Inside The Pentagon
by Elaine M. Grossman
August 18, 2005
Page 1

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Cuts to ground troops believed unlikely


The Army and Marine Corps are emerging as early winners in the fight for resources as the Pentagon undertakes its 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review, key participants in the process tell Inside the Pentagon.

The most important decisions in the review -- focused on the specific capabilities needed for future military operations -- will not be taken until early October and the results are not expected for public release until early next year. Some officials are not ruling out the possibility that the Air Force and Navy also will weather the review well.

But defense officials say the Pentagon’s top civilian and military leaders have already signaled they are unlikely to force the two services built around ground troops to take cuts in their most prized
asset: manpower.

The Pentagon’s emerging force-planning construct -- its outline of the key missions that will determine the size and shape of the military for years to come -- is “a very infantry-centered view of the future,” says one defense official (see related story). “This is one that has a big smile on the Army and Marine Corps.”

Against the backdrop of heavy strains on Army personnel rotating in and out of Iraq, successive downturns in the service’s recruiting numbers and a drumbeat of pressure from Capitol Hill to increase troops, any significant reduction in land forces would be politically infeasible, according to a view prevalent in the Pentagon.

“For a service chief, [a cut in manpower] is kind of the third rail,” says one defense official.

Though Pentagon leaders are now talking openly about reducing forces in Iraq and have long insisted that a 30,000-soldier boost in Army personnel is only “temporary,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is unlikely to cut overall ground-service manpower at a time of growing public concern about the fate of U.S. troops, defense insiders say.

Two Democratic lawmakers recently questioned whether Rumsfeld is listening to the concerns of his active-duty generals about severe strains on manpower, Inside the Army reported July 18. And though many Americans remain unaware of the trend, junior enlisted ranks in the active-duty Army -- widely viewed as the backbone of the force -- have shrunk precipitously since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (ITP, June 30, p1).

Yet in a financially constrained federal budget -- with growing bills for Social Security and health care limiting discretionary spending on defense and other agencies -- every bill to pay requires Bush administration leaders to identify a billpayer.

That role may fall to the Air Force and Navy this time around, at least according to the latest conventional wisdom circulating in the Pentagon.

Those two services achieved some victories in the bureaucratic warfare that constituted the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, defense experts say. But now the burden of paying for sustained or perhaps even increased Army and Marine Corps troop numbers may come in the form of reductions to expensive Navy and Air Force technologies, many defense officials agree.

Not so fast, says one defense official who calls such a conclusion “premature.”

“I think those are issues that are still yet to be decided in the QDR,” said this official, using the acronym for the quadrennial review.

Air Force leaders have already appealed to Rumsfeld to look elsewhere for cuts and there may be more table-banging yet to come as the autumn decisions approach, sources say. But some gripe that the service has not yet fought hard enough in the review to maintain an ability to perform its core missions.

Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who is leading the quadrennial review effort, recently contracted out a study that may plant the seeds for a substantial reduction in sea- and ground-based combat aircraft, reported last week. The first phase of the study will conclude Sept. 30 -- just in time for final Pentagon budget decisions for fiscal year 2007 -- with two additional phases complete by March and August 2006, according to the Web-based news service.

Rumsfeld already has cut plans for the Air Force’s top-priority F/A-22 fighter, reducing acquisition to 179 jets despite the service’s contention that it needs 381. The service continues to press for more of the aircraft -- which currently have air-to-air capability but also are intended for ground-attack missions -- as the review unfolds.

Another area for reduction may be the Navy’s planned fleet of 11 aircraft carrier groups, which may drop to 10 in order to help finance U.S. forces dedicated to irregular warfare (ITP, April 21, p1).

In an interesting twist, even as England chairs the quadrennial review in his capacity as acting deputy defense secretary, he remains secretary of the Navy and, as such, is the Defense Department’s top civilian advocate for naval programs. How England may fight for Navy interests even as he oversees the entire review could be an intriguing wild card in the mix, participants say.

This week, President Bush nominated Northrop Grumman’s Donald Winter to replace England in the Navy post. But the quadrennial review likely will be near complete or already done before the nominee is confirmed by the Senate and sworn in. Congress remains on summer recess through Labor Day and major Pentagon decisions on the quadrennial review are expected by Oct. 5.

—Elaine M. Grossman

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