US defence chiefs have outlined a plan for absorbing 487 billion US dollars in cuts over the coming decade by reducing ground forces, slowing the purchase of a next-generation stealth fighter jet and retiring older planes and ships.
In a bid to pre-empt election-year Republican criticism, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the plan shifts the Pentagon's focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to future challenges in Asia, the Mideast and cyberspace.
More special operations forces such as the Navy Seals who killed Osama bin Laden will be available around the world, he added. Mr Panetta said: "Our approach was to use this as an opportunity to maintain the strongest military in the world, to not hollow out the force."
He also announced that the administration will request a 2013 budget of 525 billion US dollars, plus another 88 billion US dollars for operations in Afghanistan. Combined, those totals are about 33 billion US dollars less than the Pentagon is spending this year.
The plans would see the Army shrink by 80,000 soldiers, from 570,000 to 490,000 by 2017. That is slightly larger than the Army on 9/11. The Marine Corps would drop from 202,000 to 182,000 - also above the level on Sept. 11.
Other measures proposed would see the Air Force retire some older planes, including about two dozen C-5A cargo aircraft and 65 of its oldest C-130 cargo planes, while purchase of F-35 stealth fighter jets, to be fielded by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, would be slowed
The Navy would keep a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers but retire seven cruisers earlier than planned. It also would delay purchase of some other ships, including a new Virginia-class submarine.
Current plans for building a new generation of submarines that carry long-range nuclear missiles would be delayed by two years. The current fleet of nuclear-capable bombers and land-based nuclear missiles would be left unchanged.
Military pay raises will remain on track until 2015, when the pace of increase will be slowed by an undetermined amount.
However, Republican Senator John Cornyn - a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee which will hold hearings on the Pentagon budget plan - said: "Taking us back to a pre-9/11 military force structure places our country in grave danger."