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The military is now spending about $550 billion in what is called the base budget, not counting war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Analysts say that by 2022 the military would be at 2007 levels, plus inflation.

Gen. Odierno told the House committee that sequestration would mean the Army would have to cancel virtually all of its weapons now in research and development.

Two of the Army’s most coveted systems are the $25 billion Ground Combat Vehicle to replace the Bradley fighting vehicle and the $54 billion Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to replace the Humvee.

Mr. Korb argued that the Army does not need those systems right now because wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan are not in the foreseeable future. The Army can upgrade the Bradleys, Stryker troop-carriers and Humvees at a much lower cost, he said.

“The Army’s problem with modernization is they screwed it up so badly,” he said. “With all the stuff they started and had to cancel, I think the Army basically can fix the Bradley and Strykers and Abrams tanks. They’ll do fine for a while.”

The Army abandoned the Future Combat System, a collection of air- and ground-weapon systems, because of costs and delays.

Todd Harrison of the centrist Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments wrote in a “backgrounder” that sequestration cuts less deeply historically than other drawdowns.

“Under sequestration, the base defense budget would fall 14 percent in real terms from the peak in FY 2010 to FY 2013,” Mr. Harrison said.

“This seems modest compared to the drawdown at the end of the Cold War when the base budget fell by 34 percent from the peak in FY 1985 to the trough in FY 1998.”

The top brass argues that Washington got it wrong in the 1990s, just as it did after World War II and Vietnam. It cut defense by about 35 percent by the year 2000, creating combat readiness problems that required an infusion of cash to fix after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“I think that it’s very important to look at the history of how we’ve done,” Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, told the committee last month.

“We’re repeating a cycle here that is something that has happened many, many times in our history.”

Mr. Harrison said the Pentagon “sunk” $50 billion the past decade into developing big systems that later were canceled. Analysts say it now faces the reality of needing to buy new aircraft and ships with significantly less money.

“While the military did procure a significant quantity of equipment during the buildup and modernized parts of the force structure, it did not procure everything that was planned,” Mr. Harrison wrote.

“Several major systems still need to be modernized over the coming decade. The challenge for DOD is adjusting those modernization plans to match the changing threat and fiscal environments to field the right mix of forces and capabilities for the future.”

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