Hagel Picks a Fight with the Pentagon, Congress
Policy + Politics

Hagel Picks a Fight with the Pentagon, Congress

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel doubled-down on his promise to radically change the military this morning, suggesting that U.S. troops be trained at different levels in an effort to cut cost.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Hagel said that sequestration might force the military into a tiered training system. Under this system, some troops would be trained and have the equipment to wage war at a moment’s notice. Other troops would not have the same level of training and would not be prepared to fight immediately.

"We may have to accept the reality that not every unit will be at maximum readiness, and some kind of a tiered readiness system is perhaps inevitable,” Hagel said. “This carries the risk that the president would have fewer options to fulfill our national security objectives.”

Many think tanks have suggested this kind of tiered strategy is the most cost-effective way of keeping the military capable of fighting and winning wars in the 21st Century. But it’s long faced opposition in the military, and Hagel is likely to face stiff resistance from DOD brass.  

This isn’t the only policy proposal that is likely to face resistance from inside the Pentagon. Hagel also said that cuts to military pay are on the way.

“Without serious attempts to achieve significant savings in [compensation] – which consumes roughly half of the DOD budget and is increasing every year – we risk becoming an unbalanced force," Hagel said. "One that is well-compensated, but poorly trained and equipped, with limited readiness and capability." 

Cutting military pay is unacceptable to troops as well as a non-starter in Congress. Hagel said lawmakers who imposed the sequestration cuts are to blame and must act.

“Congress must permit meaningful reforms as they slash the overall budget," he said. "We will need Congress as a willing partner in making tough choices to bend the cost curve on personnel, while meeting all of our responsibilities to all of our people."