Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a Senate panel that budget caps
requiring nearly a trillion dollars in Pentagon spending cuts over a
decade made it impossible to keep the current military force
"adequately ready and modernized."
"Readiness is our main concern, as it must be for anyone who cares
about our national security and the men and women who defend it,"
Hagel told an Appropriations Committee panel. "So we made a
strategic decision to reduce the size of our force to ensure our
troops are trained, ready, capable."
Hagel's remarks came as the House of Representatives began debating
a 2015 defense appropriations bill that includes a Pentagon base
budget of $490.7 billion but shifts funds to save weapons at the
expense of maintenance and training. The White House said this week
it "strongly opposes" the House bill.
In its budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year beginning in
October, the Pentagon proposed cutting the size of the Army to
between 440,000 and 450,000, down from the current 520,000.
It also said it would reduce the size of the Marine Corps and
eliminate popular weapons systems like the A-10 "Warthog" close air
support aircraft and the high-altitude U-2 spy plane.
But lawmakers have resisted many of the cuts, with panels in the
House and Senate proposing competing alternatives that would save
some of the weapons systems and make spending reductions elsewhere,
mainly affecting readiness.
"Our efforts to reshape and reform the military continue to be
rejected," Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate hearing.
"We have infrastructure that we don't need and with your support, we
ought to be able to divest. We have legacy weapon systems that we
can't afford to sustain and with your support, we ought to be able
to retire," Dempsey said.
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"Failing to act on these issues ... will force us into an unbalanced
level of cuts to our readiness and modernization."
Dempsey added unless Congress changes the law, the Pentagon will
face even deeper cuts in the 2016 fiscal year, making the reforms
proposed this year even more critical.
"The risks will become, in my judgment, unmanageable," he said.
"This is a reckless and unnecessary path."
Beginning debate on the House's defense appropriations bill,
Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen said the measure included funds
for a 1.8 percent military pay raise, for 12 more Boeing EA-18G
Growler electronic attack aircraft and M1 Abrams tank upgrades,
spending opposed by the White House.
The administration said in a statement this week it was concerned
that without "meaningful compensation reforms and other cost-saving
measures ... there is an increased risk to the department's ability
to implement the president's defense strategy."
(Editing by Diane Craft)
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