WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced on Thursday that he would cut weapons programs and troops in a bid to rein in military spending and stave off potentially deeper cuts to the defense budget.
Gates announced that he will cut 78 billion dollars from the defense budget in the next five years. Savings will come from reducing ground forces, increasing healthcare premiums for troops and other cost-saving measures.
"Under this plan, the U.S. army's permanent ... strength would decline by 27,000 troops, while the Marine Corps would decline by somewhere between 15,000-20,000 depending on the outcome of their force structure review," Gates told a Pentagon news conference.
Apart from the new cost reductions, he also announced a series of savings identified by the services. The initiative was first announced last spring, and the military services were instructed to find at least 100 billion in savings that they could keep and shift to higher priority programs.
"It is imperative for this department to eliminate wasteful, excessive and unneeded spending, to do everything we can to make every defense dollar count," said Gates.
The biggest item on the table was a multi-billion-dollar plan to buy Marines amphibious assault vehicles.
The Marines vehicle, called the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and built by General Dynamics Corp., can carry 17 Marines across water to land on shore and travel inland before, well beyond enemy beach defenses.
Gates said the vehicle has already consumed 3 billion dollars to develop and would require another 12 billion to build. They will swallow the Marine Corps' whole vehicle budget for the foreseeable future if the Pentagon is to go ahead with the purchase.
Gates said recent analysis of the scenario in which the vehicle is likely to be used showed other vehicles and war fighting techniques can handle the task.
Other weapons programs put on the chopping table include the Marine Corps version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The fighter 's Air Force and Navy variants are on schedule, but the short take- off and landing variant is experiencing significant testing problems. Gates said he has placed it on two-year probation. If the problems weren't resolved in the two years, the program would be canceled.
The Army will cancel procurement of the SLAMRAAM surface-to-air missile and the non-line-of-sight launch system.
The Air Force has proposed efficiencies that will total 34 billion dollars over five years. The Army has proposed 29 billion in savings, and the Navy looks to savings of 35 billion over five years.
Of the 100 billion in savings, the services will use about 28 billion to deal with higher-than-expected operating expenses. These costs include health care, pay and housing allowances, sustainment of weapons systems, depot maintenance, base support and flight hours and other training. In addition, defense agencies have found 54 billion in possible efficiencies.
Gates is facing increasing pressure to rein in military spending. He is expected to ask for 554 billion dollars in military spending in fiscal year 2012, excluding war spending, 12 billion less than initially intended.