WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday unveiled cuts of 78 billion dollars in US military programs, saying the country faced a "dire" fiscal situation that meant scaling back defense spending.
Gates, in a compromise with the White House, said the cuts and other measures would result in a slower pace of growth in defense budgets over the next five years, despite earlier plans to keep spending at a higher rate.
The proposed defense budget for fiscal year 2012 will reach 553 billion dollars, growing at a modest rate of three percent, but future budgets will gradually be scaled back to zero real growth in 2015 and 2016, Gates told a news conference.
The cuts will require reducing the size of the Army and the Marine Corps in 2015-16, with the Army reducing its force by 27,000 troops and the Marines by 15-20,000, he said.
The Pentagon chief said he would have preferred to avoid such cuts, "but this country's dire fiscal situation and the threat it poses to American influence and credibility around the world will only get worse unless the US government gets its finances in order."
As a major portion of the US budget, "the Pentagon cannot presume to exempt itself from the scrutiny and pressure faced by the rest of our government" to scale back spending, he said.
Gates, mindful of a growing push to rein in the country's deficit and national debt, has for months signaled plans to find tens of billions in savings in the defense budget with the aim of preserving key military programs.
But Gates was forced to accept that 78 billion dollars in cuts would not be reinvested in other defense programs due to fiscal pressures.
Gates had hoped to avoid any cuts that directly affected the fighting force but in the end had to propose reducing the size of the Army and Marines, though the move will not come until 2015 -- when Washington hopes Afghan forces will take over responsibility for their country's security.
The Army is currently at 569,000 troops and the Marine Corps has about 202,000 personnel.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »