February 24th, 2014
01:34 PM ET

Get real, Hagel tells nation in proposing military cuts

By Tom Cohen

Get real, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told America on Monday in proposing a scaled back, modern military that would cut the Army to its pre-World War II size, retire the A-10 "Warthog" attack jet and reduce some benefits for fighting forces.

"This is a budget that recognizes the reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges, the dangerous world we live in, and the American military's unique and indispensable role in the security of this country and in today's volatile world," Hagel said in unveiling the Defense Department spending plan for 2015 and beyond.

"There are difficult decisions ahead," he added. "That is the reality we're living with."

Downsizing due to modernization and budget constraints began under Hagel's predecessor, Robert Gates, and the proposal outlined on Monday described a new phase in the transition.

"Not a war-footing budget"

"For the first time in 13 years we will be presenting a budget to the Congress of the United States that's not a war-footing budget," Hagel said in response to reporters' questions. "That's a defining budget because it starts to reset and reshape."

Under it, the former senator from Nebraska said the military would become a smaller, more tactical force capable of fighting on one war front and maintaining effective defenses for a second while shifting to more specialized capabilities.

"Our analysis showed that this force would be capable of decisively defeating aggression in one major combat theater - as it must be - while also defending the homeland and supporting air and naval forces engaged in another theater against an adversary," he said.

The proposal endorsed Monday by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who appeared with Hagel at the Pentagon news conference, is certain to face strong opposition in Congress - especially with midterm elections coming up in November.

Hagel's budget will be formally proposed next week and legislators from states or districts with major military bases or a heavy presence of contractors are expected to rail against it.

In recent years, Republican hawks have battled military force reductions under President Barack Obama's attempts to reduce defense spending as part of overall deficit reduction.

Conservative Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a possible GOP presidential contender in 2016, questioned the planned cuts in forces at a time of varying threats and a U.S. shift in emphasis to the Asia-Pacific region, saying it "does not make strategic sense."

"It's going to be a far slimmer military," noted CNN Military Analyst and retired Maj. Gen. James "Spider" Marks, predicting a rough reception in Washington. "This is the toughest part - the political part."

Retired NATO commander: It's necessary

Retired Army Gen. George Joulwan, a former NATO supreme allied commander in Europe, said he thought the changes were necessary.

"Whether it's smart or not is yet to be seen. But I think it's necessary to do, given the constraints that we face fiscally within the United States," he told CNN.

For now, the Pentagon budget for the rest of this fiscal year and for 2015 is about $500 billion for each, as set by a congressional compromise in December.

Hagel acknowledged the changes he proposed mean assuming more risk, but said the military would be better situated to respond to the evolving security challenges facing the country.

The recommendations in the budget plan for 2015 and ensuing years "favor a smaller and more capable force - putting a premium on rapidly deployable, self-sustaining platforms that can defeat more technologically advanced adversaries," Hagel said.

He added that the proposal includes "important investments to preserve a safe, secure, reliable, and effective nuclear force."

All military forces, both active and reserve, would be cut under the budget plan.

It calls for reducing the Army to a level of 440,000 to 450,000 troops, which would be the lowest total in more than 70 years. At its height, the Army had 570,000 troops after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and currently has about 520,000.

According to Hagel, the budget proposal protects funding for cyberwarfare and special operations, and preserves money for the controversial and costly F-35 fighter jet.

Warthogs retired?

His plan would retire the A-10, which Hagel called a 40-year-old, single-purpose aircraft designed for Cold War operations, at a cost savings of $3.5 billion over five years.

Separately, Hagel said 900 additional Marines would be assigned to bolster security at embassies around the world under his proposal.

Diplomatic security has received close scrutiny since a terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Also, Hagel said the plan envisions increasing special operations forces from 66,000 today to 69,700 in the future to better meet tactical needs of a modern military requiring counterterrorism and crisis response.

Other provisions would reduce some benefits for military personnel, resulting in them having to shoulder more of their housing and medical costs. Reducing the federal subsidy to commissaries would mean smaller discounts for groceries on U.S. bases.

Through his remarks, Hagel warned that if Congress fails to eliminate planned across-the-board spending cuts beyond 2016, the military reductions would be on a greater scale and significant enough to compromise U.S. national security.

Some of those forced cuts, known as sequestration, were eased for this year and next under the budget deal worked out by Congress in December.

