Pentagon budget aims to cut military by thousands

Most military services hope to shrink, while the Army, Navy and Air Force seek to cut thousands.

The Defense Department’s budget request unveiled April 4 asks Congress to cut about 25,000 military service positions, which would bring the authorized final force much closer to current troop levels.

The $813 billion budget request is the largest in history, up more than $17 billion from last year, but its purpose “is not to enlarge the force”, Comptroller Michael McCord told reporters April 4. “That’s not what…our review concluded we needed to do. We’re looking to make the force more capable.

The army and navy would shrink by more than 5,000 troops currently in service if the proposal passes as is, losing about 3,000 and 2,000 troops respectively. The Air Force wants to cut about 5,700 active-duty Airmen by the start of fiscal year 2023.

Overall, the military could withdraw more than 10,000 troops, although the Marine Corps and Space Force would see a small bump. The new final authorized workforce could reach 2,122,900, compared to 2,147,540 in 2022.

The Army’s request to drop its final active duty strength marks a new direction for the service. In 2017, after planning to withdraw, Congress authorized the service to expand, from 460,000 to 476,000, with an eye on 500,000 active duty troops by 2022.

But that goal proved difficult to achieve, as recruiting efforts fell short of targets. The army reached 486,490 in 2021, before dropping to 476,000 currently.

“It’s the same size army we had on 9/11, and when I look at what the requirements are, when I look at what we historically needed, and now that we’re in an era of great power competition, I am very, very concerned about the size of the army,” Army Chief of Staff General James McConville said in April 2021.

The decision to cut the service was made by the recruiting market, McCord said.

“The low unemployment rate right now and the declining propensity to serve that I think multiple departments are seeing – the military felt it was not productive to try to chase that number,” a- he declared.

Thus, while the army was authorized to rise to 485,000 soldiers in active service in 2022, a recent estimate puts its strength at 476,000 men. The 2023 budget request would bring them down to a ceiling of 473,000, a decrease of 12,000 billets — or 3,000 soldiers currently in service.

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Service officials said April 4 that they plan to consolidate, eventually reaching 485,000 active duty troops over the next five years.

The Army Reserve and National Guard would remain stable at 189,500 and 336,000, respectively.

The Navy’s final strength is declining again this year, cutting 1,520 jobs for a total strength of 404,000. A recent force size estimate put the Navy at over 406,000 sailors, technically making it overstaffed.

The new request would set the service to:

  • 346,300 active duty sailors, down from 1,184

  • 57,700 in reserve, down from 951

On April 4, the Navy also announced plans to decommission 24 ships, significantly reducing its personnel requirements. McCord confirmed that the declining number of ships factored into the decision to downsize the Navy.

The Marine Corps, meanwhile, was cleared to rise to more than 214,000 troops in 2022, but has edged closer to 209,000.

Their budget request would even things out at 210,000:

  • 177,000 active duty Marines, down 250

  • 33,000 in reserve, up from around 650

The Air Force Department is looking to cap its troop strength at 510,400, up from its 2022 cap of 516,220.

The changes result in:

  • 323,400 billets in active service, down from the previous cap of 329,220

  • 200 additional Space Force Guardian slots, from 8,400 to 8,600;

  • 100 additional Air National Guard tickets, up to 108,400

  • 70,000 reserve billets, a decrease of 300 individual mobilization reinforcement jobs

A final DoD staffing table released April 4 estimates that the Air Force and Space Force will have approximately 510,300 uniformed personnel as of September 30, 2022. These individuals would fill all but 100 jobs in the two services. .

The service said it had about 329,000 active-duty Airmen as of April 4, putting it just above its current limit of 329,220 tickets. About 2,000 active-duty Airmen are expected to return to the Defense Health Agency after temporarily serving in the Air Force.

The changes bring the entire Army closer to its current recruiting and retention expectations. Neither service has announced drastic force training measures as a result, though the Air Force has offered early sorties for its members in an attempt to correct its overstaffing issues.

Otherwise, the services typically approach withdrawal by decreasing recruiting efforts and eliminating re-enlistment bonuses designed to keep troops in service who would otherwise complete their contract. Elsewhere, fewer troops may be selected for promotions, possibly forcing them into involuntary separation from service.

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