The Pentagon Cuts: A Closer Look Behind The Scary Headlines

The Pentagon's plan to reduce Army personnel would put troop levels closer to 1999 than 1940, despite media references to pre-World War II.

The Pentagon Cuts: A Closer Look Behind The Scary Headlines
U.S. Department of Defense

Reports that the U.S. Army would shrink to levels not seen since before World War II were everywhere Monday. But that claim provides just a small glimpse at a much bigger picture. (Via The New York Times, Time, Voice of America)

Since Pentagon leaders rolled out a budget that drops the number of active duty troops in the Army, some networks have been in panic mode — and mixing up Army troop levels with levels for the entire military, which would be quite different. (Via U.S. Department of Defense, Fox News)

But the U.S. military isn't reverting back to the days of bayonets and biplanes. The two major cuts proposed by the Pentagon Monday concern a reduction in active duty Army troops and cutting loose a relatively old class of fighter jet. 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's plan would see Army personnel levels drop from 566,000 in 2011 to 440,000 by 2019 — about a 20 percent cut. Though that 2019 level would amount to an Army fighting force only 5 percent smaller than that of 1999.

And even those numbers are a bit misleading, because today's U.S. military, unlike 1940's military or even 1999's, is made up of more than just traditional troops.

Just in the past few years, defense contractors and private soldiers have helped stacked battlefields in America's favor. Here The Christian Science Monitor notes private contractors hired by the Pentagon "outnumbered troops on the ground at some points" in the Iraq War.

Hagel says the cuts are necessary to keep providing troops with the best equipment and technology. Under the planned budget, special forces would actually see higher troop levels and better weaponry. (Via CNN)

The best-known equipment totally cut out in the new plan would be the A-10 attack jet, last produced in 1984. They were built to defend against a possible Soviet invasion of Western Europe. (Via U.S. Air Force / Mark Bucher, Christina Ponte)

Meanwhile, the Pentagon will keep pouring money into much more expensive weaponry, like the next-gen F-35 fighter. (Via Lockheed Martin)

 And the military is keeping all 11 of its active aircraft carriers operational. Keep in mind that's nine more than any other nation has in service. (Via BBC)

Currently, the U.S. spends as much on its military as the next 10 nations combined — as seen in this chart from NBC posted Monday.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are on board with this planned budget, but it will likely face major opposition from both parties in Congress, where it needs approval. After all, cutting troop levels is never very popular politically.