'Tough budget choices': Pentagon cuts will shrink military, reduce ground forces

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. military will remain a force that can defeat "any adversary, anywhere, anytime" as he announced the first cuts Thursday in a 10-year, $487 billion reduction in Pentagon spending. 


Panetta said that the new budget reflects "a series of tough budget choices," but would not "hollow out the force" as the military becomes leaner and more agile. 


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"I believe we have developed a very complete package designed to achieve our strategic aims," Panetta said. "Make no mistake, the savings we are proposing will impact all 50 states, and many districts across America."


Panetta said the military will get smaller, and that the new budget would cut Army forces to 490,000 and the Marine Corps to 182,000. The cuts would reduce total ground troops by 100,000, and also include a request for a new round of base closures and slowed production of the F-35 fighter.


The military will retain its full fleet of 11 Navy carriers and 10 air wings, part of the shift toward the Asia-Pacific region. 
The new budget will emphasize areas like special operations, Panetta said, like the mission Tuesday that rescued two Western hostages from Somalia. 


He said that the ground forces, while decreasing, will still be able to win any conflict on land. 


The cuts, which will be fully laid out when the administration releases its budget Feb. 13, are sure to spark a heated battle throughout Washington about whether the proposal is the best path for the future of the military.


Republicans in Congress have blasted the new military strategy, which was announced by President Obama earlier this month, as a threat to America's status as the nation's sole superpower. 


The Pentagon's 2013 budget is designed to reflect Obama's new strategy, and Panetta said the new direction will be able to withstand the lighter budget.
 Panetta, who announced the budget along with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, said the military will remain able to confront any conflict that arises.


Dempsey said the cuts "will not lead to a budget in decline."


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), however, said the proposals should prompt concerns about whether the United States will be able to safeguard its interests. 



“The defense budget that the Obama Administration will propose ignores the lessons of history that we have learned time and again by imposing massive cuts to our force structure and the size of the Army and Marine Corps over the next five years," he said. 


"While I recognize that the Defense Department must play a responsible role in overcoming the debt and spending crisis we face, I am deeply concerned that the size and scope of these cuts would repeat the mistakes of history and leave our forces too small to respond effectively to events that may unfold over the next few years," McCain said.

The Pentagon is requesting $525 billion for 2013, a $6 billion reduction from the base budget. It is also requesting $88.4 billion for overseas contingency operations — a reduction of $26.6 billion from the base budget. 


Over the next five years, Panetta said the Pentagon will cut $259 billion, more than half of the overall total. 
The cuts announced Thursday do not include the threat of sequestration, which would hit defense spending by another $500 billion over the next decade.

Panetta said that he hopes Congress will support the new strategy, and reminded lawmakers that a bipartisan bill put these cuts in place. 
He also urged Congress to avoid the "meat axe approach" of sequestration. 


"This will be a test of whether reducing the deficit is about talk or action," Panetta said.

Among the cuts Panetta announced Thursday were the retirement of 65 C-130 planes and the divestment of 38 C-27J aircraft. The Navy is retiring seven cruisers early.

Panetta said the F-35 remains "essential," but announced there would be delays in procurement.


Military pay increases would be curbed starting in 2015, and there will be increases in healthcare costs for retirees. 
The Pentagon said it found $60 billion in savings through efficiencies and eliminating waste.


As he discussed the cuts, Panetta also talked up many of the things that will continue to be funded or will see an increase. 


Panetta said the Pentagon will be funding the next-generation bomber and the Navy will invest in a new design of its Virginia-class submarine. 
He said the budget supports maintaining Marine presence in the Pacific region, and the United States will look for more partnerships with allies there. 


While the United States is withdrawing two brigades from Europe, Panetta said that the United States would continue to invest in NATO and missile defense in Europe. 


Panetta said the United States will maintain all three parts of its nuclear triad, though the budget will delay the next-generation nuclear submarine for two years.