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Pentagon Plan Cuts Ground Forces by 100,000

January 26, 2012

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a plan today that will cut nearly a half-trillion dollars over the next ten years from the national defense budget. The plan includes cutting U.S. ground forces by roughly 100,000 service members, delaying some planned projects and retiring older planes and ships.

The plan will reduce the size of the Army by 80,000 soldiers with the remaining 20,000 coming from reductions in other branches by 2017. This will bring the overall force size to a level slightly larger than it was on 9/11. Panetta says the proposed plan is a response to changing times, but lawmakers are expressing concerns that it will actually endanger U.S. security.

Panetta says the plan shifts the Pentagon's focus away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to future challenges across the Mideast, Asian and cyberspace. More special operations forces will be available around the world, according to Panetta. "We are at a strategic turning point after a decade of war and after a very substantial growth in the defense budget."

The administration will request a 2013 budget of $525 billion, plus an additional $88 billion for continuing operations in Afghanistan. The combined total is about $33 billion less than Pentagon spending plans in 2012. Penatta said that the Pentagon will again grow the base budget over the next few years until is reaches $567 in 2017. At that point, the cumulative budgets for the five years would be $259 billion less than the administration had planned before striking a deal with Congress last summer to cut the deficit through required spending cuts.

Some details of the new plan include:

  • Shrinking the Army from 570,000 soldiers today to 490,000 by 2017, a cut of 80,000 soldiers.
  • Reducing the Marine Corps ranks from 202,000 this year to 182,000 in 2017. Both the Army and Marine Corps levels are slightly larger than before 9/11.
  • The Navy will keep a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers but retire seven cruisers earlier than planned. The purchase of other ships, including a new Virginia-class submarine, would be delayed.
  • The Air Force would retire some older planes including about two dozen C-5A cargo aircraft and 65 of its oldest C-130 cargo planes.
  • The purchase of F-35 stealth fighter jets to be used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps would be slowed.
  • Military pay raises will remain on track until 2015 when the pace of increase will be slowed by an amount that is yet undetermined. The Pentagon has recommended an increase in health care fees, co-pays and deductibles for retired military members.
  • The plan also includes an option for President Obama to ask Congress for approval on another round of domestic base closures, but the timing was left open and it is unlikely to happen during a presidential election year.

The plan includes a renewed focus on Asia, as both lawmakers in Washington and U.S. allies have raised concerns about China's rapid military modernization. The Pentagon also embraced a proposal by special operations chief Adm. Bill McRaven to have more manpower and equipment sent to worldwide "Theater Special Operations Commands." This would allow the U.S. to strike back wherever threats arise regardless of where the bulk of the military's forces were located.

Panetta said the administration will resist any effort to shrink the Navy's fleet of aircraft carriers and that keeping the peace requires retaining 11 of the warships as a "long-term commitment." Obama has said he hopes to reduce the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, but Panetta said the current structure will be maintained while the Pentagon studies the potential to shrink those forces later. Current plans for building a new generation of submarines to carry long-range nuclear missiles will be delayed at least two years.

Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee which will hold hearings on the proposed budget plan, stated "Taking us back to a pre-9/11 military force structure places our country in grave danger." Several other lawmakers have expressed concern about the amount of cuts being proposed. Republican presidential rivals have also stated that despite the need for fiscal austerity, the size of the proposed cuts will gut the military.

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