Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force via Wikipedia.

The U.S. Move To Downsize The Army Reflects A Changing Military Strategy

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force via Wikipedia.

The Pentagon is planning to reduce the Army to its pre-WWII size, as part of a move to create a leaner, high-tech organization.

In a budget preview speech on Feb. 24, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the amount of active-duty soldiers in the Army will be reduced to 440,000-450,000, down from 520,000 today.

He also announced that the venerable U-2 spy plane, in use since 1955, and the Cold War-era A-10 “Warthog” anti-tank plane will both be retired from service.

The high-altitude, long-range Global Hawk drone is expected to replace the U-2, while the stealth  F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet is expected to replace the A-10.

However, both these projects have run into huge cost overruns and development delays – the F-35 in particular, having already cost almost $400 billion to develop and procure, and is not expected to be ready until the 2020s.

Reshaping the military

The policy shift comes as the U.S. Iraq occupation has ended and the record-long, 13-year war in Afghanistan is winding down.

Combined, these two conflicts have already cost $1.5 trillion, according to the National Priorities Project.

From now on, however, the Pentagon is “no longer sizing the military to conduct long and large stability operations,” Hagel said.

In the last two decades, the military doctrine has been “win-hold-win,” referring to a military able to win a conflict in one theater while holding the enemy in another, then pivoting over to win the second conflict.

Perhaps reflecting a move away from this, however, Hagel said that the new, smaller military should be capable of decisively defeating aggression in one major war, “while also defending the homeland and supporting air and naval forces engaged in another theater against an adversary.”

New priorities

Hagel also said that his “recommendations favor a smaller and more capable force – putting a premium on rapidly deployable, self-sustaining platforms that can defeat more technologically advanced adversaries.”

This supports the wider “pivot to Asia” policy enacted by the White House, which seeks to focus U.S. influence and strategic defense goals on China and other rising Asian economies, instead of on land wars in the Middle East.

For instance, the U.S. recently beefed up its Cyber Command division from 900 to 4,000 people, in order to both defend from and be prepared to launch attacks on computers and networks (we speculated whether the U.S. is ready for cyberwar here).

The new strategy also aims to keep the pressure up on global terrorist networks, both through the continued development of drones, and by increasing the U.S. special operations forces by more than 4,000 troops.

Budget reduction?

With increasing political pressure to reduce the U.S. budget deficit, the White House is aiming to reduce the growth of military spending.

However, as pointed out by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the drawdown is not as large as it was after other U.S. wars.

And even at this reduced level of spending, U.S. military investments will likely reign supreme:

Chart courtesy of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation based on Stockholm International Peace Research Institute data.

In 2012, which saw the lowest level of spending since 2006, the U.S. still spent more than the next 14 other military budgets combined.

Ole Skaar