US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta. — File Photo

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon on Thursday proposed trimming the army’s size by 13 per cent as the debt-ridden United States winds down a decade of war.

With pressure mounting to balance the books, President Barack Obama’s administration sought a nine per cent cut in the 2013 budget compared with last year’s request by retiring older ships and planes and pulling back two brigades from Europe.

But the administration called for investment on new projects including a futuristic floating base for special operations and drones and assigning elite Brigade Combat Teams with language training to each region of the world.

“We are at a strategic turning point after a decade of war and substantial growth in defence budgets,” Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said as he unveiled a preview of the Defence Department’s 2013 budget requests.

Panetta vowed to maintain US power in the Middle East and Asia — where China’s growing military has concerned the United States and its allies — including by modernising submarines and funding a next-generation bomber.

Panetta called for funding to station littoral combat ships in Singapore and patrol craft in Bahrain, part of the US strategy of forward-deploying its military to such small and strategically placed US allies.

“The force we are building will retain a decisive technological edge, leverage the lessons of recent conflicts and stay ahead of the most lethal and disruptive threats of the future,” Panetta told a news conference.

The budget is far from a done deal.

Panetta is hoping to ward off calls for steeper cuts backed by some members of his Democratic Party, while Republicans seeking to defeat Obama in November elections have resisted any cuts to the military and instead prefer reductions on social benefits at home.

Panetta proposed a $613 billion budget for the year starting in October.—AFP

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