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Defense chief warns of deep, new spending cuts

By Lolita C. Baldor

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:17 a.m. HST, Apr 03, 2013

WASHINGTON » Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned today that sharply deeper cuts to personnel, health care and weapons systems will be needed across his department to put the brakes on spiraling costs and reshape the military for leaner budgets and new challenges.

Hagel said that escalating spending to maintain benefits, existing military structures and replacements for aging weapons programs are devouring funding needed for critical operations, training and equipment.

The Pentagon, he said, must reevaluate the size of its management and military command structures, which continue to grow even as the overall force numbers decline. And he put the Pentagon and the nation on notice that meeting this challenge will require spending cuts that are far more sweeping and dramatic than those seen to date.

"I am concerned that despite pruning many major procurement programs over the past four years, the military's modernization strategy still depends on systems that are vastly more expensive and technologically risky than what was promised or budgeted for," Hagel said today in remarks at the National Defense University at Fort McNair.

The Pentagon is already grappling with a $487 billion, 10-year reduction in projected spending as part of the budget law that Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011. In addition to that, the military is now facing $41 billion in across-the-board cuts for this fiscal year that went into effect on March 1.

The changes, he said, will involve "not just tweaking or chipping away at existing structures and practices but, where necessary, fashioning entirely new ones that are better suited to 21st century realities and challenges."

In his first major address as Pentagon chief, Hagel embraced what is likely to be his major challenge in his term: shrinking the U.S. military despite persistent congressional mandates that slash funding but forbid the elimination of favored bases and programs that must be cut in order to achieve the required savings.

Lawmakers have resisted Pentagon pleas for another round of base closures and to trim unwanted aircraft, or proposals to adjust military health care benefits as too politically risky.

"Much more hard work, difficult decisions and strategic prioritizing remains to be done," Hagel said, noting that "deep political and institutional obstacles to these necessary reforms will need to be engaged and overcome."

While both his predecessors launched reviews to identify hundreds of millions of dollars in savings, Hagel is taking over just as the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts are taking effect. In light of those reductions, he has already ordered a re-evaluation of the defense strategy that President Barack Obama announced early last year.

That strategy called for a greater emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, a continued focus on the Middle East and an increase in cybersecurity, missile defense and special operations forces.

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AhiPoke wrote:
As much as I respect our military for the job they do, I know there must be ways to eliminate costs without significant disruption to their mission. They are very much like all other branches of government, bloated. I served in the military, the navy to be more specific, so I have some first hand knowledge of what I speak about. Private industry must regularly analyze operations and make changes to improve productivity. Why should any part of government be exempt from doing the same?
on April 3,2013 | 09:34AM
serious wrote:
Could not agree with you more. I was AF, as a first LT I flew transports from travis to HI to Wake to Japan every other week. 19 years later I flew the same route as a LtCol--I was not the only one. As you suggest the services are bloated, but as a pilot, I thought I was being promoted to keep me in and not get lured into the airlines. Haven said that, when I first enlisted we had six-12 hour days--but we had 30 days of leave. The leave still exists but it's an 8-5 military now. Cut the numbers and increase the hours--this is not a D run military!!
on April 3,2013 | 10:57AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
I totally agree with you on the fact that we need to trim the fat. A lot of little things like ferries for one of our installations so that families on base can take a quicker route to their destinations amounts to luxuries that are unnecessary. I am glad that they did take that away. It is ironic, though, that when Romney, the Republican, promised to make our military even bigger, lost in this election the Republicans quickly made it their target for reduction instead. They chose to allow the deep budget cuts to occur rather than give up all the tax loopholes that they and their rich cronies highly depend on. As they said, "No new taxes." And they meant no new taxes on the rich. They would rather see the cost be taken by the military. Part of what is disturbing is that our Congressmen are entitled to a lifetime of free medical care at our military hospitals. And most of them have never served a day in the military. How did this perk come about? Because our Congressmen are serving themselves first. They are not our public servants. They are the ones serving themselves. Remember the inside trader laws that they enacted? It does not affect them at all. The laws are stated as such that they are exempt from the law. So, what put Martha Stewart behind bars does not apply to them at all. In no time in history has our Congress has been more apparent that our Congress has been self-serving than now. Democrats or Republicans. It does not matter. It is to serve their party or themselves.
on April 3,2013 | 11:28AM
Dolphin743 wrote:
Part of the reason for higher military overhead is increased scrutiny of practices and less tolerance for mistakes by soldiers and sailors. These are both noble societal goals, but the effort to reduce a very low accident rate to an extremely low acident rate is actually quite intensive and costly. Add to that the fact that the types of technology we need to produce to stay ahead of adversaries today are many orders of magnitude above what Rosie the Riveter provided during WWII. And of course, don't forget that every major (and many minor) procurement decision will be subjected to rounds of lawsuits regardless of the decision. "Advances" in society have worked their way into the military, and when they have to operate under arcane and intentionally expensive procurement rules while trying to meet all the "societal" requirements placed upon them, you will create an environment that needs more and more "overhead" to meet all the demands. Nobody in the military wants to be inefficient, but in many respects, unless they are actually on the battlefield, inefficiency is forced upon them by the rest of "us" who try to make the military into a social and economic experiment.
on April 3,2013 | 04:40PM
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