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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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davehagler00 February 27 2014 at 1:33 PM

This is interesting

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jongrif851 February 26 2014 at 4:17 PM

So here's the BIGGER question.

If they are cutting back on the Army's personnel, how many General Officer positions will be cut out ....?? Not a word about that. !!!!!

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dgcajun101 February 25 2014 at 8:00 PM

go right on ahead!!! I want to hear you scream about the guys not having equipment just like happened after herr klinton cut them to the bone and then we went into Kuwait with virtually no equipment and NO bullet proof vests. no armored Humvees etc. and we had to go into a heavy spending spree to equip the boys. everyone screamed about not having the equipment and then started screaming when they found out the cost of all of it!!!! go ahead and equip all these other nations with arms and cut our own to the bone and see what happens in the world!!

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Eric February 25 2014 at 8:13 PM

Ah...we "went into Kuwait" before President Clinton. If you are speaking of the second (and much less well thought out invasion) Iraqi War, then you are merely being silly instead of being ignorant.

As a side note: I aways find it amusing how conservatives find ways to blame others for their many failures...heck, they were blaming Clinton for things that was happening seven years into the Bush administration...and then found ways to blame things on President Obama that happened before he became president.

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Bill February 25 2014 at 6:15 PM

What a great idea, move people from productive jobs to unemployment and food stamps - make sure they need to have unemployment and food stamps to survive and that they will need to vote for compassionate (?) politicians when shovel-ready jobs never seem to appear. It's all part of their loving/caring plan to make the middle class forever dependent on the crumbs from their table. Yes, there are some defense things that are a waste but why doesn't the administration ever want to address the waste in the rest of the government.

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Charlene February 25 2014 at 6:04 PM

They are not living in the real world. We are giving money to other countries to build up arsenals and weapons --- and we are cutting our spending at home? Someone, please make sense of this

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Eric February 25 2014 at 6:51 PM

Nations, especially wealthy nations, give aid to other countries. It is a way to influence those countries without the need for an over-bloated military threatening those countries to do the wealthier nation's will.

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philsun73 February 25 2014 at 6:02 PM

Get ready now to fight the Muslim Brotherhood right here on our own soil General Obama of the Muslim Brotherhood Army, is clearing the path for a sure fire victory.

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Eric February 25 2014 at 6:51 PM

Rolling my eyes...

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larry February 25 2014 at 5:27 PM

More proof, Obama is out to ruin this country. Obama has divided this country, divided the American people, ruined the jobs and housing market, Lied to the American people, crammed Obamacare down our throats and NOW he has put the United States in jeoperdy by reduceing our military. 2016 cannot come soon enough for the American people.

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Eric February 25 2014 at 6:52 PM

Okay...you've gotten all the nonsensical talk radio talking points in...

...now, try to think for yourself...

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Cheryl February 25 2014 at 5:22 PM

of course the Dems want to cut military and make this country at risk. Military are mostly Republicans. This country is so messed up. We are so divided and the Dems have no respect for our military. So what's the plan. The Dems coming up with their own separate military? What's next.

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Eric February 25 2014 at 5:13 PM

Lets consider this nightmare scenerio:

A Republican becomes President of the United States (I know, already terrifying). This president expands neoliberal economic policies abroad angering both our economic rivals and our closest allies alike. This president takes a hardline military stance against those countries to the point that the United Nations declares resolutions to invade the United States (I know that cannot happen because of the make-up of the UN, but I am creating a fantasy here).

Because of this resolution, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, India and Japan dedicate their entire military to this invasion.

Unfortunately for these countries, the United States, in 2014, still spends more on its military than all those countries combined. The invasion fails....

Even in the right wings most paranoid fantasies, cutting back on the military making our country "weaker" cannot be seen as anything but a fantasy.

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hduque8843 February 25 2014 at 4:56 PM

Don't think it is a good idea.

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