A smaller Army and Marine Corps, consolidated combatant commands and a “decade-long modernization holiday” will befall the U.S. military if defense cuts known as sequestration remain in place, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday.
Mr. Hagel unveiled Wednesday the results of a department-wide fiscal review that identified budget items that would be cut to accommodate $500 billion in reduced defense spending over the next decade.
If Congress does not reverse the cuts, the Army could shrink to 380,000 troops from its target strength of 490,000. Similarly, the Army Reserves, which has been mostly saved from sequestration, would face reductions.
In addition, the Navy’s aircraft carriers could be reduced from 11 to eight or nine, the Corps could field as low as 150,000 Marines instead of 182,000, and combatant commands — headquarters dedicated to a region or specific function — could be merged.
“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 crisis occurred at the same time in different regions of the world,” Mr. Hagel said.
The Pentagon’s “Strategic Choices and Management Review” examines three different budget scenarios: the budget under the president’s fiscal 2014 request, full sequestration over 10 years, and an in-between option.
The other scenarios would still require reductions in Army personnel, Air Force tactical aircraft squadrons and the fleet of C-130 transport aircraft. Military personnel costs, which account for half the Pentagon’s budget, would need to be trimmed, and service headquarters and the Office of the Secretary of Defense would need to operate with 20 percent fewer personnel.
“One post-9/11 war is over, and the second, our nation’s longest war, is coming to an end. Overall personnel costs have risen dramatically, some 40 percent above inflation since 2001. The department cannot afford to sustain this growth,” Mr. Hagel said.
Each of the services have been instructed to plan for different options under sequestration, which began March 1.
The Pentagon remains committed to the president’s 2012 defense strategic guidance, even under sequestration, which prioritizes the rebalancing of forces in Asia, defense officials said during a background briefing.
The possible changes identified in the review would be put into motion beginning in 2015 if sequestration is not reversed by then, a senior defense official said.
Mr. Hagel emphasized that the review did not reflect any decisions, or produce a detailed budget blueprint, but generated a menu of options.