The Defense Department is considering reducing the Army to its smallest size since 2001 because of the sequester’s automatic spending cuts.
In a strategy released Wednesday, the Pentagon said one scenario being considered would shrink the Army from 490,00 to between 380,000 and 450,000 troops.
The Marine Corps would be slashed from 182,000 to between 150,00 to 175,000, and the number of aircraft carrier strike groups would be reduced from 11 to eight or nine.
The troop cuts outlined Wednesday would make the U.S. military unable to wage two wars simultaneously — a significant break from past Pentagon strategy.
The reductions would be made to take into account $500 billion in spending cuts mandated by the sequester over the next decade. The cuts began in March, and would reduce Pentagon spending by $52 billion next year.
Another scenario outlined in the sequester strategy would keep current troop numbers, but abandon vital weapons programs designed to replace several aging systems in the Pentagon’s arsenal.
Abandoning those weapons programs will result in a “decade-long modernization holiday,” the report said, leaving the U.S. military stockpile in an increasing state of disrepair, especially after more than a decade of constant combat.
The Pentagon still argues Congress should get rid of the sequester so that the scheduled cuts are not made.
Hagel on Wednesday called on Congress to ensure the scenarios outlined in the Pentagon strategy do not come to pass.
“It is the responsibility of our nation’s leadership to work together to replace the mindless and irresponsible policy of sequestration,” he said.
House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) chastised lawmakers, saying said that Congress was “abdicating its constitutional responsibility to responsibly fund the military” by allowing sequestration to continue.
“We are already on a path to significant deficit reductions. I am in favor of simply lifting sequestration and ceasing to impose these dramatic costs on our military,” Smith said in a statement Wednesday.
In response, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said that Wednesday’s Pentagon report was a “budget-driven” exercise, and didn’t address the underlying strategy issues. But he said it made clear that further cuts will “cause catastrophic readiness shortfalls.”
“We will lose our workforce and ability to recruit and retain the all volunteer force, and our influence around the world will continue to diminish,” McKeon said in a statement.
“Our enemies will feel emboldened, and this is precisely what I plan to address with [Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton] Carter tomorrow,” he added, referring to a Thursday hearing on the Pentagon’s review.
Under the scenario envisioning troop cuts, the Pentagon would spend more for advanced weapons, such as the Joint Strike Fighter, cyber warfare and special operations forces. This would be intended to make up for lost capabilities related to the troop reductions.
If it keeps the troop levels, Hagel said the Pentagon would have to scuttle a number of ongoing or future weapons projects, resulting in a “decade-long modernization holiday.”
“These ... approaches illustrate the difficult trade-offs and strategic choices that would face the department in a scenario where sequester-level cuts continue,” he said.
The Pentagon’s plan would also reduce benefits by transitioning retired military personnel from the Pentagon’s insurance plan to private-sector plans.
Pentagon leaders would limit pay raises for military and civilian employees as well, and decrease subsidies for housing and cost-of-living expenses for overseas personnel.
In an effort to highlight the effect the cuts are having on the military, Hagel said the Pentagon will begin submitting two versions of its annual budget plan to the White House over the next four years, beginning in 2015.
The dual budget submissions will include “one at the President’s budget level and one at sequester-level caps,” Hagel said.
—This story was updated at 8:40 p.m.