WASHINGTON â€“ Â Defense Secretary Leon Panetta unveiled a plan Thursday that would cut nearly a half-trillion dollars from the defense budget over the next decade by retiring older planes and ships, delaying some projects and shrinking U.S. ground forces by about 100,000.
The plan would reduce the size of the Army by 80,000 soldiers by 2017, bringing the force size to a level slightly larger than it was on 9/11. Amid concerns from some lawmakers that the cuts would endanger security, Panetta cast the proposal as a response to changing times.
“We are at a strategic turning point after a decade of war and after a very substantial growth in the defense budget,” Panetta said Thursday.
Panetta said the plan shifts the Pentagon’s focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to future challenges in Asia, the Mideast and in cyberspace. More special operations forces like the Navy SEALs who killed Usama bin Laden will be available around the world, he said.
At the same time, the Pentagon would shrink the size of the overall military while pushing off certain projects.
Some lawmakers immediately aired concerns with the plan.
“Taking us back to a pre-9/11 military force structure places our country in grave danger,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee that will hold hearings on the Pentagon budget plan.
Panetta announced that the administration will request a 2013 budget of $525 billion, plus another $88 billion for operations in Afghanistan. Combined, those totals are about $33 billion less than the Pentagon is spending this year.Â Panetta said, however, that the Pentagon’s base budget will grow to $567 billion in 2017. At that point, the cumulative budgets over five years would be $259 billion less than had been planned before the administration struck a deficit-cutting deal with Congress last summer that requires projected defense spending to be reduced by $487 billion by 2022.
Among the details Panetta disclosed:
The Army would shrink by 80,000 soldiers, from 570,000 today to 490,000 by 2017. That is slightly larger than the Army on 9/11.
The Marine Corps would drop from today’s 202,000 to 182,000 — also above the level on 9/11.
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