CHICAGO – U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Tuesday of painful trade-offs as the nation's military pivots from a 13-year war footing and comes under enormous budgetary constraints, saying there will have to be cuts to military pay, aging weapons systems and the size of the armed forces.
Hagel made the comments in a speech in Chicago aimed in large part at members of Congress who have demanded deep spending cuts while resisting the military's main proposals for making them, including the closure of bases that are popular with lawmakers and their constituents. Hanging in the balance amid that tussle is not just America's military might, but also its global standing, Hagel said.
"Even as Congress has slashed our overall budget, they have so far proven unwilling to accept necessary reforms to curb growth in compensation costs and eliminate (the Department of Defense's) excess infrastructure and unneeded facilities," Hagel said.
His words echoed those of military leaders who were on Capitol Hill Tuesday to tell Congress that they have done all they could to cut costs and it was now up to lawmakers to slow the growth of skyrocketing personnel pay and benefits. Senators expressed reservations about that as well as the Pentagon's efforts to cut the A-10 aircraft, which provides close air support for combat troops.
Hagel spoke in Chicago of the need to abandon those aircraft, which he argued cannot operate in the face of sophisticated air defenses. The same, he said, is true of the U-2 spy plane.
"Continuing to limp along with 50-year-old platforms, no matter how good they were or how effective they were, we don't have that luxury," he said. "We've got to build for the future. ... Congress has to be a partner with us."
Next-generation conventional military equipment is still important, Hagel said. But he added that the nation's security now also depends on new investment in cyber technology, unmanned weapons systems and international partnerships to counter what he called "shadowy" threats from irregular forces. Emphasizing the point, Hagel mentioned the crisis in Ukraine and a continued threat from terrorism.
The speech was Hagel's third on new strategic priorities as the U.S. military and its NATO allies move to end their combat role in Afghanistan by the end of the year.