Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Defense Secretary Gives Dire Assessment Hagel Warns That the Pentagon May Face Tough Choices If Huge Budget Cuts Aren't Lifted

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Defense Secretary Gives Dire Assessment Hagel Warns That the Pentagon May Face Tough Choices If Huge Budget Cuts Aren't Lifted

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Wednesday that if across-the-board budget cuts were not lifted, the United States would have to reduce its global security objectives by trading away the size of its armed forces or its edge in technology as the Pentagon seeks to remain solvent.

In a dire assessment of the financial challenges facing the military, Mr. Hagel said the political stalemate between the White House and Congress over a comprehensive deal for taxes and spending has required the Defense Department to plan for a range of cuts, since a deal to lift the across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester remains elusive.

Under the largest cuts the Pentagon is considering, Mr. Hagel described a trade-off: The military, he said, could maintain its size -- as measured in the number of Army brigades, Navy warships, Air Force fighter squadrons and Marine expeditionary units -- but not buy the most advanced new weapons. Or, he said, the Pentagon could shrink the force and put money into the next generation of weaponry.

A decision to trade numbers for capability would involve a large drop in the size of the active-duty Army, which could shrink to between 380,000 and 450,000 troops. The Marine Corps would drop to between 150,000 and 175,000 personnel. (Under current budget orders, the Army already is set to fall over five years to 490,000 from a peak of 570,000, and the Marines are to drop to 182,000 from 202,000. The ground forces still would be slightly larger than they were before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the start of a decade- long military buildup.)

The largest Pentagon cuts would also require a concurrent reduction in aircraft carrier strike groups to eight or nine from 11. In addition, some number of Air Force squadrons could be retired.

"This strategic choice would result in a force that would be technologically dominant, but would be much smaller and able to go fewer places and do fewer things, especially if crises occurred at the same time in different regions of the world," Mr. Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference.

The other option -- to maintain a sizable military to assure an overseas presence and project global power -- would require cancellation or curtailment of weapons programs, while slowing development of cyberwarfare tools and reducing the number of special operations forces, Mr. …

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