The Trade-Off

The Defense Department’s Strategic Choices and Management Review concluded that the Pentagon could either “trade away size for high-end capability” or “trade away high-end capability for size,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday. Under the first approach, the Air Force would retire its “older” bombers, the Navy would reduce the number of carrier strike groups from 11 to “eight or nine,” and the Army and Marine Corps would face significant reductions in end strength, Hagel told reporters during a Pentagon briefing on the review’s findings. At the same time, this option would “protect investments to counter anti-access and area-denial threats, such as the long-range-strike family of systems, submarine cruise-missile upgrades, and the joint strike fighter,” he said. Cyber would also remain a top priority under that path. “This strategic choice would result in a force that would be technologically dominant,” but much smaller and “able to go fewer places and do fewer things,” said Hagel. Conversely, the second approach would sustain DOD’s existing capacity for “regional power projection and presence by making more limited cuts to ground forces, ships, and aircraft,” he said. However, it would force DOD to “cancel or curtail many modernization programs, slow the growth of cyber enhancements, and reduce special operations forces,” he said. Hagel said the second option would essentially establish a “decade-long modernization holiday” at a time when many weapons systems are in dire need of upgrade. (Hagel statement and Hagel-Winnefeld transcript)