DEFENSE official says Pentagon considering cutting troops as way to pay for miltiary's modernization


Wednesday, August 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration is considering reducing the size of the military to free money for modernization, a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday.

In looking for savings, said Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, ``at the end of the day, you do have to look at personnel. It's one of the most expensive parts of what we do.''

He quickly added, however, that it would be ``pennywise and pound foolish'' to cut the number in uniform if it meant losing the best-trained, most skilled people. ``This force management problem is a very real one,'' he said.

Wolfowitz made his comments during a Pentagon news conference to discuss progress in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's comprehensive review of the military, a once-in-four-years exercise required by Congress. Known as the Quadrennial Defense Review, it is scheduled to be completed by Sept. 30.

Wolfowitz said Rumsfeld would meet that deadline, but he added that some issues would not be resolved entirely for months afterward.

At a separate news conference, David Chu, the Pentagon's personnel chief, said Rumsfeld also is studying whether to do away with the ``up or out'' system that requires officers either to be promoted or to retire.

Rumsfeld believes some individuals are being forced to leave due to mandatory retirements when they are in their prime, Chu said. Another subject for study is the current practice of moving people into new assignments every two or three years. Rumsfeld has called this practice ``mindless.''

Rumsfeld hopes to have a strategic plan for the department's personnel issues by spring of next year, Chu said.

Rumsfeld's review has created strains between the military leadership and senior civilian officials in the Pentagon. Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Wednesday that he welcomed this tension because it helped separate good ideas from bad ones.

``It is a passionate debate,'' he said, but it has not been strictly a civilian-military divide.

Asked whether the Rumsfeld review would result in troop reductions, Wolfowitz said it was too early to know. He declined to confirm a Wall Street Journal report Wednesday that some Rumsfeld aides have proposed a plan that would cut as many as 2.8 of the Army's 10 divisions _ or about 56,000 troops _ and eliminate 16 of the Air Force's 61 fighter squadrons, as well as cutting one or two of the Navy's 12 carrier battle groups.

Wolfowitz said Rumsfeld on Tuesday was presented with two alternative approaches on the issue of force size. He would not provide any details. The Journal said the other alternative was to make no cuts.

The administration has spent months trying to fashion a strategy for accelerating the military's modernization, based largely on Rumsfeld's belief that it needs to strengthen its capabilities in some areas _ like missile defense, counterterrorism, intelligence gathering and defenses against cyber attack.

A central question, apparently still unanswered, is whether Rumsfeld will decide to cut the size of the military as a way to pay for the improvements.

The military has 1.4 million members on active duty.

Many in Congress have made clear they would strongly oppose any cuts in the size of the military.

Some prominent retired Army officers also have spoken out publicly against troop reductions. Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired Army four-star general who served as President Clinton's drug policy chief, wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week that cuts in ground forces are highly likely.

``Not because we have too many planes, ships and ground troops; not because we have a guiding strategy that makes such a decision reasonable; but because it is a convenient and cost-effective course of action to take,'' he wrote.