Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Monday that his department’s latest budget will shrink the U.S. Army to its smallest size since World War II as part of an overall effort to save $75 billion. Those savings will come from sequestration cuts enacted nearly a year ago, as well as other defense spending reductions.
Hagel emphasized the fact that the U.S. military today is in a much different position than it has been at any time since September 11, 2001. For the first time since the terrorist attacks, the Defense Department will be proposing a budget without a war underway or a military equipped for active conflict. Hagel said the DoD will no longer maintain a military force large enough to conduct sustained stability operations such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reductions will come in both spending and personnel, with the current force of 520,000 active-duty Army soldiers shrinking to around 450,000.
“We are repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future: new technologies, new centers of power and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and in some instances more threatening to the United States,” Hagel said Monday as he previewed the budget at the Pentagon.
The defense secretary also announced changes to personnel spending, which account for about half of all defense spending. Hagel said that there must be changes made to pay and benefits for both active and retired troops because there is simply no way to present a realistic budget without them. “This year we are concluding combat operations in America’s longest war. A war that has lasted 13 years. We must now consider fair and responsible adjustments to our overall military compensation package,” the defense secretary said.
Basic pay will be raised one percent for fiscal year 2015, with raises “restrained” but continuing beyond that. Direct subsidies to military commissaries will be reduced by $1 billion, from a budget of $1.4 billion, with those overseas and in remote locations continuing to receive financing.
Hagel said both the DoD and Congress will have to make “politically difficult choices” when deciding how to approach the defense budget. Some members of Congress oppose cuts that would impact their districts by closing bases or slowing output of military industries like shipbuilding.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said the defense budget is being unfairly targeted at the expense of entitlement programs. He said President Barack Obama was attempting “to solve our financial problems on the back of the military.”
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