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US ground troops could be cut by 1,00,000: Pentagon

Last updated on: January 27, 2012 14:07 IST

Faced with a $487 billion slash in its budget over the next 10 years, the Pentagon has announced that it will downsize its military forces by 1,00,000, even as Defence Secretary Leon Panetta asserted that United States will remain a force to contend with anytime and anywhere.

"The military will be smaller and leaner, but it will be agile, flexible, rapidly deployable and technologically advanced. It will be a cutting-edge force," he told reporters at a Pentagon news conference announcing the defense budget.

"In this budget, we plan to gradually resize the active Army to 490,000. That's down from present force level of 562,000. And the active Marine Corps will go to 182,000. That's down from 202,000. That transition will take place over the five years. We won't reach those numbers until 2017," Panetta announced.

This plan maintains a very significant Army and Marine force. Both services are at larger levels than they were at prior to 9/11, he said, adding that they will be fundamentally reshaped by a decade of war.

They will be far more lethal, battle hardened and ready, he noted.

"The changes to the size of our ground forces allowed us to examine the Air Force's airlift fleet. Our intensive review determined that we could reduce, streamline and standardisee our air fleet with minimal risk. So we are retiring some aging C-5As and C-130s, but we will maintain a very healthy airlift capability," he said.

The defense secretary said they have decided that they could eliminate six of the 60 Air Force tactical air squadrons and one training squadron. None of that will impact US ability to dominate the skies, he asserted.

The Navy, he said, is protecting America's highest-priority and most flexible ships, such as the Arleigh-Burke destroyers and the littoral combat ships. It will retire lower-priority cruisers that have not been upgraded with ballistic missile defense capability or that require significant maintenance as well as some combat logistics and fleet support ships, he said.

"As we build this leaner and more agile force, we frankly need to also look at a department that is leaner and more agile as well. And for that reason, this budget seeks to reduce excess overhead, eliminate waste in this department, and improve business practices across the department. We've identified about $60 billion in savings over five years on top of the substantial efficiency efforts that are already under way," Panetta said.

"This will involve areas such as aggressive and competitive contracting practices, better use of information technology, streamlining the staff, reductions in contract services and better inventory management," he said.

He said the budget also rebalances global posture and presence to emphasize the Asia-Pacific and Middle East areas. "The budget protects and in some cases increases our

investments in these critical areas. That requires an Air Force that is able to penetrate sophisticated enemy defenses and strike over long distances. So we will be funding the next-generation bomber, and we will be sustaining the current bomber fleet. We are also moving ahead with our next-generation aerial refueling tanker," he said.

"The strategy also envisions a Navy and Marine Corps that is postured forward, bringing a stabilizing presence and combat power as needed, with an emphasis on these critical regions," Panetta said.

The Marines will sustain their level of presence in the Pacific and the budget supports and enhanced presence and partnering opportunities with Australia and others, such as the Philippines.

"In of these cases, obviously we'll do this in a way that respects the sovereignty of the nations that we will be working with. It also provides the resources to forward station littoral combat ships in Singapore and a patrol craft in Bahrain," he said.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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