By JULIAN E. BARNES
WASHINGTON—Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday outlined his vision for reducing defense spending in the coming years, saying he was taking a hard look at weapons programs, overhead and personnel.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel outlined his vision for reducing defense spending, saying he was taking a hard look at weapons programs, overhead and personnel.
Despite other efforts in recent years to cut underperforming weapons programs, Mr. Hagel said projects remained that were “vastly more expensive and technologically risky than what was promised or budgeted for.”
The Pentagon is keeping details of its proposed cuts under wraps until the Obama administration unveils its budget next week. But defense analysts said Mr. Hagel’s speech indicates military forces will be cut more deeply and that some high-profile weapons systems, like the Army’s ground-combat vehicle or light tactical vehicle, are likely to be cut back or delayed significantly.
Mr. Hagel sketched his views in an address at the National Defense University in Washington that marked his first major speech as defense secretary.
He said in prepared remarks that the 10-year, $500 billion in across-the-board spending cuts taking effect this year and known as the sequester halted many essential activities and necessitated further cuts in immediate spending plans. Although the sequester could be replaced with a more comprehensive deficit-reduction deal, Mr. Hagel said there was no question the department needed to work harder at “matching missions with resources.”
The Pentagon, Mr. Hagel said, will begin “another hard look at personnel” examining to see if it must cut personnel, alter pay and benefit structures, and reduce health-care costs. Mr. Hagel also signaled that he will review whether the military had too many officers and whether some duties being done by uniformed military could be moved to civilians.
He also promised a look at the organization of the Defense Department, saying the effort to make the military services work together more efficiently had led to new organizations being layered on top of old ones.
“The last major defense reorganization…was drafted at the height of the Reagan defense buildup and focused on improving jointness and establishing clear operational chains of command,” Mr. Hagel said. “Cost and efficiency were not major considerations.”
Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said Mr. Hagel’s assessment that efficiencies alone won’t sufficiently reduce Pentagon spending was accurate.
“What really matters most is not this speech but rather what comes over next week in President Obama’s 2014 budget proposal that actually starts to tackle these areas of bureaucratic creep,” Ms. Eaglen said. The Pentagon, she said, should look to trim the staff of the Defense secretary, currently at some 5,000 people.
Ms. Eaglen also predicted that given the reluctance of President Barack Obama’s administration to use ground forces, the Army would face some of the deepest cuts. “It seems ripe that Army modernization programs will be a key target for cuts,” she said.
Even as he laid out the broad cuts to come, Mr. Hagel argued for further innovation. He noted that in prior periods of reduced spending, the military had developed weapons and strategies that later proved invaluable. Aircraft carriers were developed before World War II, and drones emerged during the post-Cold War drawdown.
“The United States military has always proved capable of adapting to new realities, even when resources were relatively scarce,” Mr. Hagel said.