Firing the opening salvo in a bloody budget battle, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is set to recommend drastic cuts of billions of dollars that would take U.S military forces to levels not seen since before World War II.
The cuts in military spending, forces and weapons programs address the stark reality of growing budget pressures at home and point to improbability that the United States will ever again engage in a large ground war.
The plan, to be unveiled Monday afternoon, is likely to face stiff opposition on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers will battle for every troop, weapons program and dollar.
The proposal calls for the Army to be cut to about 450,000 troops, down from a peak of 570,000 after the Sept. 11 attacks. Troop levels were already slated to drop to 480,000 — but now even more are on the chopping block.
Hagel also wants to eliminate the fleet of A-10 "tank killer" aircraft, designed in the 1970s to go after targets on the ground. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., whose husband was an A-10 pilot, has already vowed to fight plans to retire the plane.
Also slated for retirement is the U-2 spy plane, the stalwart of Cold War reconnaissance. The military is turning to new methods of surveillance, like the Global Hawk.
Pentagon officials have also made clear that growth in military pay and benefits will also have to be trimmed, but it's unlikely there would be any reduction in current pay scales or benefits already earned.
Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told the Associated Press that Hagel worked closely with military service chiefs on the proposal.
"He has worked hard with the services to ensure that we continue to stand for the defense of our national interests — that whatever budget priorities we establish, we do so in keeping with our defense strategy and with a strong commitment to the men and women in uniform and to their families," Kirby said.
"But he has also said that we have to face the realities of our time. We must be pragmatic. We can't escape tough choices. He and the chiefs are willing to make those choices."