U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says automatic government spending cuts, if they continue, will force the Pentagon to reduce its forces by tens of thousands of troops or cancel plans to develop and buy new weapons.
The U.S. defense budget already is being cut by $46 billion this year under the automatic cuts known as sequestration. If the cuts continue, the Pentagon will have to cut $500 billion in the next 10 years.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said a review he ordered on the effects of the cuts shows the reductions will inevitably hurt the U.S. military's readiness.
“The review showed that the in-between budget scenario we evaluated would bend our defense strategy in important ways and sequester level cuts would break some parts of the strategy, no matter how the cuts were made," said Hagel.
He said the cuts would mean the armed forces would have fewer options at their disposal for defending U.S. interests and require the Pentagon to make a devastating choice.
“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," he said.
Under the scenario that Hagel presented, the U.S. military would have to get rid of up to three of its 11 aircraft carriers and reduce the size of the Army to as low as 380,000 troops from a recent wartime high of 570,000. The Marines would see reductions to as few as 150,000 from a wartime high of 205,000.
The carrier numbers and troop levels would be the lowest since the drawdown that followed World War II.
Hagel's message was indirectly meant for Congress, which remains locked in a budget dispute with the Obama administration. The failure of both sides to reach an agreement on the federal budget resulted in the implementation of those automatic cuts.