Army: Budget cuts are opportunity

The Army is better positioned now than in previous eras to implement deep budget cuts, service Secretary John McHugh said Monday.

Unlike other points in history when U.S. defense budgets were cut, “we’ve seen this downturn coming for a while,” the former Republican congressman from New York said. That means the Army is “better positioned to deal with it.”

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In a morning speech at an Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington, McHugh signaled cuts to the defense budget will force service officials to shed personnel as a means of trimming costs.

The Defense Department is working to begin cutting $350 billion over 10 years under an agreement worked out in Congress in August to raise the federal debt. The Pentagon says the cuts would mean it would get around $460 billion less than projected in its last long-term budget plan.

As part of the debt deal, a newly formed supercommittee has been tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in cuts by Thanksgiving, or automatic cuts will be triggered across the board.

One of those triggers would set off an additional $600 billion in national security cuts. The bulk of that amount likely would come from the military, and Pentagon brass say that would “hollow out” the fighting force and cripple the defense manufacturing sector.

While some congressional hawks have warned against cutting the size of the military, McHugh said Army officials feel that as the Afghanistan and Iraq wars wind down they can operate with a smaller force.

The Army must continue steps to reform and restructure itself, he said, warning against what “others will do to us.” He also slammed “talking heads” who question the need for a large standing Army. These analysts, he said, wrongly see a future “that looks like ‘Transformers.’ ”

The secretary’s comments come as the candidates in the 2012 presidential race are starting to flesh out their foreign policy positions. Front-runner Mitt Romney last week advocated expanding the military’s budget through an expansion of troop levels and the purchase of new warships and weapons, while Jon Huntsman, in a Monday speech, advocated for what he described as a modernization of defense forces in a post-Cold War world.

This story was posted at 3:35 p.m. and updated 8:03 p.m.