The Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON —As the Pentagon looks to cut $450 billion over the next decade, the largest savings will come from forgoing projects to modernize Pentagon weapons, U.S, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday.
Mr. Panetta promised "targeted changes" to modernization efforts, but he also repeated his past warnings against steps that would "hollow out" the military.
In an address at the Woodrow Wilson Center think tank billed as his first major policy speech, Mr. Panetta said the department would save $60 billion in the next five years from general budget efficiencies, on top of the $150 billion already slated for cost cutting by his predecessor, Robert Gates.
But the budget efficiencies alone will not be enough to ease the financial pressures, requiring the department to turn to proposals to eliminate some weapons modernization, Mr. Panetta said.
Mr. Panetta did not name any specific weapons programs as targets. Defense secretaries usually try to keep secret proposals for program cuts, to prevent opposition from building in Congress.
Anticipating that any specific proposal for cuts would encounter controversy in Congress, Mr. Panetta called on lawmakers to support "a strong defense strategy that may not always include their favorite base or weapons system."
"Every program, every contract and every facility will be scrutinized for savings that won't reduce readiness or our ability to perform essential missions," he said.
Mr. Panetta said he also expects the size of the military to shrink. "A smaller, highly capable and ready force is preferable to a larger, hollow force," he said. The National Guard and military reserves will be ready to respond in a crisis, making up for some gaps created by a smaller active-duty force, he added.
In a question-and-answer session, Mr. Panetta said the coming force cuts was one reason it was necessary to continue to require teenagers to register for the draft, and why he opposed dropping that practice.
Mr. Panetta said while looking for benefits cuts, he hoped to allow current members of the military to keep their existing retirement plans. Reduced benefits only would apply to future members of the military.
"We must recognize that if the growth in personnel costs is not addressed, we won't be able to afford the training and equipment our troops need to succeed on the battlefield," Mr. Panetta said.