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A FEW GOOD DRONES

The Pentagon yesterday unveiled a plan to cut 100,000 troops, mothball ships and trim air squadrons — while boosting emphasis on special-operations forces and drone aircraft.

The defense budget would be pared down by a total of $487 billion over the next decade, including $259 billion within the next five years. 

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta outlined the plan at a news conference, focusing on the reduction of military personnel, base closures, limits on pay raises for troops and increased insurance costs for retired personnel. 

“Make no mistake, the savings that we are proposing will impact all 50 states and many districts, congressional districts across America,” Panetta said. “This will be a test of whether reducing the deficit is about talk or action.”

Under the plan, the Army would be reduced from 570,000 soldiers to 490,000 in the next half-decade, and the Marines would shed 20,000, bringing its forces to 182,000 in the same time period. The projected reductions would bring these branches to slightly above their pre-9/11 numbers. 

Offsetting the slimmed-down forces will be an increase in unmanned drone technology. Drones already account for about 31 percent of all U.S. military aircraft, and the drone fleet will balloon by another 30 percent in the coming years.

The plan also provides for the deployment of more special-operations teams at a growing number of small bases across the globe, from which they will be able to launch missions and mentor local allies.

The $525 billion base budget for the 2013 fiscal year is $6 billion less than that for 2012, making this the first time a reduced budget has been presented by the Pentagon since 2001. 

Whether Congress will approve the plan remains to be seen, and the slowed-down pay raises are sure to be unpopular, even though the raise schedule won’t be affected until 2015 and is not drastic. Congress routinely ups pay for troops beyond the Pentagon’s recommendations. Acquisition of new weapons will also be slowed under the plan. 

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, criticized the plan and said it “ignores a critical lesson in recent history: that while high technology and elite forces give America an edge, they cannot substitute for overwhelming ground forces when we are faced with unforeseen battlefields.”

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed the plan.

“This budget is a first step — it’s a down payment — as we transition from an emphasis on today’s wars to preparing for future challenges,” he said. “This budget does not lead to a military in decline.”

War costs, which are separate from the Pentagon’s budget, will decline from $115 billion to $88 billion as a result of the United States’ withdrawal from Iraq.

Panetta’s plan does not acknowledge the possibility of an additional $600 billion in defense cuts that could come as a consequence of the congressional super committee’s failure to come up with a plan to drastically cut the deficit. The defense secretary has called the trigger “catastrophic.”

LEANER FORCES 
The Pentagon unveiled a 2013 budget plan yesterday that would cut the size of the U.S. military. Among the details Defense Secretary Leon 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.

– The Air Force would retire some older planes, including about two dozen C-5A cargo aircraft and 65 of its oldest C-130 cargo planes.

– The Navy would keep a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers but retire seven cruisers earlier than planned.

– The purchase of F-35 stealth fighter jets — to be fielded by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps — would be slowed.

– Current plans for building a new generation of submarines that carry long-range nuclear missiles would be delayed by two years.

– Military pay raises would remain on track until 2015, when the pace of increase would be slowed by an undetermined amount.

– President Obama would ask Congress to approve a new round of domestic base closures, although the timing of this was left vague.

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February 10, 2012 - Posted by | SDVOSB

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