President Obama Unveils 'Leaner' Military; Deep Budget Cuts - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather

President Obama Unveils 'Leaner' Military; Deep Budget Cuts — President Obama outlined a broad new military strategy for the United States on Thursday, unveiling a new defense plan reflecting hundreds of billions of dollars in budget cuts and ending a decades-old strategy of being prepared to fight two wars at once.

The president made a rare appearance at the Pentagon, joining Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his joint chiefs of staff to outline the strategic review.

The strategy refocuses the armed forces on threats in Asia and the Pacific region, continues a strong presence in the Middle East but makes clear that American ground forces will no longer be large enough to conduct prolonged, large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an unusual appearance in the Pentagon briefing room, Obama put his mark on a military strategy that moves away from the grinding wars he inherited from the Bush administration and relies more on naval and air power in the Pacific and the Strait of Hormuz as a counterbalance to China and Iran.

Mr. Obama's strategy embraces hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to the military, making it an awkward addition to the uneasy relationship he has shared with the military since his first days in office.

In a letter accompanying the new strategy, the president wrote, "We must put our fiscal house in order here at home and renew our long-term economic strength."

But in an election year when he has been under assault from Republican presidential candidates for cutting the military budget and for what they say is his weak response to Iranian threats, Mr. Obama also said that the United States would "avoid repeating the mistakes of the past when our military was left ill-prepared for the future."

To that end, the president wrote, his administration will continue to invest in counterterrorism, intelligence gathering, cyberwarfare and countering the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Officials said it was the first time in history that a president had held a news conference at the Pentagon.

"Now, we're turning the page on a decade of war," Mr. Obama said in his prepared remarks.

He said the country needed to remain prepared. "We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past—after World War II, after Vietnam—when our military was left ill-prepared for the future," he said.  "So, yes, our military will be leaner, but the world must know—the United States is going to maintain our military superiority."

Mr. Panetta has concluded that the Army has to shrink even below current targets, dropping to 490,000 soldiers over the next decade, but that the United States should not cut any of its 11 aircraft carriers, according to Pentagon officials and military analysts briefed on the secretary's budget proposals.

The new military strategy is driven by at least $450 billion in Pentagon budget cuts over the next decade. An additional $500 billion in cuts could be ordered if Congress follows through on plans for deeper reductions.

As part of the new reality, Mr. Panetta is expected to propose cuts in coming weeks to next-generation weapons, including delays in purchases of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet, one of the most expensive weapons programs in history. Delaying the F-35 would leave its factories open, giving the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, a chance to work out continuing problems in developing the plane while freeing up money that otherwise would be devoted to buying it in the next year or two.

In the past few days, senior aides to both Mr. Panetta and General Dempsey said few specific details on Pentagon budget cuts would be released before the final budget proposal is finished later this month. But a number of Pentagon officials, military officers and military budget specialists briefed on Mr. Panetta's plans discussed specific programs on the chopping block on the condition of anonymity.

The defense secretary has made clear that troop reductions should be carried out carefully, and over several years, so that combat veterans are not flooding into a tough employment market and military families do not feel that the government is breaking trust after a decade of sacrifice, officials said.

A smaller Army would be a clear sign that the Pentagon does not anticipate conducting another expensive, troop-intensive counterinsurgency campaign, like those waged in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor would the military be able to carry out two sustained ground wars at one time, as was required under past national military strategies.

Instead, the military would be required to fight and win one war, spoil the military aspirations of another adversary in a different region of the world, and all the while be able to conduct humanitarian relief operations and other contingencies, like continuing counterterrorism missions and enforcing a no-fly zone.

The size of the Marine Corps is also expected to be reduced, although it would be expected to benefit from a renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region, with Marines deployed aboard ships as well as at bases west of Hawaii.

Mr. Panetta is also examining personnel costs, with cuts to future retirement benefits and fees for health care offered to Defense Department retirees on the table.

Some areas of Pentagon spending will be protected. The defense secretary will not advocate cuts in financing for defense and offense in cyberspace, for Special Operations forces or for the broad area of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

In general, the new "Defense Strategic Review" outlined Thursday will try to define American national security interests in what officials said would be more realistic, narrow terms — to allow the acquisition of required military capabilities with a reduced budget.