WASHINGTON — The Pentagon needs to shrink the U.S. Army to its smallest size since 1940, cut back on shipbuilding, eliminate two types of aircraft, slow the growth in pay and conduct another round of base closings, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday.
In a speech at the Pentagon, Hagel said the defense budget submitted to Congress next week would reflect difficult choices forced by fiscal realities. Moreover, he said, it would be the first in 13 years when the country wasn’t on “war footing.” Combat operations in Afghanistan are scheduled to end late this year.
“We are repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future — new technologies, new centers of power and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and in some instances more threatening to the United States,” Hagel said.
The proposed cuts, which must be approved by Congress, could go even deeper if lawmakers don’t agree to new spending being sought by President Barack Obama for 2015 and if automatic budget cuts known as sequestration kick in again in 2016, Hagel said.
The secretary outlined the following proposals:
•The Army’s active-duty force would be slashed from its current 522,000 to between 440,000 and 450,000 by 2019. The Pentagon had originally planned to cut down to 490,000 after the war in Afghanistan. The force could be reduced to 420,000 if the automatic budget cuts for fiscal year 2016 aren’t modified.
•The Army National Guard will go from 355,000 to 335,000 personnel, while the Reserves will be pared from 205,000 to 195,000, Hagel said. Those cuts also would go deeper without more money added in 2016.
•The Air Force will get rid of the entire fleet of A-10s, known as Warthogs, designed originally to kill enemy tanks on a Cold War battlefield, Hagel said. The 50-year-old U2 spy plane also will be retired.
•The Navy will get 32 Littoral Combat Ships, instead of the planned 52 ships.
•The Army Guard’s Apache attack helicopters will be transferred to active-duty units, and the Guard will get Black Hawk helicopters from active-duty units to bolster disaster relief efforts.