The United States armed services have drafted plans to reduce military personnel by more than 250,000 men and women and eliminate three active duty Army divisions, five Air Force fighter wings and 62 Navy ships by 1994 to meet Defense Secretary Dick Cheney's demands for deep budget cuts, Pentagon officials said.
The proposed reductions would dramatically change the face of the nation's armed forces and would force major shifts in U.S. military strategy and the global deployment of its personnel, ships and aircraft, Defense Department officials said. It would mean a 16% reduction in active Army combat divisions, a 20% cut in the Air Force's fighter wings and an 11% cutback of naval vessels.
Military leaders have proposed initiating the cuts in the 1991 fiscal year budget that begins next Oct. 1, with the full reductions scheduled to be completed by 1994, officials said. Cheney, however, is still engaged in a political duel with Budget Director Richard G. Darman, who is seeking even more severe military spending cuts. President Bush is expected to decide the Pentagon's spending ceiling for the 1991 budget within the next two weeks, officials said.
Cheney began planning for major military cuts two months ago but in recent weeks has become more vocal about the reductions in response to the political upheavals in the Warsaw Pact and the political pressures from a deficit-driven Darman.
"Cheney has lost the battle--Darman has the clout," one defense official said. "Cheney had to get aboard to have a unified position with the Administration and stop being the odd man out."
One defense official said the 1991 budget plan will be a "watershed," offering a preview of the reductions likely over the next several years. "You can look at '91 as an early warning," a military officer said.
Cheney, who on Sunday said deep new cuts may be possible in European forces, has said he has not decided how much he will cut from the new five-year defense plan President Bush will present to Congress in January. Cheney, attending a NATO defense minister's meeting in Brussels, Belgium, this week, said the new budgets will include average annual reductions of at least 2% after allowing for inflation--about $150 billion over the next three years.
Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Me.), ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on projection forces and regional defense, in stressing how much political priorities have shifted over the last five years, said: "If Cheney comes in with minus 2% real growth, we'll make it minus 4."