Joint Chiefs: Deeper troop cuts coming

WASHINGTON — The Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress on Wednesday that all four services will have to shrink their forces to meet the planned 10-year cut of up to $465 billion in defense spending.

Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee that deeper cuts than the already announced reduction of 27,000 troops would be needed. "We're going to have to significantly reduce the Army " to meet the $465 billion reduction, he said.

Gen. James Amos, Marine Corps commandant, said he would have to shrink the size of the Marines by 20,000, which is more than the previously announced cut of 15,000. This shrinkage would make it impossible, in the case of a major contingency, to rotate units in and out of a war zone. "If we go to war, the Marines are going to go and they're going to come home when it's over," Amos said.

The chiefs said that the basic Defense Department strategic review that will eventually determine roles and missions under the new budget figures is now being vetted within the Pentagon and other agencies and should be available to Congress in December.

"There clearly will be something we cannot do and that will have resource implications for both force structure, procurement and operations and maintenance," Amos said.

Only cyberactivities may grow, by using funds taken from other programs, said Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff.

The chiefs also described what they said were risks the nation would face if further budget cuts were imposed. Should a special bipartisan congressional committee fail to reach agreement on cuts of $1.2 trillion or more in federal spending, additional reductions of up to $600 billion or more in an across-the-board fashion would be applied to the Defense Department under the August budget agreement.

As Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, put it, "The current law does not allow the military to manage these reductions, but rather applies the cuts uniformly to each program, project and activity."

Greenert said the Navy's readiness and procurement accounts would require an 18 percent cut. Although the law would not affect the fiscal 2012 budget, such reductions would require the Navy to cut programs and personnel to begin 2013 at levels specified under the law.

The Army, which plans to reduce its active forces but keep or increase the size of the Reserves and National Guard, would instead face "significant reductions" in the size of both those elements, Odierno told the panel. The Air Force, in the same circumstances, would have to retire some 1,000 aircraft and lose 10,000 people.

Analyst: Fears are misplaced

Some private defense analysts say such reductions would not cause catastrophic damage.

Gordon Adams, a professor of international relations at American University and a former budget official in the Clinton White House, is a critic of what he calls misplaced fears about defense spending cuts.

"In fact, were defense budgets to decline by $465 billion from the current (Pentagon) projections, it would be the most moderate and shallow build-down we have ever experienced since the end of the Korean War," Adams wrote in a blog post.

"So there is little reason to fear, little reason to cry 'doomsday' as we manage this build down," he added.

Wednesday's hearing continued a series the committee has held in the past month to publicize concerns of the Republican majority that too much of the budget reduction program being planned would harm national security.

In opening the session, committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said, "The problem is that, to date, defense has contributed more than half of the deficit reduction measures we've taken and there are some who want to use the military to pay for the rest, to protect the sacred cow that is entitlement spending."

The Defense Department's budget has nearly doubled to $700 billion in the 10 years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Those numbers do not include the trillion-plus spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.