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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)

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rw5658 February 25 2014 at 1:21 PM

It looks like our government is taking the same course it always does, cut the national defense budget. This is all well and good providing our OVER PAID people in Washington that make all the decisions don't get us involved in another shooting conflict, and you can just bet they will. If they have to cut costs, start with cutting down on the number of Generals and Admirals don't start with all the people that clean up the messes that Washington makes and stop sending billions of dollars to countries that won't even talk to us unless they are in trouble and need to be bailed out.

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sumter61 February 25 2014 at 8:33 AM


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1 reply
Mitch sumter61 February 25 2014 at 8:52 AM

So you agree with the military cuts. That's government, too.

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RIDGEWAY ENTER. February 25 2014 at 1:30 PM

Very sad that the men and woman who serve our country and risk their lives have to deal with this.

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charlie February 25 2014 at 1:34 PM

This is really bad. I Hope we recallall our troops In foreign Countries and eliminate all combat and Police actioons around the world This will be needed to protect the Hawii, Alaska Philipines and the Continental United States Even this seems like POTUS is selling us down the proverbial River.
So Congress what are you going to do now ? Wave theWhite Flag and take away our Constitutional Rights.

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2 replies
rmg21943 charlie February 25 2014 at 1:39 PM

what rights specifically are you afraid of losing?

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gw4775 charlie February 25 2014 at 3:21 PM

Yeah I'm not making the connection between a reduced defense budget and somebody taking away our constitutional rights. And that's true, the Philippines are not part of the United States, in fact, a number of years ago they insisted we close our military bases there (Clark AFB and the Naval Base at Subic Bay). So, now that you mention the Philippines, they don't want our military there. Please remember that this budget recommendation is just that, a recommendation. Congress passes (or doesn't pass) all the spending bills in this country. Speaking of constitutional rights, keep on top of the vote, write your congressman, and if he or she doesn't vote the way you want them to, use your constitutional right and vote against them in the next election.

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heveni February 25 2014 at 1:35 PM

Maybe the administration should cut down on their lavish parties and vacation trips.

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dannybishop5 February 25 2014 at 8:22 AM

Another great idea from our great leader paw-paw Obama. We need no military because everyone loves the United States of America. this country no longer deserves it's freedom and liberty for everyone wants a welfare country where the govt. takes care of us from the womb to the tomb. We haven't won a war since WW2. so why worry about it?we' ll get what we deserve.

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Tom Kennedy February 25 2014 at 1:36 PM

One more way for the muslim-in-chief to further weaken this country. I served in the military and at one time was very proud of this country. Sadly, no more!

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2 replies
rmg21943 Tom Kennedy February 25 2014 at 1:38 PM

if you are not proud of this country, LEAVE!!

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2 replies
mlaurel58 rmg21943 February 25 2014 at 1:44 PM

Did you extend that same invitation to Mrs Obama several years ago when she made a similar comment?

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gopola rmg21943 February 25 2014 at 1:52 PM

rmg21943 what Branch of the military did you serve in and what rank were you when you left? Thanks

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Dianne & Ken Tom Kennedy February 25 2014 at 1:49 PM

How sad, he never having served does not know how critical a decision is being made.
OH, but the 47 million will still be getting their food stamps, free housing, free medical, etc. etc.

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Welcome, Gary! February 25 2014 at 8:15 AM

We have more generals and flag ranked officers in the military now than we had in WW II. Cut out a lot of that dead wood also!

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dgosbee February 25 2014 at 1:38 PM

Really smart! Take money from the programs that keep us safe and give it to the ones who don't contribute substantially to the wellbeing or productivity of the country. They need to start cutting back on some of the waste and corruption in entittlements. This is the most screwed up thing this administration has done yet, and they have done a lot of screwed up stuff.

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1 reply
jacksirish dgosbee February 25 2014 at 1:50 PM

They should have started on that "waste and corruption" thing under Bush and Cheney. There was a lot more of it then than now.

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gkwahlberg February 25 2014 at 1:39 PM

What a bunch of fools. It will come back to cause us unmeasurable trouble.

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1 reply
jacksirish gkwahlberg February 25 2014 at 1:49 PM

Don't need 'em?

Don't feed 'me.

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