In an effort to reduce costs, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has pledged to cut the Army by 80,000 soldiers while reducing the size of the Marines by a an unspecified amount. But a new study by former military commanders suggests that Hagel could be cutting much, much more—while doing no harm.
The report, issued by the non-partisan Henry L. Stimson Center released on Tuesday, found that DOD could cut an additional 60,000 troops and 50,000 civilian workers without harming the military's operational readiness.
That would mean the size of the Army, currently at 570,000 soldiers, could be reduced by 140,000 and still be just as capable as it is today. (The report was funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Pete Peterson separately funds The Fiscal Times.)
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Entitled "Strategic Agility: Strong National Defense for Today's Global and Fiscal Realities," the report also identified $50 billion of potential annual savings by cutting spending in three areas:
- $22.4 billion in management changes, including eliminating unnecessary workers from headquarters and all of DOD's various agencies. This includes reforming retirement and health care benefits and getting rid of redundant commissaries.
- $21.4 billion by cutting active forces trained to fight traditional wars, along with some nuclear forces.
- $5.7 billion in modernization cost cuts.
The report acknowledges that these changes carry a small degree of risk, but said they're necessary given the unsustainability of DOD's current spending path.
"Realistically, however, significant belt-tightening inevitably means doing without some forces we would have preferred to maintain, forces that provide insurance against less likely threats," the report says. "However, we must stop ignoring fiscal realities; the consequences of continuing along the current path are far too dangerous."
Business as usual?
DOD commanders have repeatedly said that the $600 billion in cuts set to take effect in the coming years will hurt operational readiness. But business has continued largely as usual at the Pentagon. DOD brass, for instance, has cut furlough days for its workers to six days, down from 22.
At the same time, the Pentagon's books remain a mess; the agency has never been successfully audited. Budget hawk Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), speaking at a recent event in Washington, said the Pentagon's inability to pass an audit was unacceptable.