Hagel Proposes Cuts To Size And Spending of Armed Forces

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has outlined his military spending priorities. His proposed cuts signal that the size of the armed forces, which grew to fight two wars, can't be sustained.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin this hour with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's plan to cut the military. At the Pentagon today, he called for a smaller Army and Marine Corps. He also suggested grounding a vintage Cold War plane and asked troops to pay more for health care and other benefits. Hagel said his budget plan offers a new post-war vision for the Pentagon. But as NPR's Tom Bowman reports, it's a vision that veterans groups and many in Congress don't share.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The biggest cutbacks will hit the Army. Hagel wants to trim as many as 50,000 soldiers, more than the Army generals anticipated. After a dozen years of war, the defense secretary made clear that the days of large American forces endlessly patrolling a foreign land are over.

SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: After Iraq and Afghanistan, we are no longer sizing the military to conduct long and large stability operations.

BOWMAN: So the Army would drop to its lowest level since World War II, about 450,000 troops. The Marine Corps would shrink by a smaller number, the cut of only 8,000, because Hagel said the Marines can deploy to deal with the world today, everything from crisis response to humanitarian disaster. Special operations forces, Navy SEALs and Green Berets will actually increase by a few thousand under Hagel's plan. That's because they, too, can provide what's needed, such as sweeping in and hitting terrorist bases in places like Somalia.

HAGEL: Our recommendations favor a smaller and more capable force, putting a premium on rapidly deployable, self-sustaining platforms that can defeat more technologically advanced adversaries.

BOWMAN: So things like armed drones and surveillance drones will remain and even expand, Hagel said. And he also wants to invest in better technology, from jet engines to ships. Besides ground forces, Hagel proposed cutting the weapons of another era. Gone is an aircraft designed to attack Soviet tanks, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, known as the Warthog. And gone is the U-2, another staple of the Cold War. Proposals to eliminate weapons will likely get some opposition on Capitol Hill, but nothing like Hagel's plan to trim compensation.

HAGEL: We must also address spending on pay and benefits for service members, which since 2001 has risen about 40 percent more than growth in the private sector.

BOWMAN: So the Pentagon is proposing a one percent pay raise and will ask soldiers to pay more for their housing, the food they buy on post and their health care. That doesn't sit well with retired Air Force Colonel Mike Hayden with the Military Officers Association of America. He said the Pentagon is once again making a mistake.

COLONEL MIKE HAYDEN: We did this after Desert Storm One and starting bring down the force, as well as with the Cold War era ending. We started drawing down the force, we started capping pay and cutting back on benefits. And we then get ourselves to a position where we can't find people to recruit or retain because the pay and benefits get cut so far.

BOWMAN: But Hagel said that all the services continue to make recruiting and retention goals. And unless the Pentagon trims pay and benefits now, the personnel costs will continue to grow and crowd out other parts of the budget.

HAGEL: We will inevitably have to either cut into compensation even more deeply and abruptly, or we will have to deprive our men and women of the training and equipment they need to succeed in battle.

BOWMAN: Another kind of battle begins next week. That's when the budget goes to Capitol Hill. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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