3 days ago, on Feb. 24, 2014, the Obama administration made a bombshell of an announcement.
In a speech outlining the administration’s proposed defense budget, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that after more than a decade of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, US military leaders no longer plan to “conduct long and large stability operations.” It is time to “reset” for a new era (whatever that means), and so the Pentagon plans to scale back the US Army by more than an eighth to its lowest level since before World War II.
What the scaling back will mean:
- In numbers, that means shrinking American forces by 13%, from 520,000 active duty troops to between 440,000 and 450,000, the lowest manning levels since 1940, before the American military dramatically expanded after entering World War II. The Pentagon had previously planned to downsize the ground force to about 490,000. But Hagel warned that to adapt to future threats “the army must accelerate the pace and increase the scale of its post-war drawdown.”
- Shrinking the army national guard and reserves by 5%.
- Reduce the US Navy’s planned fleet of littoral combat ships (LCS) from 52 to 32. LCS is a small vessel designed for coastal waters that faces questions about its reliability. The Navy is required to study developing similar ships with heavier weapons and tougher defenses.
- Massive cuts to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), the organization that has led the U.S. military’s efforts to combat IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) — a weapon of choice among insurgents and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. JIEDDO’s current staff of 3,000 will be reduced to 1,000 by the end of this fiscal year, and further plans could see the number fall as low as 400 down the road.
The proposed military reduction would be carried out by 2017, a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
Under a bipartisan accord adopted in December 2013 to avert automatic spending cuts, the Defense Department will have a $496 billion budget for fiscal year 2015. Other parts of the Obama administration’s proposed defense budget include:
- While the army will see troop numbers drop, the military’s elite special operations forces will be increased to 69,700 — up from 66,000 currently.
- Scrapping the Air Force’s entire fleet of A-10 “tank killer” aircraft and retiring the storied U-2 spy plane that dates back to the 1950s.
- Slowing growth in military pay and benefits — which make up nearly half the Pentagon’s budget — and closing more bases in the United States.
Altogether, Hagel said the reductions would mean a smaller military force that would entail some “added risk” but it would still be able to defeat an adversary in one region while also “supporting” air and naval operations in another.
The Pentagon for years had planned to ensure the army could fight two major wars at the same time but that doctrine has been abandoned. Even under the planned reductions, the US Army will remain one of the largest in the world and the U.S. military’s budget still dwarfs other countries’ defense spending.
The Obama administration’s plan comes amid growing fiscal pressures and after years of protracted counter-insurgency campaigns, which saw the army reach a peak of more than 566,000 troops in 2010. Having withdrawn US forces from Iraq in 2011, Obama has promised to end America’s combat role in Afghanistan by the end of this year.
The proposed cut in manpower along with plans to retire some older aircraft and reform benefits for troops could run into stiff resistance in Congress.
A senior US military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged the political challenge: “We’re going to need some help from our elected representatives to get this budget across the finish line.”
Several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee immediately expressed reservations about the budget proposal. As an example, Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who sits on the committee, said the proposals had the “potential to harm America’s military readiness.”
Lawmakers also have long resisted base closures or any reform of military pay, pensions or other benefits.