By CNN Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy
President Barack Obama's plan to cut the defense budget by half a trillion dollars over the coming decade include trimming the Army by at least 38,000 soldiers and grounding of a number of drones, defense officials told CNN Wednesday.
The officials - all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity - laid out details of the cuts, which are to be released Thursday by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.
As part of those cuts, the officials said, the Air Force will ground 30 Global Hawk drones - used for surveillance and reconnaissance - and will not buy new ones. The drones are to be replaced by U-2s, the high-altitude, piloted recon aircraft that have similar capabilities and are paid for.
It was not clear how many aircraft will be cut, the officials said. But that could be an anomaly in this area as the budget is expected to call for maintaining or increasing the investment in drones, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), Special Operations forces and cyber capabilities.
The Navy's number of carriers will drop from 11 to 10 for three years but then return to its previous strength, the officials said. The temporary drop in carrier strength is explained by the fact that the USS Enterprise is to be decommissioned this fall, and the USS Ford is not slated for completion for three years, they said.
In addition, seven old cruisers will be mothballed as will a few old, small, amphibious ships, the officials said.
The Army's troop strength will drop from its current force of 558,000 to 520,000 and perhaps to 490,000, the officials said. Two brigades - a total of 7,000 to 8,000 soldiers - will be moved from Europe to the United States, which would leave about 40,000 soldiers in Europe, they said.
The officials said the Marines, too, would see a reduction in troop strength, but they could not quantify how many would be cut.
The officials described the cuts before Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's dinner with congressional leaders to preview Thursday's planned announcement.
There may be more cost-cutting ahead. That's because the failure of Congress and the president to come to terms on budget cuts could leave the military on the hook for another $500 billion in automatic reductions.
Early this month, Obama traveled to the Pentagon to unveil his plan for a leaner, cheaper military that he said will retain the nation's ability to fight terrorism and to confront new threats from countries such as China and Iran.
"We are determined to maintain a ready and capable force, even as we reduce our overall capacity," the administration said in a summary of its defense priorities. "Our global responsibilities are significant; we cannot afford to fail."
The strategy is the result of months of study at the Pentagon. And it is a high-stakes, high-wire balancing act by Obama as he faces a more austere budget climate with U.S. demands at home and overseas.
The plan has run into opposition from Republicans on Capitol Hill and Republican presidential candidates concerned about paring the military. In addition, conservative defense analysts say that the plan steps away from the long-time U.S. commitment to be able to wage two major wars simultaneously.
But Panetta has disputed that, saying the nation will retain the capability to defeat more than one adversary at a time.