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Hagel unveils new Pentagon leadership team to tackle budget woes

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attends at the annual Munich Security Conference February 1, 2014. REUTERS/Lukas Barth
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attends at the annual Munich Security Conference February 1, 2014. REUTERS/Lukas Barth

By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled a new Pentagon leadership team on Friday that will guide the department through a critical period as it cuts hundreds of billions of dollars in defense spending while maintaining U.S. security commitments worldwide.

Hagel, speaking at a Pentagon news conference, said the Defense Department was still facing big spending cuts despite a two-year budget deal by Congress in January that eased some of the financial pressure.

"Will there be cuts across the board? Of course there will. You can't do it any other way. Are there going to be adjustments across the board? Of course," Hagel said.

The Pentagon chief said the department would approach the budget holistically and over the long run, trying to preserve military readiness and capability while establishing a sustainable path for modernizing major weapons systems.

Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the Pentagon is required to cut nearly a trillion dollars in projected spending over the next decade.

A deal negotiated in Congress in January reduced the size of the cuts for two years but still left the Pentagon needing to reduce spending for next year by about $40 billion more than it had planned.

Defense analysts from four think-tanks who looked at the Pentagon's spending problems said this week the department faced difficult choices between personnel and readiness in the coming years and that the cuts could make it hard to execute a global security strategy.

The team unveiled by Hagel on Friday would be responsible for navigating the difficulties. Hagel said President Barack Obama had named former Navy Undersecretary Robert Work, a retired Marine colonel who currently heads the Center for a New American Security think-tank, as deputy secretary of defense.

Obama last week nominated Michael McCord as the new Pentagon comptroller to replace Robert Hale, Christine Wormuth as undersecretary of defense for policy to replace James Miller, and Brian McKeon as principal deputy undersecretary of defense to replace Kathleen Hicks.

The nominees must be confirmed by the Senate before taking their positions. Hagel hailed the group as "four of the most experienced national security professionals that DoD (Department of Defense) has had in these positions at any one time."

McCord currently serves as Hale's deputy, Wormuth has been deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and force development, and McKeon has worked on the White House National Security staff.

Work spent 27 years in the Marine Corps before retiring. He was a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank before returning to the Defense Department in 2009 as undersecretary of the Navy, a job he left last year to become head of CNAS.

He has written widely on naval affairs, military transformation and strategy, including an article for CNAS last month in which he voiced concern about the U.S. military's technological edge and urged defense leaders to begin preparing for war in the robotic age.

Work said emerging technologies offered the prospect of a military-technical revolution by means of increasingly autonomous aircraft and robots, three-dimensional printing and other new developments.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Ken Wills)

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