WASHINGTON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Monday it would slash the Army to pre-World War Two levels, eliminate the popular A-10 aircraft and reduce military benefits in order to meet 2015 spending caps, setting up an election-year fight with Congress over defense priorities.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, discussing the Pentagon's plan for meeting its new spending caps ahead of the formal budget presentation on March 4, advanced a number of ideas that have been attempted in the past but rejected by Congress or are likely to be unpopular in a congressional election year.
As the United States winds down the war in Afghanistan and looks to cut billions in defense spending, the Pentagon plans to continue shifting its focus to the Asia-Pacific and will no longer need a land Army of the size currently planned, Hagel said.
The department plans to reduce the size of the Army to between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers, he said. The Army is currently about 520,000 soldiers and had been planning to draw down to about 490,000 in the coming year.
A reduction to 450,000 would be the Army's smallest size since 1940 before the Second World War, when it had a strength of 267,767 troops, according to Army figures. The Army's previous post-Second World War low was 479,426 in 1999.
The planned cut in Army strength comes as the Defense Department is in the process of reducing projected spending by nearly a trillion dollars over a 10-year period.
A two-year budget deal in Congress in December gave the department some relief from the cuts, but still forced it to reduce spending in the 2014 fiscal year by $30 billion.
The Pentagon's budget for the 2015 fiscal year is $496 billion, about the same as 2014 but still lower than had envisioned last year.