After more than a decade of large, land-based operations driven by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the proposed Defense Department budget for the coming fiscal year focuses on new and emerging threats, including those in cyberspace, with the department proposing significant reductions in the size of the Army and Marines, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a Senate panel today.
"After 13 years of long, large stability operations, we must shift our focus onto future requirements shaped by enduring and emerging threats," Hagel told the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee, largely recapitulating the main points contained in the proposed Pentagon budget first unveiled in February.
"We must be able to defeat terrorist threats and cyberattacks and deter adversaries with increasingly modern weapons and technological capabilities," Hagel added.
Even so, Hagel said, the department is taking a $75 billion hit in its budget this year and next, and he warned lawmakers "we cannot keep our current force structure adequately ready and modernized" under the strict budget limits being imposed on the department. And unless Congress changes the law to prevent another budget sequester, he added, another $50 billion will come out of the department's budget every year through 2021.
This, he said, could occur at a time when America's and the world's and security are increasingly being challenged.
"Recent crises in Iraq and Ukraine remind us how quickly things can change in the world and they underscore why we must assure the readiness, agility and capability of our military," the secretary told the senators.
Even so, as outlined in the president's budget request sent to Congress earlier this year, Hagel said the department still proposes drawing down the active duty Army by 13 percent over the next five years to as low 440,000 soldiers, which he said he believes is still adequate to defend the nation and respond to future threats.
The Marine Corps, he said, will continue its planned drawdown to 182,000 members while devoting an additional 900 Marines to stepping up security at U.S. embassies around the world.
The Navy will have 11 carrier strike groups, but 11 cruisers will be set aside for modernization and retrofitting, while the Air Force will see the 50-year-old U-2 surveillance plane replaced by the unmanned Global Hawk aircraft, as well as an end to the aging A-10 attack aircraft.
Compensation for those in uniform is being adjusted, Hagel said, with the department slowing the growth in pay increases, while subsidies for off-base housing will be reduced as well. Co-pays for retirees and family members under the TRICARE health care plan will face modest increases, but health care for active duty personnel will remain free, the secretary told the panel, adding that the adjustments are tied to resourcing readiness.
"Under our plan, 100 percent of the savings from compensation reform will go toward ensuring that our troops have the training and tools they need to accomplish their missions," he said.
But Hagel warned that if Congress does not provide the department the money it needs, "it will jeopardize the readiness and capability of our armed forces and shortchange America's ability to effectively and decisively respond when global events demand it."
Today's hearing comes midway through a congressional calendar that is not likely to see final action on a Pentagon budget for months.
(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @simeoneAFPS)