US & Canada

Gates cutting Pentagon budget by $78bn over five years

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has announced a $78bn (£50.3bn) military budget cut, to be achieved in part by scrapping a $14bn amphibious vehicle.

The cuts over the next five years come in addition to $100bn in internal savings already announced.

The cuts are the largest since the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

The defence budget was more than $700bn last year - representing the largest portion of the US federal government's discretionary budget.

While troop levels will shrink by 6% and some of the most expensive military hardware will be cancelled, funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - at a price tag of one trillion dollars and rising - will not be cut.

Cuts to weapons programmes are certain to encounter fierce opposition from members of Congress.

Senior positions cut

Much of the roughly $178bn in defence cuts will come through reduced administrative costs, new organisational efficiencies, and slashed personnel costs, which the defence department called a "vigorous scrub of bureaucratic structures".

The Pentagon's budget is expected to be $553bn in 2012, reflecting roughly 3% growth. After that, growth would slow and would be essentially flat in 2015 and 2016, the Pentagon said.

Mr Gates said much of the savings would be achieved by eliminating more than 100 general and flag officer positions, more than 200 top civilian defence positions, by cancelling redundant programmes and through reduced administrative costs.

As much as $100bn in savings would not be sliced from the overall budget, Mr Gates said, but would be reinvested in shipbuilding, missile defence, intelligence, reconnaissance, healthcare for wounded soldiers, and other programmes.

Among the major weapons systems set for the scrap heap is the amphibious Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), made by General Dynamics Corporation. In addition, the Pentagon will end an army surface-to-air missile programme.

Mr Gates has been sceptical about whether large military vehicles, like tanks and EFVs, will continue to be crucial military instruments as engagement in modern warfare changes.

He has previously said the enemy has developed sophisticated weapons capable of attacking ships waiting close to shore.

Other cost-cutting measures announced by Mr Gates include plans to cut orders for the F-35 joint strike fighter over the next three to five years to compensate for repeated delays in development and testing.

He said he wanted to end the post-9/11 Pentagon's "culture of endless money where cost was rarely a consideration".

The major weapons programmes cuts are likely to encounter opposition from US congressmen and senators in whose constituencies the arms are manufactured.

"I'm not happy," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon told reporters. He said the cuts were greater than defence companies had been expecting.

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