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Panetta Outlines Vision for ‘Joint Force of 2020′

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  • January 5, 2012
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In a Pentagon media briefing Thursday that included a rare introduction by President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described a new strategy that will reshape the military’s priorities for the coming decade.

Most significantly for defense communities, the new guidance calls for shrinking the size of the Army and Marine Corps from a force capable of supporting the sustained, large-scale stability operations that were needed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Panetta declined, however, to mention specific changes in the end strength for the Army and Marine Corps. He told reporters they would need to wait until Obama unveils the fiscal 2013 budget request next month, but left open the possibility that some details will be announced in the coming weeks.

“At that time, obviously, we’ll reveal what those final decisions are as to the exact size,” the secretary said.

While the “Joint Force of 2020″ will be smaller and leaner, it will become “more agile, more flexible, ready to deploy quickly, innovative and technologically advanced,” Panetta said.

One reporter asked Panetta whether the statement that the military’s force posture in Europe will “evolve” implies that U.S. forces will be cut in that region. The secretary said the United States will maintain its commitments with Europe, including the pledge to protect the nation’s allies there, but failed to provide a more direct answer.

Panetta stressed that the nation’s ground forces will be scaled down in a way that preserves the option of regenerating their capabilities to meet future contingencies. Building in reversibility, he explained, “means reexamining the mix of elements in the active and reserve components; it means maintaining a strong National Guard and Reserve; it means retaining a healthy cadre of experienced NCOs [non-commissioned officers] and mid-grade officers, and preserving the health and viability of the nation’s defense industrial base.”

The expected pace of operations over the next decade will be a significant driver in determining an appropriate split between active and reserve forces and the level of reserve component readiness, the guidance document stated. DOD will support separating service members by helping them translate their military skills for the civilian workforce and aiding their search for jobs, the document added.

At the same time, Panetta said the department will continue its drive to “weed out waste and reduce overhead, to reform business practices [and] to consolidate duplicative operations.” And while the guidance document added that reducing “the cost of doing business” necessitates finding further efficiencies in overhead and headquarters, neither the secretary nor the new strategy broached the prospect of downsizing military infrastructure.

Still, the secretary made it clear that the search for savings would include “everything on the table, including politically sensitive areas that will likely provoke opposition from parts of the Congress, from industry and from advocacy groups.”

To read a transcript of the briefing, visit DOD ‘s website.

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