Rumsfeld Aides Seek Deep Personnel Cuts In Armed Forces to Pay For New Weaponry


    WASHINGTON—Aides to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are calling for deep personnel cuts to the Army, Navy, and Air Force in order to pay for new high-tech weaponry and missile defenses that are cornerstones of President Bush's plan to "transform the military."
    The proposal to reduce manpower—part of a congressionally mandated defense review due next month—calls for the Army to trim as many as 2.8 of its 10 divisions, or about 56,000 troops. The Air Force would lose as many as 16 of its 61 fighter squadrons, according to the plan, and the Navy would drop one or two of its 12 carrier battle groups, defense officials said. Mr. Rumsfeld and top generals of each military service were briefed on the recommendations for the first time yesterday.
    Any cuts are sure to provoke strong protests from both the military brass and Congress, which in recent weeks has insisted it won't allow reductions in force structure or weapons programs. Earlier this week 80 lawmakers sent a letter to Mr. Rumsfeld expressing "strong opposition" to possible cuts in the size of the Army.
    It isn't clear exactly which parts of the world would see the largest reduction in U.S. forces under the proposal presented to the secretary. "The assumption is that cuts would primarily come out of Europe," said one senior military official who was apprised of the review. In recent months defense officials have focused attention on Asia, which has fewer U.S. bases and more ground to cover compared with Europe, and hence greater need for longrange weapons systems called for by President Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld.
    Large cuts of U.S. troops in Europe would likely raise the anxieties of allies who have expressed concern that the Bush administration appears to be disengaging from Europe. Mr. Bush's foreign-policy team has devoted considerable energy to quelling those fears during his first six months in office.
    It also is far from clear that the cuts will ever even be proposed to Congress in their current state. Senior defense officials caution that the initial assessment, part of the defense secretary's congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review, could change significantly before the report is submitted Sept. 30. "This is still a fluid situation," one defense official said.
    A separate review, conducted by Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson and the staff of Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently reached a very different conclusion about the force structure needed to meet new strategic guidelines that Mr. Rumsfeld recently negotiated with senior military brass: It projected the services would need to stay the same size or even grow. Gen. Carlson's review also was presented to Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday.
    Few expected the Bush administration would consider such deep force cuts six months ago. But defense officials say the president's $1.35 trillion tax cut, combined with a slowing economy, have left little money for the kind of military transformation the administration hoped for. Senior defense officials also say they were surprised by the state of crumbling military infrastructure, which required far greater infusions of cash than was initially expected.
    With money tight, force cuts and infrastructure reductions through base closings have become critical elements of the administration's broader strategy to transform the military. The goal is to create a stealthier, more rapidly deployable force better suited to fight future battles.

    It is unclear exactly which weapons systems would see more money as a result of potential force-structure cuts. A defense official said the savings from the troop cuts could be used to pay for the administration's ambitious national missile-defense plan, which saw its 2002 budget increased 60% to about $8 billion. Spending on ground-, sea-, air- and space-based missile defenses is likely to rise significantly in future years if those systems prove their mettle.
    The force-structure cuts could also be used to increase the Pentagon's research-and-development spending on promising new weapons systems, battlefield sensors and unmanned aircraft. Savings also could be plowed into infrastructure improvements and salary increases for troops, a defense official said.
    If implemented, the reductions also could mean that more-traditional weapons systems—such as fighter jets, ships and tanks—could be bought in smaller numbers as the force shrinks.