WASHINGTON – Hampered by an increasingly combative relationship with Congress, the Pentagon is expected to seek savings from its payroll rather than making deep cuts in major weapons programs in its next long-range plan.
The blueprint for military restructuring that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is to release early next year — an exercise the Pentagon undertakes every four years — is the first one fully conceived since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The review is expected to confirm Rumsfeld's views that the military must be lighter, more agile and better equipped to fight terrorism and confront weapons of mass destruction.
Officials said Rumsfeld is considering several options for cutting personnel costs, including:
— Eliminating 40,000 Air Force jobs over the next six years, including active duty, civilian and reserves.
— Cutting up to three National Guard brigades, each of which generally has about 3,500 troops.
— Scaling back plans to increase active Army forces.
"All proposals for cutting weapons systems have, one by one, been shot down, so in the end the savings are achieved by minor cuts in many places, rather than big decisions," said Loren Thompson, defense analyst with the Lexington Institute think tank in Arlington, Va.
"Rumsfeld has lost most of his following on Capitol Hill, so any bold moves were likely to be rebuffed," said Thompson, who has close ties to the Pentagon.
Weapons systems from the high-tech Joint Strike Fighter to the Navy's expensive new DD(X) destroyer had been mentioned as possible targets for cuts during early discussions on the long-term plan, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review.
President Bush's proposed budget sought $111 billion for personnel costs this year, more than one-fourth of the $420 billion he requested for the Pentagon, not including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of September, the Defense Department had about 1.4 million troops in the active-duty military and 671,000 civilian employees.
The Army is looking at cutting National Guard brigades to find savings that will enable it to keep weapons programs on track, according to Thompson and a military official and a second defense analyst, both of whom did not want to be identified because decisions have not been announced.
Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne said Tuesday that much of the job cuts would be done through attrition and that there also will be efforts to control the number of recruits coming in.
Rumsfeld has refused to talk about possible cuts in the defense review or the 2007 budget, which will be released in February.
The Pentagon's last quadrennial review was released on Sept. 30, 2001, but largely completed before the Sept. 11 attacks. The new review, expected to be finalized this month, maps the people, equipment and structure the military wants for its 21st century wars.
Thompson said the review would discuss the military's need to focus on emerging threats, such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. He said it would seek to reduce dependence on traditional weapons systems, but by looking for savings in personnel and not arms, the Pentagon will not reflect such changes in the program budgets.
"There will be a mismatch between the words and the numbers," Thompson said.
Bush proposed spending $147 billion researching, developing and buying weapons systems in the 2006 budget year, which runs through September. Some lawmakers have urged the Pentagon to find savings from weapons costs, which are projected to rise to $180 billion by 2011.
Bitter political battles over the war in Iraq, efforts to ban inhumane treatment of prisoners, and the massive growth in spending for the war and military programs have caused divisions in Congress and between lawmakers and the administration, including Rumsfeld, one of the war's architects.
"The relationship between Rumsfeld and Congress is pretty poisonous," said Winslow T. Wheeler, a former Congressional budget analyst now with the Center for Defense Information think tank.