WASHINGTON — Sweeping budget and personnel cuts proposed Monday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would hit some military bases hard while protecting others.
In remarks at the Pentagon as he proposed a budget for fiscal year 2015 of $496 billion, Hagel outlined a five-year Pentagon budget that would shrink Army forces, while retiring older weapons including the U-2 spy plane and the A-10 attack aircraft.
With the Army targeted to lose as many as 80,000 active-duty soldiers from its current 520,000-strong force, reaching its smallest size since before World War II, major installations such as Fort Jackson, S.C., and Fort Hood, Texas, could be scaled back significantly.
The proposal to shrink the world’s mightiest military force comes as the United States seeks to redefine its role in the world, with the Iraq war over and U.S. combat in Afghanistan winding down.
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That two-front strategy, involving lengthy occupations, severely tested military capabilities. The plan also reflects the competing demands of spending restraints, national security and politics.
Eliminating two dozen A-10 attack planes at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, for example, is part of a broader move to retire all the aging Warthogs, saving the Pentagon several billion dollars. But lawmakers from Missouri and other states will certainly object.
Meanwhile, installations such as Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma; Fort Bragg, N.C.; and Fort Campbell, Ky. would likely emerge largely unscathed from the cuts because of their specialized missions.
Hagel said he had recommended the realignment plan to President Obama, who is expected to present his annual budget to Congress next week.
“This is the first time in 13 years we will be presenting a budget to the Congress of the United States that’s not a war-footing budget,” Hagel said.
The Pentagon plan also reflects budget pressures in Washington as partisans struggle over the proper size of government.
Hagel is recommending a 1 percent pay increase for military and civilian employees to match an increase that White House aides said Obama will seek for all federal workers after a three-year wage freeze.
Despite congressional demands to cut overall Pentagon spending, lawmakers almost certainly will oppose hits on installations in their states and resist Hagel’s call for a new round of base closings.
“This is another dumb idea,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat from Bellevue and the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, defended the new Pentagon plan.
“Under these conditions, our military leaders are doing their best to put forward a budget that provides national security,” Smith said.
But some Democrats who have burnished reputations as fiscal hawks responded coolly to aspects of the plan for the Pentagon.
“I will be taking a hard look at its new budget proposal to make sure it still provides for the strongest national defense,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee.
McCaskill and Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, are part of a newly formed congressional coalition to save the A-10 from extinction.
Hagel, though, warned that more draconian reductions are in store if Congress allows across-the-board forced budget cuts to reappear after next year under a system called sequestration.
“Sequestration requires cuts so deep, so abrupt, so quickly, that we cannot shrink the size of our military fast enough,” Hagel said.
The forced cuts were replaced by more targeted reductions in a two-year budget deal that Congress passed and Obama signed into law two months ago.
The plan Hagel announced Monday would restore $26 billion of the $75 billion in cuts contained in that budget deal.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, both Republicans, criticized the recommendation to reduce the size of the Army National Guard from 355,000 to 335,000 by 2017, and to decrease the number of Army Reservists from 205,000 to 195,000 in the same period.
Haley said her husband has just returned from serving a year in Afghanistan as a National Guard member.
“You don’t go after the National Guard to cut,” she said. “That’s not where you go.”