WASHINGTON — Defense Department officials want new early-retirement rules — some incentives and some mandatory exits — for all four services as a long-term tool to help force efficiency.

The request to Congress comes just days after Marine and Army officials announced they missed recruiting goals for February. But Charles Abell, deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the two issues are not connected.

“These are for force-shaping,” Abell told a House Armed Services subcommittee on Wednesday. “It is not about getting rid of folks. It’s about keeping the right folks and right skill and experience mix.”

The proposals all are aimed at 20-plus year military personnel, especially those in outdated or overpopulated specialties. They include:

A buyout bonus or annuity for enlisted members.High-year tenure caps for officers, to apply to either certain specialties or across the board.An early-retirement board — described by Abell as a “last resort” measure — that would review senior officers’ skills and have the authority to hand out involuntary retirements.Abell said all four proposals likely aren’t needed to achieve the force-shaping goals: If the new high-tenure caps are approved by Congress, the early retirement board would likely be redundant.

And he acknowledged that many of the proposals will be unpopular among career military who would be forced out of their posts.

“This is about the appropriate management of human capital,” he said. “And we’ve found that when you have these authorities out there, people start making their own decisions ahead of time.

“This is just putting more tools in the toolbox,” he said.

Abell said all four services have requested the tools, though the Navy and Air Force are more likely to use the authority in the near future.

Air Force officials have pledged to drop their end strength by about 7,000 airmen by June 1, and are scheduled to trim another 2,300 in 2006. Meanwhile, Navy officials plan on reducing their sailor totals by more than 13,000 next year.

Meanwhile, the Marines plan on adding 3,000 more personnel in 2006, and the Army is scheduled to add about 30,000 soldiers over the next several years.

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