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Pentagon's Warnings Intend to Avert Budget Standoff

  • Luis Ramirez

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week unleashed a new campaign to break the U.S. budget impasse that triggered the recent massive automatic cuts known as "sequestration." Hagel had a list of specific areas where U.S. defense will suffer if Congress and the Obama administration do not reach a budget deal soon.

Among the things to go could be three of the 11 U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups.

For months, the Defense Department had been issuing dire warnings about the weakening effect that massive, automatic cuts to the defense budget would have on the U.S. armed forces.

This week, Defense secretary Chuck Hagel laid out some options, with specifics.

“In the first approach, we would trade away size for high-end capability. This would further shrink the active Army to between 380,000 to 450,000 troops, reduce the number of carrier strike groups from 11 to 8 or 9, draw down the Marine Corps from 182,000 to between 150,000 and 175,000, and retire older Air Force bombers,” said Hagel.

The second option would be to maintain a large force - with the accompanying high costs of health care and other benefits - and put off investing in new weaponry.

“The basic trade-off is between capacity measured in the number of army brigades, navy ships, air force squadrons, and marine battalions and capability - our ability to modernize weapons systems and maintain our military's technological edge,” said Hagel.

Some Pentagon officials prefer the option of cutting the size of the force and relying more on unmanned aerial vehicles - or drones - and special operations forces.

Defense budget analyst Todd Harrison said regardless of whether the budget crisis is resolved, the Pentagon is due for massive reductions following the end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Smaller is not necessarily worse if smaller means that you have better capabilities and you can do more with a smaller force. That is the big question mark here,” said Harrison.

The Pentagon's past warnings about the effects of sequestration went unheeded. The budget crisis continued, and the automatic cuts kicked in. Harrison said Hagel, by offering details of the effects, is trying to get Congress' attention.

“What I think Secretary Hagel was trying to do with this is reestablish some of that credibility by making more specific projections of what would be required under sequestration, rather than painting in broad strokes,” said Harrison.

Defense officials hope the warning pushes Congress and the Obama administration to break their budget impasse.
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