Hagel told a House of Representatives committee that a return to
steep budget cuts in 2016 and beyond would force the Army to cut
20,000 to 30,000 soldiers more than currently planned and the Marine
Corps to trim another 7,000 troops.
The cuts would "compromise our national security," the Pentagon
chief told the House Armed Services Committee. "The result would be
a military that could not fulfill its defense strategy, putting at
risk America's traditional role as a guarantor of global security
and ultimately our own security."
"This is not the military the president nor I want. It isn't the
military that this committee or this Congress wants for America's
future. But it is the path we're on unless Congress does something
to change the law," Hagel told the panel.
Lawmakers who have been struggling with the issue for more than
three years held out little hope of any change that would ease the
demand to cut defense spending.
Representative Buck McKeon, the committee's Republican chairman,
said the Pentagon's plans to seek billions of dollars in additional
defense funding between 2015 and 2019 were "in the realm of 'it
would be wonderful, but it's not going to happen.'"
"I don't see any way that it's (the budget cut) is going away right
now," McKeon said. "It's the law, and we're stuck with it," he
The exchange came as Hagel and Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed the committee on the
Pentagon's $496 billion base budget request for the 2015 fiscal year
beginning in October.
The 2015 spending plan calls for the Army to shrink to between
440,000 and 450,000 soldiers, the smallest number of troops since
before the Second World War. The Army currently has about 520,000
soldiers and had been in the process of slimming to 490,000 under
The 2015 budget also envisions cutting the Marine Corps to 182,000,
down from the current 190,000, eliminating the entire fleet of A-10
"Warthog" tank-killer aircraft, and slowing the rate of growth of
The defense secretary noted that the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense
Review, which was released on Tuesday with the budget, had laid out
more steps the department would have to take if it is forced to make
even deeper cuts required by law between 2016 and 2019.
[to top of second column]
Under that scenario, Hagel said, the Army would have to slim down to
420,000 and the Marine Corp would fall to 175,000.
The Navy would have to consider decommissioning an aircraft carrier
and its air wing, and cutting several vessels from its shipbuilding
plan, including a nuclear submarine, three destroyers, three
logistics ships and a forward staging base.
The Air Force would have to retire 80 more aircraft, including the
entire KC-10 tanker fleet and a class of Global Hawk surveillance
drone. It also would have to slow the purchase of its new F-35 Joint
Strike Fighter aircraft, buying 24 fewer planes over the 2014-2019
"Tough, tough choices are coming here," Hagel told the panel.
"You're going to have to help us make them. There isn't any way
Hagel said while the department was planning for deeper cuts
outlined in the 2011 Budget Control Act, it was asking Congress to
approve an alternative proposed by the president that would give it
$115 billion more over the 2016-2019 time frame.
He said the Pentagon's 2105 spending request also sought an
additional $26 billion above the $496 billion base budget to help
alleviate some of the stress from the cuts, to be paid for by
closing tax loopholes and making alternative cost reductions.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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