U.S. Army preparing to downsize according to a proposal released today by Pentagon Chief Chuck Hagel. In the face of budget restraints and the changing face of global conflict Americas massive pool of 522,000 active-duty soldiers simply cannot be carried without direct need. This number is planned to drop to 490,000 by 2015 as current operations wrap up, but it is expected that Hagel will propose cutting that number even further to 450,000 or 440,000. As well as cutting troops Hagel wants to decommission the A-10 warthog line, switch U-2 reconnaissance planes for drones, and slow down on acquisitions of new hardware. This comes as welcome news to many who feel the U.S. Army is much larger than needed, but there is considerable concern that members of congress will move to block to proposed changes, citing there must be enough troops on hand to protect the motherland and provide enough muscle in overseas peacemaking missions.
Much of the cost of running the largest war fighting machine on Earth comes from ageing equipment such as the U-2 bombers and A-10 Warthogs. Much of the U.S. Army hardware currently in service was designed in the 70’s, meaning that modernizing them to be viable in current combat situations is an ongoing and painfully expensive affair. Under Hagels proposed changes, the entire A-10 fleet would be decommissioned, projected to save $3.5 billion over five years. Similarly, the U-2 would defer its reconnaissance missions to modern remote drones, which are more nimble and flexible, more easily repaired, and suited to a wider range of tasks with a smaller cost. Changes extend to the Navy as well, recommendations are that they buy only two destroyers and attack submarines a year, as well as taking 11 cruisers out of service to be modernized. The U.S. Army would retire its Jet Ranger and Kiowas training helicopters, and would trade helicopter fleets with the National Guard, the U.S. Army exchanging Apaches for Black Hawks because they are more suited for general purpose tasks such as search and rescue. Many of the changes Hagel wishes to make are in this vein, replacing one trick ponies throughout the U.S. Army with devices and equipment that can perform multiple roles without reducing the combat effectiveness of any branch. In the wake of the announcement that the U.S. Army is preparing to downsize, it is important to remember that the essential goal is to do more with less.
Hagel has said that the cuts outlined are necessary responses to changes in modern warfare that have been taking place over the last decade, as well as the promises of President Obama to pull American troops out of the major ground wars they have been embroiled in since 2001. The financial reality is that it does not make sense to fund a large ground war force when there are no ground wars going on or planned. Despite this ray of reason, there are many critics in congress and it is expected that many of the changes Hagel wishes to make, indeed believes must be made, will be hard-won. Despite this, news that the U.S. Army is preparing to downsize is a welcome piece of news for many that feel that America’s military has become far larger than it needs to be.
By Daniel O’Brien