Hagel to Cut Military Spending in Defense Budget

Next week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will put forward a fiscal year 2015 budget proposal that will be amended countless times before Congress passes it. What has reached the media already is notable for two things. First, it is the first peace-time budget in 13 years, if America sticks to its plans of quitting the Afghan disaster at year end. Second, despite making the US Army as small as it has ever been since 1941, it still spends far too much money on things of doubtfully utility.

Secretary Hagel told the press, “This is a time for reality. This is a budget that recognizes the reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges.” This is earth-shattering. Throughout the Cold War and the Bushevik years, the idea that there was a limit to what America could afford when it came to defense was heresy. “America can’t afford not to buy . . . .” was the argument. This is a welcome change because an economy that supports an excessively large war machine winds up collapsing on itself as did the Soviet system.

Among the secretary’s proposals is a reduction in the US Army active duty personnel from 522,000 today to 490,000 in fiscal 2015. Since there is no ground combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, these reductions make sense. Secretary Hagel stated that the reductions entailed some risk, but one cannot see it. If 490,000 isn’t enough to meet current and potential threats, it is hard to see how 32,000 more will radically alter the battlespace.

GlobalSecurity.org noted that other proposals in the budget request include:

  • The Army will cancel the Ground Combat Vehicle program;
  • The Navy would be able to maintain 11 carrier strike groups, but any steep future cuts could require mothballing the aircraft carrier USS George Washington;
  • Half of the Navy’s cruiser fleet, 11 ships, will be placed in reduced operating status while they are modernized and given a longer lifespan;
  • The Navy will continue buying two destroyers and attack submarines per year;
  • The Marine Corps will draw down from about 190,000 to 182,000, but would have to shrink further if sequestration returns;
  • An additional 900 Marines will be devoted to securing U.S. Embassies [a token force of about 5 more per embassy]; and
  • The Defense Department is asking Congress for another round of base closings and realignments in 2017.

Meanwhile, the air force is giving up a couple of Cold War relics: the U2 spy plane and the A-10 used largely for killing tanks. It is keeping the F-35 boondoggle. The navy clearly is bloated, the army has been trying to halt the ground combat vehicle for years (but Congress likes the jobs it provides in key districts) and the air force is still spending on planes that don’t work and would have no mission if they did.


However, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and creating a sane and affordable American defense policy won’t happen overnight either. This is a start.