Pentagon: Fewer Soldiers, More Drones Will Save Money
(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta detailed Thursday how the Obama administration plans to achieve $487 billion in cuts over the next decade, in part by reducing the number of ships, planes and troops but continuing to fund elite special forces -- and support technologies like unmanned drones.
Panetta will request a Pentagon budget of $525 billion for fiscal year 2013, a $6 billion reduction from last year's budget and $33 billion less than what had been forecast a few years ago. The administration will also ask for another $88.4 billion to maintain the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, a reduction from the $115 billion being spent this year.
Panetta told reporters that the impact of the cuts will be far-ranging, "make no mistake, the savings we are proposing will impact all 50 states, and many districts across America."
Anticipating the tough fight the proposals will likely face on Capitol Hill, Panetta said they "will be a test of whether reducing the deficit is about talk or action."
The plan presented Thursday reflects the new military strategy released earlier this month that shifts the military's attention away from the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan towards Asia and the Middle East.
To that end the Pentagon will continue to fund the resources that enable it to project its power into those regions, such as the development of a new long-range bomber and maintaining the Navy's fleet of aircraft carriers at 11. One of the Navy's new Combat Littoral ships will be based in Singapore and patrol craft will continue to operate out of Bahrain.
There are interesting plans to "acquire an afloat staging base for support to ISR, Special Operations Force, and countermine missions." Very little is known about this proposed facility, which one Defense official said was intended for deployment to Asian waters. ISR is the acronym for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Pentagon shorthand for drones, so presumably the platform will increase the projection of drone activity to that part of the world.
It was also announced Thursday that the Air Force will also be asked to ramp up by 30 percent the number of Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) that its Predator drones fly daily, from 65 to 85. Referred to as CAPs, Combat Air Patrols usually require three Predator drones rotated daily to carry out 24-hour surveillance missions. An Air Force official says the service already has available the drone aircraft needed to ramp up to 85 CAPs but will need extra manpower and equipment assigned to the mission to carry it out on a long-term basis.
Some weapons buys will continue, but will be delayed by a few years, notably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is intended to replace most of the fighter jets in the Army, Navy and Marines. Also delayed will be the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle, and the Navy will delay by a year the purchase of a new submarine and an amphibious assault ship.
Other weapons in development were canceled outright, including the JLENS Missile, the JAGM missile, and the Block 30 version of the Global Hawk surveillance aircraft. All were projects that were found to offer the same capability as existing weapons, but at a higher cost.
With the Army no longer required to be large enough to conduct sustained counterinsurgency campaigns like it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, it will go down from 45 brigades to 38, part of a planned reduction of 80,000 soldiers from 570,000 to 490,000. The Army will also begin emulating a practice long used by its Special Forces. Army brigades will be pre-focused for certain parts of the world so that they become expert in local languages and culture.
The already-planned reduction in the number of Marines will be larger than expected as it is reduced in size from 202,000 to 182,000. The reduction in forces for both services will still leave them larger than they were prior to 9/11.
The Air Force will lose six of its 60 fighter squadrons -- estimated to be between 108 and 144 aircraft -- as well as 27 of its oldest giant C-5A cargo planes and 65 of the oldest C-130s still flying. Seven Navy cruisers and two amphibious ships will be retired early.
Attempting to tackle the rising costs in military benefits, Panetta announced that the Defense Department would recommend increases in health care enrollment fees, pharmacy co-pays and deductibles paid by retirees under the age of 65.
Panetta also recommended that Congress form a commission to review military retirement benefits. He said any binding recommendations the panel arrived at would not affect any military members serving at the time, but only apply to new recruits.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio