Pentagon cuts reshape military, trim costs
The Pentagon unveiled a 2013 budget plan on Thursday that would cut the size of the U.S. military by eliminating nearly 100,000 ground troops, mothballing ships and trimming air squadrons in an effort to reduce spending by $487 billion over the next decade.
The funding request, which includes painful cuts that will be felt across the country, sets the stage for a new struggle between President Barack Obama's administration and Congress over how much the Pentagon should spend on national security as the country ends a decade of war and tries to curb trillion-dollar budget deficits.
"Make no mistake, the savings that we are proposing will impact all 50 states and many districts, congressional districts across America," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a news conference at the Pentagon.
"This will be a test of whether reducing the deficit is about talk or action."
Panetta, previewing plans that will be detailed next month, said he would ask for a $525 billion base budget for the 2013 fiscal year, the first time since before the September 11, 2001, attacks that the Pentagon has asked for less than the previous year. That compares with $531 billion approved this year.
Panetta said he would seek $88.4 billion to support overseas combat operations, primarily in Afghanistan, down from $115 billion in 2012 largely due to the end of the war in Iraq and the withdrawal of U.S. forces there at the end of last year.
Congress ultimately controls the Pentagon's purse strings and regularly intervenes to change the size and detail of military spending as it sees fit. The Defense Department's budget accounts for about 20 percent of total federal spending.
Republican lawmakers who oversee military affairs on Capitol Hill sharply criticized the plan.
Senator John McCain said it "ignored the lessons of history" by imposing massive cuts on the military, and Representative Buck McKeon said it reflected "Obama's vision of an America that is weakened, not strengthened, by our men and women in uniform."
More Cuts to Come?
The 2013 budget is Panetta's first as defense secretary and is the first to take into account the Budget Control Act passed by Congress in August that requires the Pentagon to cut $487 billion in projected spending over the next decade.
The budget plan does not take into account an additional $600 billion in defense cuts that could be required after Congress failed to pass a compromise agreement to cut government spending by $1.2 trillion. The Pentagon could face cuts of another $50 billion a year, starting in 2013, unless Congress changes the law.
The budget begins to flesh out a new military strategy announced by the Pentagon earlier this month that calls for a shift in focus from the ground wars of the past decade towards efforts to preserve stability in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.
"To ensure an agile and ready force, we made a conscious choice not to maintain more force structure than we could afford to properly train and equip," Panetta said. "The budget also seeks to retain the most flexible, versatile and technologically advanced platforms needed for the future."
The budget plan would provide new challenges for the Pentagon's top suppliers, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.
The plan retains but slows the purchase of weapons like Lockheed's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon's largest procurement program, as well as submarines, amphibious assault ships and other vessels. It would retain a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers.
The Pentagon would increase its emphasis on drone aircraft, go ahead with a long-range bomber and proceed with other weapons that would allow it to project power from a longer range.
That capability is needed in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East as countries like Iran and China develop arms that could threaten U.S. aircraft carriers in international waters near their shores.
The size of the active-duty Army would be trimmed to 490,000 over five years from its wartime peak of 570,000 in 2010 and the size of the Marine Corps would fall to 182,000 from its high of about 202,000.
Military pay increases would begin to slow after two more years of growth, and fees would be increased on healthcare benefits for military retirees, those who served more than 20 years, both above and below the age of 65.
In addition, the Pentagon would:
- Delay development of a new ballistic missile submarine by two years.
- Eliminate six of the Air Force's tactical-air fighter squadrons and retire or divest 130 aircraft used for moving troops and equipment.
- Retire seven Navy cruisers and two smaller amphibious ships early, postpone the purchase of a big-deck amphibious ship by one year and postpone the planned purchase of a number of other vessels for several years.
- Eliminate two Army heavy brigades stationed in Europe and compensate by rotating U.S. based units into the region for training and exercises.
- Study the possibility of further reducing the size of U.S. nuclear arsenal.
- Begin a new round of talks on closing bases made unnecessary by the smaller force.
[Source: By David Alexander and Jim Wolf, Reuters, Washington, 26Jan12]
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