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NORRIS: And as we heard earlier, President Obama wants any deficit reduction deal to include cuts in defense spending. The president has already proposed hundreds of billions in defense cuts and the Gang of Six proposal calls for hundreds of billions more over the next decade. The Pentagon's latest budget request calls for spending about $700 billion on defense next year. That's the highest level since World War II.

As NPR's JJ Sutherland reports, the proposed cuts are going to force some hard choices.

JJ SUTHERLAND: Since 9/11, when the Pentagon asked for money, they got it - a lot of it. Now, reining in that spending is going to force the country to ask some basic questions, really basic.

Professor GORDON ADAMS (American University): What do we want a military to do? What's it supposed to be for?

SUTHERLAND: Gordon Adams is a professor at American University and a long time defense budget analyst, both in and out of government.

Prof. ADAMS: Is it about big wars? Is it about little wars? Is it about nuclear deterrence? Is it about sailing in the oceans? And so on. The key here is you can't do all of them with less money.

SUTHERLAND: And less money means you have to decide what you are and aren't going to do. What are the real dangers the country is going to face in the next decade and just how likely are they?

Prof. ADAMS: For example, are we going to war with China in the next 10 years? Highly unlikely. Are we likely to be invading a lot of states to overthrow regimes like Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 10 years? I'd say that's highly unlikely.

SUTHERLAND: But other dangers, say al-Qaida and its affiliate groups or cyber attack, those are probably more likely and things the military must be ready for, but things that don't require the kind of military the United States maintains today.

Mr. TODD HARRISON (Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments): And that means that there's going to be winners and losers.

SUTHERLAND: Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has some guesses to who those losers may be. First up, the Army and the Marines.

Mr. HARRISON: As we continue the withdrawal from Iraq, we start the drawdown in Afghanistan, eventually these wars will come to an end, troops will be home. I think there's going to be little appetite for this type of major counterinsurgency campaign in the future.

SUTHERLAND: So that could mean reducing the size of the Army and Marine Corps. That would have a quick and real effect. You're not paying as many people, there's less kit to buy, training exercises to run - fewer missions with fewer people doing them. It is one of the few things that can be cut that will have an immediate impact, and there are reports that the Gang of Six deal calls for $80 billion in defense cuts next year.

The Pentagon is already undertaking its own comprehensive strategic review. Here's Ash Carter, the top Defense official for weapons acquisition, at a recent industry conference.

Mr. ASH CARTER (Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics): Comprehensive means comprehensive, and that includes things that usually don't make it onto the table.

SUTHERLAND: Things like, do we really need 11 aircraft carriers? How many fighter jets do we have to have? Is that new bomber a real priority? How big should the Army be? What about how much we pay soldiers, their health care, their pensions and other less glamorous items, like the $100 billion maintenance budget, things that simply haven't been on the table for the current crop of military leaders?

Mr. CARTER: A generation of whom have grown accustomed over the post-9/11 decade to circumstances in which we could always reach for more money when we encountered a managerial or technical problem or a difficult choice, and those days are gone.

SUTHERLAND: That could be a shock to an institution that has grown accustomed to being given nearly unlimited amounts of money for the past decade. Again, Gordon Adams.

Prof. ADAMS: They're going to take a while to adjust to the realization that they're living in scarce resources, instead of the days of wine and roses.

SUTHERLAND: Not everyone has adjusted. The top Republican on defense in the House is warning that deep budget cuts could harm national security. Still, Gordon Adams points out that even a trillion dollar cut over the next 10 years will still leave the United States with the most powerful military force on the planet and the only one with global reach.

JJ Sutherland, NPR News.

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