New Pentagon Strategy Calls For Leaner, But Still Dominant, Military

Jan 5, 2012 3:38pm

The Pentagon’s new military strategy unveiled today will result in a  “smaller and leaner” military force , but one that President Obama insists will maintain America’s military superiority around the world.

Though no Defense budget spending information was presented today, the new strategy provides hints at potential personnel cuts that will be announced in a few weeks.

Entitled “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense” the new strategy lays out a vision for what the American military will look like by  2020.

The president made a rare appearance in the Pentagon briefing room to provide the first details of the military strategy review begun in early 2011 that was designed to guide the anticipated $450 billion in defense spending cuts slated to take place over the next decade. 

“Our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority,”  Obama said.   

With the end of the U.S. involvement in Iraq and with significant troop reductions slated for Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the new strategy serves as a roadmap for where the military should prioritize its resources in the lean budget years to come.

“We will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region,” the eight page document states, reaffirming  a point that  Obama and other senior administration officials have emphasized recently.

The shift away from Iraq and Afghanistan also means there will be less of a need to maintain the increased number of Army soldiers and Marines required to conduct a counterinsurgency fight.   U.S. forces “will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations” says the strategy.  That statement translates into smaller Army and Marine forces.

Another main highlight of the strategy released today is that it does away with the Cold-War era requirement that the military be able to fight two wars simultaneously. 

Seeking to ease any concerns that dropping the requirement could leave the U.S. vulnerable if it has to face multiple threats, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said,  ”We can confront more than one enemy at a time.”

As an example, Panetta cited the possibility of having to fight a land war inKorea while dealing with a naval threat in the Strait of Hormuz at the same time.

“We have the capability, with this Joint Force, to deal with those kinds of threats, to be able to confront them, and to be able to win,” he said.  ”That’s what counts” and that could be done “without tying ourselves to a paradigm that is a residual of the Cold War.”

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the new strategy doesn’t mean the U.S. is not going to fight land wars. “It doesn’t say we’re never going to do stability operations. It does say explicitly we have to be capable of conducting operations across the full spectrum,” Dempsey said.

Of the shift towards Asia, Dempsey said “all of the trends, demographic trends, geopolitical trends, economic trends and military trends are shifting toward the Pacific. So our strategic challenges in the future will largely emanate out of the Pacific region.”

He cautioned that  ”it would be really a mistake for … anyone to walk away with the impression that we’re going to niche ourselves to some point on the spectrum of conflict and declare ourselves a global power.”

The Army and Marines were already planning to reduce their numbers beginning in 2015, but the strategy unveiled did not provide specific information whether they would be reduced beyond current planning. 

However, a U.S. official confirms to ABC News  that the Army will likely drop to 490,000 soldiers  from its current end-strength of 570,000, a deeper cut than a planned cut of 520,000.   That force strength will  still be 10,000 more soldiers than were in the Army the year before 9/11. 

The Marines are currently at 202,000 and had already planned to reduce their number to 186,800, a figure that will still be more than 10,000 higher than the number of Marines who were serving prior to 9/11. 

The Navy will retain its fleet of 11 aircraft carriers  and won’t be reduced to 10 as some national security analysts had speculated.   Maintaining that number of carriers should make it easier for the Navy to continue to project U.S. power in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East where for the past few years the Navy has maintained a two carrier presence for much of the year.

Another way the U.S. is expected to project its power in the coming decade will be through the purchase of more than 2,000  F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.  The program has been beset by cost overruns resulting from production difficulties.   A lot of speculation has swirled around the F-35 being a likely target for any potential budget savings. 

But the U.S. official says the purchase plan for the F-35 will slide to the right by a few years so that production factories remain in operation to give some time for some of the plane’s  design kinks to be worked out. That move would continue the program, but also free up spending that could be spent elsewhere.

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