Pentagon officials said they have eliminated 27 jobs for generals and admirals since March, the first time the Defense Department has imposed such a reduction since the aftermath of the Cold War, when the collapse of the Soviet Union prompted the military to downsize.
Pentagon trimming ranks of generals, admirals
The cuts are part of a broader plan to shrink the upper ranks by 10 percent over five years, restoring them to the their size when the country was last at peace, before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The changes are projected to save only a modest amount of money, but defense officials said they are symbolically important as the Pentagon adjusts to an era of austerity. The Obama administration proposes to squeeze $450 billion from defense budgets over a decade. An additional $500 billion in cuts will be triggered if Congress cannot agree on a deficit-reduction plan in the next year.
Thinning the ranks of generals and admirals is also necessary to make the military more nimble, said Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
“If 10 years of combat have taught us anything, it’s that flat is faster,” said Gortney, who was appointed last year by then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to review the number of top officers.
In March, Gates approved a plan to reduce the number of authorized billets reserved for generals and admirals from 952 to 850, giving the armed services five years to implement the changes.
In addition, 23 billets will be downgraded in rank; a job previously reserved for a three-star general, for example, will now go to a two-star.
Gortney said the military has eliminated 27 command slots since then — many of them key positions from the war in Iraq — leaving the Pentagon more than a quarter of the way to its goal of cutting 102 jobs.
Other command jobs are falling by the wayside as part of reorganizations that are eliminating the Army’s Accession Command, based at Fort Knox, Ky., and the Navy’s Second Fleet, based in Norfolk.
In ordering the cuts, Gates said the military had succumbed over the years to “brass creep,” by adding a disproportionate number of jobs at the top. The number of four-star generals and admirals today, for instance, is roughly the same as in 1971, during the Vietnam War, even though the number of active-duty troops has shrunk by half.
The Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are all expected to continue shrinking because of budget cuts, the end of the war in Iraq and the Obama administration’s planned withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Leon E. Panetta, the current defense secretary, backs Gates’s plan, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little. “The Secretary supports this initiative, and he is pursuing it in a way that ensures that outstanding leadership remains an indelible hallmark of the U.S. military,” Little said in an e-mail.
Some lawmakers, after years of questioning growth at the top, have praised the Pentagon for committing to a smaller military leadership. “The fact of the matter that you are looking . . . to deal with star creep is a very good thing,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told Defense Department officials at an Armed Services subcommittee hearing in September.