Sat, Jan 08, 2011 - Page 1 News List

US to cut defense budget and troops

REUTERS, WASHINGTON

The US plans to cut US$78 billion in defense spending over five years, including a reduction of up to 47,000 troops, in a politically contentious move that would trim the government’s growing budget deficit.

The proposed cuts, unveiled at a somber Pentagon briefing on Thursday, follow increased White House and congressional scrutiny of military spending, which has doubled in real terms since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

They are in addition to a US$100 billion cost-savings drive that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates kicked off last year to eliminate waste, cut poorly performing weapons programs and redirect the money to other priorities.

Congress ultimately controls the US Department of Defense’s budget, and lawmakers often block administration efforts to cut military spending that provides jobs in their home districts.

However, Gates said the military had to play its part in getting US finances in order.

“As the biggest part of the discretionary federal budget, the Pentagon cannot presume to exempt itself from the scrutiny and pressure faced by the rest of our government,” Gates said.

The annual budget request for the Pentagon will be submitted to Congress as part of the overall federal budget on about Feb. 14. Industry sources and analysts say US President Barack Obama’s administration will ask for US$554 billion in military spending in fiscal 2012, not counting overseas fighting, US$12 billion less than it initially intended.

Shares of major defense contractors rose. Lockheed Martin Corp and General Dynamics Corp have programs that would be hit by the reshuffle, but were spared from deeper cuts that some investors feared.

Gates, in a half-hour address, said the Pentagon would cope with the belt-tightening by freezing civilian pay, changing economic assumptions and reducing troops starting in 2015, among other items.

That would allow defense spending to keep growing modestly through 2014 before leveling off in 2015 and 2016, Gates said.

He said calls from some in Congress for deeper cuts would be “risky at best and potentially calamitous,” citing global tensions that require a strong, modern US military.

Mitch McConnell, the top--ranking Republican in the Senate, said on Thursday he believed no US government department was off-limits from belt-tightening.

Other Republicans offered a swift rebuke of the plans, in a sign that the proposed cuts may not be realized, despite growing pressure to rein in US government spending.

“I’m not happy,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon told reporters. “This is a dramatic shift for a nation at war and a dangerous signal from the commander in chief.”

McKeon and other critics took issue with Gates’ plans to cut up to 47,000 troops from the Army and Marines starting in 2015, which would represent the first cuts for those services since before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Analysts said the announcement was politically dicey for Obama, with US troops still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier on Thursday, the Pentagon announced a new deployment of more US Marines to Afghanistan.

“The land force end-strength cuts are just shocking,” said Thomas Donnelly at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

However, Gates said the reductions would take place four years after US troops are set to leave Iraq and that 2015 was also the year US war planners aim to hand over responsibility for Afghan security to local forces.

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