WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Pentagon on Wednesday to brace for further cuts in defense spending and said the military needs to make fundamental changes in the way it operates to cope with new fiscal realities.
Noting that the military has "grown enormously more expensive in every way" over the past decade, Hagel said the Pentagon will have to tackle soaring personnel costs, reexamine how it buys billion-dollar weapons systems and "pare back the world's largest back office" as it shrinks the size of the armed forces in the coming years.
Hagel's two most recent predecessors, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, made similar vows as they tried to tame the vast military bureaucracy. Neither had much success, however, as they struggled to persuade Congress to cut pet projects or scale back health and pension benefits for future generations of military personnel.
The difference now, Hagel said in his first major policy address since taking office, is that the Pentagon is staring at the increased likelihood that it will be forced to slash nearly $1 trillion in projected spending over the next decade — roughly double the level confronted by Gates and Panetta.
In the past, military leaders had treated the $1 trillion figure as a worst-case possibility and assumed lawmakers would find a way to soften the blow. But the automatic spending cuts that were triggered last month have made the outcome more likely; Congress and the White House have shown little inclination to spare the Pentagon.
"A combination of fiscal pressures and a gridlocked political process has led to far more abrupt and deeper reductions than were planned," Hagel, who took over as defense secretary in February, told an audience at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, in Washington. "We cannot simply wish or hope our way to carrying out a responsible national security strategy."