The U.S. Defense Department will reduce the size of its land forces, postpone orders of new stealth fighter planes, and phase out older generations of ships and aircraft in an effort to cut nearly $500 billion from its budget by 2022, according to Pentagon officials.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta briefed reporters at the Pentagon on January 26 on how his department will absorb the cuts without compromising readiness or strength.
He said the U.S. military "is at a strategic turning point after a decade of war and substantial growth in the defense budget" since 2001.
"We decided that it was important to make this an opportunity to develop a new defense strategy for the United States and for the U.S. military force that we wanted for the future," Panetta said.
"That strategy has guided us in making a series of tough budget choices and establishing a new set of defense priorities."
By the numbers, the plan calls for the size of the Army, which currently has 570,000 soldiers, to shrink by 80,000 over the next five years. The Marine Corps would be slashed by 10 percent, from 202,000 to 182,000.
The defense chief proposed a $613 billion budget for the coming year, which includes $88 billion for combat operations, primarily in Afghanistan. That’s about $33 billion less than the Pentagon is spending this year.
Congress mandated the spending reduction in a budget bill it passed late last year.
What Panetta called the "military of the future" will be "smaller and leaner," but also "agile, flexible, rapidly deployable, and technologically advanced."
He said the Pentagon's focus will shift from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to other areas where challenges are emerging.
"We will rebalance our global posture and presence to emphasize where we think the potential problems will be in the world, and that means emphasizing Asia-Pacific and the Middle East," Panetta said.
One area of the U.S. military that will grow is the use of Special Forces, like the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden and rescued two Western aid workers this week in Somalia.
The Associated Press reported that the Pentagon has embraced a proposal by the head of the military's special operations, Admiral Bill McRaven, to deploy more troops and equipment around the world so that they can strike quickly when threats arise.
Panetta called the new strategic plan "a balanced and complete package."
But Republican lawmakers were quick to criticize some aspects of new defense plan.
Senator John Cornyn (Texas), who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee which plans to hold hearings on the Pentagon plan, said reducing the size of ground forces to what they were before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 would put the country "in grave danger."
Senator John McCain (Arizona) said the plan "ignores the lessons of history" and takes the military down to a size that will be "too small to respond effectively to events that may unfold over the next few years."
That view was disputed by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin Dempsey, who appeared with Panetta at the Pentagon press conference.
"This budget does not lead to a military in decline," he said.