U.S. Army to Shrink to Pre-World War II Levels

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has unveiled the largest cuts to the U.S. Army since before World War II. The Obama administration has for years spoken of a need for a smaller, more agile force. On Monday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid out the budgetary blueprint for it.

He said this is a time for reality at the Department of Defense, which now is required to bring its budget down to $496 billion from a high of nearly $700 billion at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"This will be the first budget to fully reflect the transition DoD is making after 13 years of war, the longest conflict in our nation's history," he said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefs reporters at the Pentagon on Feb. 24, 2014. /AP Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefs reporters at the Pentagon on Feb. 24, 2014. /AP

But the cuts go far beyond what the Pentagon was spending before the two conflicts. They include slashing an entire fleet of Cold War era (A-10) attack jets -- originally meant for striking Soviet tanks -- and trimming the number of Army troops from the post-9/11 peak of 570,000 to between 440,000 and 450,000 -- the lowest since 1940.

In addition to the Army, other services including the Marines are taking cuts. At the same time, Hagel told reporters the Pentagon wants to continue to shift its focus to the Asia-Pacific region, and to boost special operations forces and cyber defenses.

"We chose further reductions in troop strength and force structure in every military service -- active and reserve -- in order to sustain our readiness and technological superiority and to protect critical capabilities," he said.

Hagel's recommendations come despite opposition by some generals who argue the U.S. still needs the infrastructure to be able to fight two wars at the same time. Veterans groups also oppose reductions to soldiers' benefits.

The proposed cuts still need to be approved by Congress, where Hagel is likely to encounter stiff resistance by those who argue that such deep reductions will result in a weaker military that is unable to deal with rising threats from adversaries like China and a continuing war against militants in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia

VOA News / Feb. 25, 2014 08:12 KST