Washington (AFP) – The Pentagon plans to scale back the U.S. Army to its lowest level since before World War II in a proposed budget reflecting the end of 13 years of war in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday recommended shrinking the army from 520,000 active duty troops to 440,000-450,000, saying that “after Iraq and Afghanistan, we are no longer sizing the military to conduct long and large stability operations.”
If approved by Congress, the move would reduce the army to its lowest levels since 1940, before the American military dramatically expanded after entering World War II.
The proposed 13 percent reduction in the army would be carried out by 2017, a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
The move comes amid growing fiscal pressures and after years of protracted counter-insurgency campaigns, which saw the Army reach a peak of more than 566,000 troops in 2010.
US troops have already withdrawn from Iraq and President Barack Obama has promised to end America’s combat role in Afghanistan by the end of this year.
The Pentagon had previously planned to downsize the ground force to about 490,000.
But Hagel warned that to adapt to future threats “the Army must accelerate the pace and increase the scale of its post-war drawdown.”
He said the changes “would result in a smaller army, but would help ensure the army remains well-trained and clearly superior in arms and equipment.”
Hagel also said the army national guard and reserves would be cut by five percent.
The smaller force would entail some “added risk” but it would still be able to defeat an adversary in one region while also “supporting” air and naval operations in another, he said.
His comments confirmed the Pentagon has abandoned the idea of ensuring the army could fight two major wars at the same time.
The proposed budget also calls for scrapping the Air Force’s entire fleet of A-10 “Warthog” aircraft and retiring the storied U-2 spy plane.
Instead, commanders have opted to invest more in the new F-35 fighter and the unmanned Global Hawk surveillance drone.
Hagel also called for slowing growth in pay and benefits, which make up nearly half the Pentagon’s budget.
Military spending doubled after the attacks of September 11, 2001 but has started to decline as lawmakers push to slash the government’s budget and debt.
Under a bipartisan accord adopted in December, the Defense Department will have a $496 billion budget for fiscal year 2015.
But the Pentagon has a “wish list” of $26 billion that would fund new weapons and bolster training programs.
Hagel warned that if automatic budget cuts resume in two years, the effects would be devastating and force more drastic reductions in manpower and equipment.
The full U.S. federal budget will be presented officially on March 4.
Photo: Secretary of Defense via Flickr