Cuts in Army troop levels to continue in new budget

WASHINGTON — The Army will shrink to its smallest size in decades, between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers by 2019, according to the new Pentagon budget Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will release Monday afternoon.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Hagel had consulted with all service chiefs before determining the size of each force that he would recommend in the budget.

Monday's announcement will be somewhat of a reprieve for the Army, because the Obama administration will call for $26 billion in extra defense spending above the levels set by a 2011 budget agreement between the White House and congressional Republicans.

Last month, USA TODAY reported that under the terms of that spending deal, cuts known as sequestration would have led Hagel to seek an overall Army troop level of 420,000 soldiers by 2019 down from the current level of 528,000 soldiers.

Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, had warned Pentagon leaders that the 450,000-soldier level would be "too small," and at "high risk to meet one major war," according to documents obtained by USA TODAY. The documents also showed that Army leaders said the service could not adequately protect the country and fight abroad at the 420,000-soldier level.

Also included in the budget for the 2015 fiscal year cuts in the fleet of the Navy's newest ships, the Littoral Combat Ship, from more than 50 to slightly more than 30, said a senior defense official. The ship, which was built to navigate shallower coastal waters, has been plagued by cost overruns and concerns about performance and crew protection.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the budget information was not yet public.

The Air Force will also retire its A-10 aircraft, which is used for close-air support of ground missions, the official said. The A-10, which was originally built in the 1970s, is known for its ability to knock out enemy tanks and armor.


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