Hagel Calls for Smaller Force to Protect Technology Edge

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today argued for troop reductions to preserve spending on advanced technology from defense contractors amid more than $500 billion in automatic budget cuts scheduled through 2023.

“In some cases we will make a shift, for example, by prioritizing a smaller, modern, and capable military over a larger force with older equipment,” Hagel said in remarks prepared for an address before the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a policy research group in Washington.

The statement reflects a determination in the Pentagon to protect sophisticated and costly weapons, such as Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighter, that are seen as giving the U.S. military a competitive advantage.

Hagel straddled the options in July, when he presented results of a “Strategic Choices and Management Review.” At that time, he said the Pentagon would have to make the choice between a “much smaller” force and a decade-long “modernization holiday” unless Congress and the president reached an agreement to call off the automatic cuts known as sequestration.

Today, he said the reduction in forces is also being driven by the drawdown of troops in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the need to focus on cyberdefense, space, special operations and surveillance technologies.

“As our potential adversaries invest in more sophisticated capabilities and seek to frustrate our military’s traditional advantages -- including our freedom of action and access -- it will be important to maintain our decisive technological edge,” Hagel said.

Long-Range Bomber

In addition to the F-35 fighter, the Pentagon’s costliest program, a reduction in forces may protect planned spending for systems such as a new long-range bomber and upgrades in submarine cruise missiles.

Outlining his vision for the role of the U.S. military as an instrument of national power, Hagel embraced the concept of serving as a back-up to the “soft power” of the State Department’s diplomacy, a concept that was pushed strongly by Robert Gates when he was defense secretary.

Hagel called on the military to “carefully reconsider the mix between capacity and capability, between active and reserve forces, between forward-stationed and home-based forces, and between conventional and unconventional warfighting capabilities.”

He questioned dependence on the reserves, especially in the early phases of a conflict, “tempered by the knowledge and experience that part-time units, in ground forces especially, cannot expect to perform at the same levels as full-time units, at least in a conflict’s early stages.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.