US to build a smaller and leaner force: Panetta

Leon Panetta on Tuesday told law makers that the country was gearing up for a smaller and leaner force.

Washington: With the Iraq war ending and
troops preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan, US Defense
Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday told law makers that the country
was gearing up for a smaller and leaner force which would be
technologically advanced.

"We knew that coming out of the wars, the military would
be smaller. But to ensure an agile force, we made a conscious
choice not to maintain more force structure than we could
afford to properly train and equip," Panetta said at a
Congressional hearing.

"We are implementing force structure reductions consistent
with the new strategic guidance for a total savings of about
USD 50 billion over the next five years," he said.

The new initiatives would help in reducing Pentagon`s
budgetary requirements, which is now a must, given the
economic constraint that the country is facing.

These adjustments include, he said, gradually resizing the
active army to 490,000 soldiers; gradually resizing the active
Marine Corps to 182,100 Marines, and reducing and streamlining
the Air Force`s airlift fleet.

The Air Force will maintain a fleet of 275 strategic
airlifters and 318 C-130s - a fleet more than capable of
meeting the airlift requirements of the new strategy.

In addition, the Air Force will eliminate seven Tactical
Air squadrons but retain a robust force of 54 combat-coded
fighter squadrons, maintaining the capabilities and capacity
needed to meet the new strategic guidance, he said.

The Navy, he said, will retire seven lower priority Navy
cruisers that have not been upgraded with ballistic missile
defense capability or that would require significant repairs,
as well as two dock landing ships.

Panetta also informed lawmakers of his efforts to
rebalance global posture and presence to emphasize
Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

"The strategic guidance made clear that we must protect
capabilities needed to project power in Asia-Pacific and the
Middle East," Panetta said.

To this end, this budget maintains the current bomber
fleet; maintains the aircraft carrier fleet at a long-term
level of 11 ships and 10 air wings, maintains the big-deck
amphibious fleet; and restores Army and Marine Corps force
structure in the Pacific after the drawdown from Iraq and as
we drawdown in Afghanistan, while maintaining a strong
presence in the Middle East, he said.

The budget also makes selected new investments to ensure
we develop new capabilities needed to maintain our military`s
continued freedom of action in face of new challenges that
could restrict our ability to project power in key territories
and domains, he said.

Other key power projection investments in fiscal 2013
include USD 300 million to fund the next generation Air Force
bomber (and a total of USD 6.3 billion over the next five
years); USD 1.8 billion to develop the new Air Force tanker;
and USD 18.2 billion for the procurement of 10 new warships,
including two Virginia-class submarines, two Aegis-class
destroyers, four Littoral Combat Ships, one Joint High Speed
Vessel, and one CVN-21-class aircraft carrier.

The US is also investing USD 100 million to increase
cruise missile capacity of future Virginia-class submarines,
he said.

"The strategy makes clear that even though Asia-Pacific
and the Middle East represent the areas of growing strategic
priority, the United States will work to strengthen its key
alliances, to build partnerships and to develop innovative
ways such as rotational deployments to sustain US presence
elsewhere in the world," Panetta said.

To that end, this budget makes key investments in NATO and
other partnership programs, including USD 200 million in 2013
and nearly USD 900 million over the next five years in the
NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance system.

"The new strategy also envisions a series of
organizational changes that will boost efforts to partner with
other militaries.

"These include allocating a US-based brigade to the
NATO Response Force and rotating US-based units to Europe for
training and exercises; and increasing opportunities for
Special Operations Forces to advise and assist partners in
other regions," he said.