WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday proposed shrinking the Army to its smallest size in 74 years, closing military bases, limiting active duty personnel raises to 1 percent, cutting housing allowances and idling Navy ships as part of a broad reshaping of America's armed forces after more than a decade of war.
Hagel outlined his vision in a speech at the Pentagon on Monday, a week before President Barack Obama is to submit his 2015 budget plan to Congress.
Hagel said that U.S. forces must adjust to the reality of smaller budgets, even as he asserted that the United States faces a more volatile, more unpredictable world that requires a more nimble military.
"We are repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future: new technologies, new centers of power and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable and in some instances more threatening to the United States," he said.
Under the Hagel plan, which Congress could change, the active-duty Army would shrink from its current 522,000 soldiers to between 440,000 and 450,000 -- the smallest ground force since just before the U.S. entered World War II.
Hagel said the administration will propose a new round of domestic military base closings in 2017, while noting that Congress has rejected such requests in recent years.
The defense secretary said the Navy could keep its fleet of 11 aircraft carriers only if Congress raises current budget caps in 2016. According to the Navy Times, he specifically said the carrier George Washington would have to be retired before its currently scheduled nuclear refueling if the caps remain in place.
The military budget proposal's biggest impact on the Navy's surface fleet will be on cruisers. Half of the Navy's cruiser fleet -- 11 ships -- will be "laid up," meaning they will be taken out of normal deployment rotations and essentially left unmanned. Four guided missile cruisers are currently based at Mayport Naval Station.
Among the most controversial provisions of the Navy budget is the decision to scale back the long-term Littoral Combat Ship program from 52 vessels to 32. Amid concerns that the LCS is too vulnerable to attack, Hagel directed the Navy to consider building a new ship "consistent with the capabilities of a frigate."
Mayport's public affairs officers said Monday they did not have specifics on how the base would be affected, referring questions to the chief of naval information office in Norfolk. The CHINFO office said the 11 cruisers that would be laid up will be ones needing upgrades and modernization. The office had no specifics, but might know more in early March.
Hagel also proposed the elimination of the Air Force's fleet of A-10 aircraft as well as its venerable U-2 spy planes, the proposal also would reduce the size of the Army National Guard. Those moves are expected to draw some opposition in Congress.
Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Monday that Hagel consulted closely with the military service chiefs on how to balance defense and budget-saving requirements.
"He has worked hard with the services to ensure that we continue to stand for the defense of our national interests - that whatever budget priorities we establish, we do so in keeping with our defense strategy and with a strong commitment to the men and women in uniform and to their families," Kirby said.
"But he has also said that we have to face the realities of our time. We must be pragmatic. We can't escape tough choices. He and the chiefs are willing to make those choices," Kirby said.
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