Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has proposed shrinking the US Army's size to its lowest level since before the start of World War II. The reduction comes as Washington winds down more than 13 years of war in Afghanistan.
In a speech at the Pentagon on Monday, Hagel recommended cutting the size of active-duty Army soldiers from 520,000 to between 440,000 and 450,000.
After wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hagel said US military leaders no longer plan to "conduct long and large stability operations."
"We are repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future: new technologies, new centers of power and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable and in some instances more threatening to the United States," he said.
Hagel's speech comes a week before President Barack Obama is due to submit his 2015 budget plan to Congress.
If the plan is approved by Congress, the army would see its size reduced to its lowest level since 1940, when it had just under 270,000 soldiers before significantly expanding after the US entered World War II.
Pressure to reduce spending
The proposed cuts, which also include a reduction in military benefits, are part of the government's plan in the face of increased pressure to meet 2015 spending caps.
Hagel said Obama's budget proposal will include a government-wide "Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative" that will give the Pentagon an extra $26 billion (19 billion euros) in addition to the $496 billion its set to get according to the 2015 budget deal Congress approved two months ago.
The defense secretary has proposed scrapping entirely the Air Force's fleet of A-10 "Warthog" aircraft and retiring the 50-year-old U2 spy plane. Instead, the US will invest in the new F-35 fighter and unmanned Global Hawk surveillance drone system. Hagel called for curbing growth in pay and benefits, which constitute half the Pentagon's budget, while the army national guard and reserves are to be cut by 5 percent.
The US military's spending doubled after the September 11, 2001 attacks, but army officials have said budget cuts were expected as the US prepares to end its combat role in Afghanistan at the end of this year.
dr/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters)