The Pentagon has proposed that the U.S. Army be the smallest it has been since WWII. The current U.S. Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, himself a recipient of two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, is planning sweeping cutbacks to the U.S. military. The proposals include an almost 20 percent reduction to the U.S. Army and the removal of two aircraft from the USAF. The plan calls for the U2 spy plane, which has been in use since 1957, and the A-10 Warthog, to be removed from service.
One of the underlying issues is that the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has reached almost $6 trillion dollars, or $75,000 for every American household. This level of spending is unsustainable, and although the United States has withdrawn from Iraq, and is planning a withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, costs have continued to mount.
The cuts planned by Hagel will likely meet with stiff resistance in Congress. There are plans to close several Army bases in 2017, but these plans have been rejected by Congress before. Military spending, and how much money goes to each U.S. state, is one of the key internal political trading issues that Congress deals with. Some military programs, such as the F-22 fighter program, are notorious for having work done in nearly every state, making them almost impossible to cancel later. The largest military program the United States is currently involved with, the F-35 fighter program, is notable for not being singled out for cuts this time around.
But equipment will not be the only focus in the smallest U.S. Army since WWII. Pay and benefits will also be cut. Housing allowances, pay rises and health insurance will also be adjusted to cost less for the U.S. Treasury.
The proposals have already met with political resistance among several senior Republicans coming out to criticize the cuts. But the criticisms were mainly aimed at President Obama, rather than suggestions on how to get the military budget to a more practical and affordable level.
The U.S. military budget still dwarfs the rest of the world’s, at $600 billion, with spending at a level close to the next 14 countries’ defense budgets combined. Indeed, the defense budget is more than three times what China and Russia spend combined, but if measured at purchasing power parity (PPP), their spending does become significantly greater.
The United States also maintains a huge global presence, with 730 military installations and bases in 50 countries around the world. This global dominance is not being dismantled, and Secretary Hagel expects to create a “more responsive military, with a clear technological advantage” with the new budget plans.
As for the specifics of the plans, it is yet to be seen whether they will be carried out. The A-10 fleet of aircraft have been lined up for retirement before, but after being key aircraft in Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, they have remained in service much longer than originally expected. They are planned to be replaced by the F-35 and its modern arsenal of weapons; however, the A-10s low running and maintenance costs may save it once again, as the F-35 is not yet a combat-ready capability, as it cannot perform the anti-armor role of the A-10 to the same degree.
The coming days may well see the smallest U.S. Army since WWII. Capability, however, remains high.
By Andrew Willig