merely 1 of 192 counties in the world.

Despite Iran's never ending threats to remove Israel from the map, Obama has no problem with Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons. Great for him and his anti-Israel pals, but not so good for our ONLY Middle East Ally!

Barack Obama and his Demo-RAT/CPUSA party are teaming up to do what the Soviet Union, Facist Italy, Imperial Japan, and Nazi Germany could not do, bring down the United States. He will avenge his grandfather's and father's treatment at the hands of the WHITE, Colonialist Europeans, and the (ONCE)United States!

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jimconnellret February 25 2014 at 7:49 AM

We never said congress was intellegent, Cut the stupid foreign aid and keep the military where it is. Let the people vote on it and adhere to what the people say not what they think, as we know they don't know how to do that.

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Puppino February 25 2014 at 10:28 AM

Well remember,, we are in a different era now. . america voted and got what they asked for .. the new world of the fundraiser emabarrassment n chief. his pen and exectutive orders no more comment

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acbarger February 25 2014 at 10:29 AM

before ww2 we cut our armed forces and sold all of our junk iron to japanWHAT HAPPENED
TODAY we are cutting our armed forces and selling all our junk iron to china????????

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mikeandcheryl February 25 2014 at 3:01 PM

This is just wrong and very foolish ! The world we live in today is full of threats from every corner of the globe. In my opinion, this is just part of Obama's plan to disarm America to make it easier for his middle eastern friends to destroy us. America had better wake up and realize what is happening here. I'm afraid that if and when we do wake up , it will be way too late. God help us !

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2 replies
eaglekeeper73 mikeandcheryl February 25 2014 at 3:08 PM

Its just not the middle east, China needs to be watched in a major way.

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darlingtonnative mikeandcheryl February 25 2014 at 3:38 PM

God will only help us if we sincerely ask Him to do so (as a nation). Instead we spit in His face, ignore what He gave us, from the ten commandments to what Jesus accomplished, who by the way has said on Saturday, November 19, 2011, that "My hand of Judgement will stretch forth and all will feel it, some much more than others. Fear not1" Since that is future tense I can only guess at all that is coming. However, God help us indeed!

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richardbg2 February 25 2014 at 3:41 PM

Its incredible to me that the Pentagon seems to struggle so hard to deal with directed budget cuts... when a ready made solution is right in front of their eyes...THE NATIONAL GUARD. Today's National Guard isn't the Guard of bygone days where they were operating second hand equipment with questionable training. Today the National Guard has front line equipment, is fully trained and always ready...and has repeatedly "answered the call"... AND is able to maintain readiness standards at a fraction of the cost of our regular forces. Empower and grow the Guard...and save money!!!

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rh2363 February 25 2014 at 10:34 AM

History tells us that the best way to get the U S into a shooting war is to have a weak military. In the 1930's, Japan saw the U S as a Nation with a military smaller than Portugal ans Argentina. Obsolete weapons, and poorly trained troops. After the victory at Pearl Harbor, Japan ran roughshod throughout the Pacific. Ninety thousand U S troops surrendered in the Phillipenes, many were put to the sword, and we could not help or prevent the surrender. There were only three Axis powers. Today we have many more advisaries. I pray to God that history doesn't repeat itself.

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tsonne1726 February 25 2014 at 3:00 PM

FINE IF THEY GET OUR TROOPS OUT OF GERMANY JAPAN KOREA -- LET THEM TAKE CAREOF THEMSELVES-- JUST DONT CUT AIR FORCE OR NAVY AS IN FUTURE THEY WILL WIN THE WARS

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1 reply
kcaron1504 tsonne1726 February 25 2014 at 3:16 PM

Airforce and Navy can't take and hold ground. Wars can't be won without Infantry. If you aren't Infantry, you are merely support !!!

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cswalston February 25 2014 at 10:36 AM

Will we be reducing military personnel from the bottom up or from the top down? How many desk generals do we really need?

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1 reply
Mitch cswalston February 25 2014 at 11:14 AM

Each one needs a colonel to drive him around.

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