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WASHINGTON — Steep defense budget cuts will likely mean a smaller military and a radical redesign of military benefits, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Defense Department leaders will offer a laundry list of potential cuts and estimates of the resulting national security limitations to the White House by the end of the summer, in response to President Barack Obama’s calls earlier this year for $400 billion in DOD budget cuts.

Gates expects that report to include a serious re-examination of military pay, retirement benefits, Tricare fees, weapons acquisition and even the fundamental two-war philosophy of the military. None of the moves alone are impossible or impractical, he emphasized, but leaders need to be aware that such a dramatic reduction in military spending will have ramifications for the power and capability of the services.

“I would rather have a smaller, superbly capable military than a large, hollow one,” Gates told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “But a smaller one will be able to go fewer places and do fewer things.”

Gates, in his last testimony to Congress before his scheduled June 30 retirement, focused largely on the fiscal future of the military. He said reductions from eliminating both redundant missions and inefficient contract spending must also be put in place, but they will not save enough to reach that $400 billion mark.

Lawmakers have both criticized and praised the proposed defense spending cuts, saying the cuts could seriously jeopardize national security and but also that military spending must be included in broader budget-balancing plans.

Gates said that Obama pledged not to outline any specific military cuts until after the defense department review is completed.

The work is currently being overseen by Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who said the review “will be based on strategy and risks, not simply budgetary math.”

“Our goal will be to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, nor at the end of this endeavor find ourselves with a hollow force,” Mullen said.

Gates noted that the military fiscal pressure comes at the same time that U.S. forces are being relied upon more heavily by NATO allies, many of whom have already undergone their own defense spending cuts.

Mullen said the final report will be a “fundamental review of America’s military missions, capabilities, and role.” At least some of the projected cost savings will come from an anticipated drawdown in Afghanistan starting this summer. Gates said he expects roughly $40 billion less to be spent by U.S. forces there in 2012 than this year.

He also defended military gains in Afghanistan in recent months, saying that he saw “considerable progress” during his recent visit there. U.S. troops are scheduled to hand over control of security to Afghanistan forces by 2014, a goal that Gates said he still believes is realistic and on schedule.

Twitter: @LeoShane


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