CNN's Halimah Abdullah and CNNMoney's Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Hagel • Military
soundoff (1,800 Responses)
  1. Angela

    An ineegliltnt answer – no BS – which makes a pleasant change

    May 4, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Reply
  2. Kandice Lottig

    It is about time we started to change our ways when thinking of our elite military forces. These thirteen years of war have really taken a toll on not only the budget but the standards the military represents as well. Back when this all kicked off the flood gates opened allowing almost anyone to join and in a time of a troubled economy a job in the military seemed so secure and promising. However the truth is that this line of work is not meet for just anyone it takes a lot of determination and self-control. This massive force calls for a much bigger budget, but if the soldier is not devoted why should the military devote to them? Main focus is that allowing the military to be cut will ensure that only the best of the best remain therefore making all the branches more elite and not wasting a cent of the hard earned paycheck. It’s all about making the cut where it makes the most sense for everyone not just a particular group. With a smaller force and smarter decisions on the training and equipment that actually has the best results rather than just checking the block would without a doubt bring a higher rate of success to the table. As a final note, service members give back more than plenty for everything they do and taking from their benefits should not even be considered.

    April 29, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Reply
  3. Noshel

    Hagel is right, we have this dinosaur military , only using its so-call smartest weapons on wedding parties and killing women and children, and continue to believe that real terrorist wear dress. lol

    March 22, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Reply
    • Raider

      Mr. Noshel Thanks for your insightful and erudite interest in National Defense.

      March 26, 2014 at 11:55 am | Reply
    • Sissy

      Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the msagese home a bit, but other than that, this is great blog. A great read. I'll certainly be back.

      May 4, 2014 at 5:24 am | Reply
  4. odin029

    The American people want a military that seems to the rest of the world like it can be in all places at all times(even if it really can't). The cutbacks just show one more area where the rest of the world is going to get close or perhaps pass us by one day. Perception is a powerful thing, and we're cutting back while China and Russia aren't.

    March 22, 2014 at 10:26 am | Reply
  5. firefighter108

    With Russia up to their old tricks, seems like a perfect time to cut back our defense???????

    March 22, 2014 at 2:42 am | Reply
  6. Phelix Unger

    This is the new reality, because of the nature of the new beast in the world. Terrorism will be dealt with much more on a local scale, maximizing the combat special forces to the full capability of personnel and equipment. There was no reference to dismantling the naval capabilities, which is still the largest navy and amphibious fighting force on the planet. It is better to optimize your miltary and get rid of redunant and costly overspending that is currently taking place just to make a congressman or woman, as well as senators who try and manipulate the voting public. The people at the top of the military understand this much more then poiticians who will cut of their nose to spite their faces.

    Peace

    March 20, 2014 at 1:35 am | Reply
    • GrammarPolice

      Silly! Only God can make a congressman or congresswoman.

      March 22, 2014 at 8:24 am | Reply
  7. Guest

    Conflict heating up yet again, what a wonderful time to undermine the trust the military has in its government to provide the benefits and pay they promised. I sure hope nothing terrible happens while we're all heading for the exit for jobs that pay commensurate to our skills and experience and the job's requirements.

    Minimum wage's buying power gets eroded over time by inflation and that's not cool, but when the Pentagon does the same thing with pay raises below increases in the cost of living, that's completely fine.

    US companies use federal welfare programs to subsidize their low wages and that's an outrage, but US troops redeemed $104 million in food stamps at commissaries last year and it's completely fine to increase their grocery bills by 20%.

    March 6, 2014 at 9:24 am | Reply
  8. Peace

    It's a crying shame but time to get moving on the Key Stone Pipe Line ! Remember those gas pump lines during Carter we all sat in ? Can it happen again ?

    March 4, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Reply
    • Ron

      Tell a lie long enough people will believe it. It was Nixon who failed to provide leadership in the mid-East in the early seventies. OPEC was in charge 1973 and decided to embargo oil to punish the US for sending arms to Israel. Carter just happen to be in office when the Arabs who were P.O.'s at the Shah of Iran for not joining OPEC lead a take over of that country. We were getting a hell of a lot oil from the Shah but that just stopped over night. Fear drove the price of oil out of sight on speculation. That was the second crisis for consumers and the one the Republicans like to drag out when its time to trash Carter for all that had happen since 1973.

      March 4, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Reply
    • Tereza

      So excited I found this article as it made things much qureick!

      May 4, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Reply
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