February 24, 2014, 01:43 pm
Pentagon budget slashes benefits
By Kristina Wong
The Pentagon on Monday announced a budget for 2015 that would slash benefits for active-duty personnel while reducing the army’s size to a pre-World War II level.
The budget, unveiled by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, would cut the growth of housing allowances for troops and their families and reduce subsidies provided to military commissaries that provide military families with low-cost goods.
In addition, the Pentagon will no longer reimburse renter’s insurance, basic pay raises will be held to 1 percent, and general and flag officers will see a pay freeze for one year.
The budget would also increase healthcare co-pays and deductibles for retirees and active-duty family members, except for those medically retired.
In addition, it calls for a new round of military base closings in 2017, which lawmakers have fiercely resisted in the past two budget requests, due to lost jobs and revenue to local communities caused by such closings.
The proposed cuts will set off a fight for the Pentagon with Congress and groups that represent veterans and the military.
Hagel acknowledged the looming battle, saying that while the budget would not cut military pay, he realized the proposals would be controversial.
“Congress has taken some important steps in recent years to control the growth in compensation spending, but we must do more,” Hagel said.
Hagel said payroll costs have risen 40 percent more than growth in the private sector, and that even though it was the “right thing to do” during war to give few constraints on defense spending, times have changed.
“Today DoD faces a vastly different fiscal situation. ... We must now consider fair and responsible adjustments to our overall military compensation package,” Hagel said.
The call for a smaller military represents a turn from a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, when troop levels peaked at 570,000 active troops.
Hagel said the Pentagon plans to reduce the size of the active-duty Army to between 440,000 and 450,000. It would be a lighter, leaner force that would pivot from ground wars and counterinsurgency efforts.
“As we end our combat mission in Afghanistan, this will be the first budget to fully reflect the transition [the Defense Department] is making after 13 years of war — the longest conflict in our nation’s history,” Hagel said.
He acknowledged that the smaller Army size “entails some added risk” if extended or simultaneous ground wars are fought. But he said an Army of that size would still be able to decisively defeat an enemy in one theater while defending the homeland, and could simultaneously support air and naval forces in another theater.
The budget also includes cuts to specific programs that are sure to court controversy.
It would retire the entire fleet of Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, a jet known as the “Warthog” that provides close air support for ground troops. Eliminating the fleet would save the Pentagon $3.5 billion over five years, Hagel said.
In another cost-cutting measure, the Pentagon proposes retiring the Air Force’s entire fleet of U-2 manned spy planes, and replacing them with unmanned Global Hawk aircraft.
“With its greater range and endurance, the Global Hawk makes a better high-altitude reconnaissance platform for the future,” Hagel said.
The Pentagon has also decided to halt new contract negotiations for the Navy’s littoral combat ship at 32, versus the 52 currently planned.
Some of these specific program cuts, such as the A-10, will face stiff resistance from lawmakers who have protected them.
Defense officials warn further cuts will be unavoidable if budget caps created by sequestration are not reversed for 2016.
The Pentagon budget request for fiscal 2015 meets the $496 billion cap imposed by Congress.
But the same budget would entail spending $115 billion above those caps over the next five years.
Defense officials say unless sequestration is reversed, the Army might have to be cut to dangerously low levels of 420,000. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has warned reducing the army to that size would be too small.