You've Never Seen a Defense Budget Like This

New threats and priorities will yield a military financial plan unlike any in recent decades.

Northern Alliance soldiers watch U.S. airstrikes pound Taliban positions in Kunduz province near the town of Khanabad, Afghanistan, Nov. 19, 2001. Opposition fighters held back from any offensive against Kunduz, the Taliban's only remaining redoubt in the north of Afghanistan. But they continued to encircle it while American planes pounded Taliban front lines just outside the city.
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[READ: Afghanistan by the Numbers]

The military will likely return attention to older, cheaper fighters such as the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, says Stokes, for missions that don't require stealth capabilities, and save that money for the future.

The Navy has embraced this idea with it's designs for Littoral Combat Ships, he adds, designed to be "vanilla platforms" that can accommodate multiple missions such as mine-sweeping, anti-submarine warfare or land attacks.

Other systems could be classified as obsolete, including ground combat vehicles the Army plans to develop. That branch of the military is having an identity crisis of sorts, says Harrison.

"It's not clear if we're focusing on the Asia Pacific region, why you need a half million man army," he says. "What are you going to do with them, or 182,000 Marines?"

Determining where a potential Defense Secretary Hagel will cut is as important as what he'll save. Experts agree the driving public sentiment, as well as Hagel's own experience, points to protecting the benefits of a rapidly downsizing force.

[TALIBAN: U.S. Will 'Declare Victory and Run']

"Hagel has unimpeachable credibility and will be unimpeachably dedicated to veterans," says Stokes.

The Defense Department must cut force structure to maintain readiness, he says. Having too much force structure means the Pentagon won't be able to invest in training and preparation for the forces it will need.

"[Hagel] will not want to cut pay and benefits to warfighters," says Thompson. "He will not want to trim veterans benefits."

The scale of future military spending is going to be driven largely by the credit worthiness and availability of resources the federal government has rather than the type of threat the United States faces, Thompson reiterates. This will likely produce a military force where soldiers and sailors are rewarded well, but the weapons they carry are relatively old and unevenly maintained.

"It reflects the fact that it's much easier to protect military pay and benefits in the political system than to protect weapons programs," he says.

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