WASHINGTON — In a move that portends deep and rapid military personnel cuts in future years, Defense Department officials have decided to trim 25,000 men and women from the military services in 1990 to meet spending cuts required by the federal deficit-reduction law.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney originally hoped to avoid any troop cuts in the 1990 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. But the inevitability of large future troop reductions convinced Cheney it was necessary to make a substantial "down payment" this year, officials said Wednesday.
A Pentagon announcement of the cuts is expected today.
The Army is expected to absorb roughly half the 1990 troop cuts, with the rest shared by the Navy, Air Force and Marines. Similar ratios will hold for much larger cuts in future years, officials said.
Military planners project that overall troop strength will shrink by nearly 300,000 men and women by the mid-1990s, as the threat of a Soviet invasion of Europe recedes and budget pressures at home force huge cuts in Pentagon spending.
"We're writing history now," said a senior Army planner, noting that the cuts were the beginning of one of the Army's largest demobilizations ever. Army officials expect to reduce overall strength by 135,000 men and women, from a current total of 764,000, by the end of 1994.
It is not yet clear where and how the reductions will be made, but Cheney has promised the NATO allies that no U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Europe except as part of negotiated arms control agreements with the Soviet Union.
Army officials said they would meet their planned 1990 cut of 12,000 to 15,000 troops by reducing the number of incoming recruits and by offering voluntary early retirement to some senior officers and enlisted men.
But an Army official said the service is determined not to "break faith" with its soldiers by forced retirements or promotion freezes. Many military officers have expressed concerns about their careers in a climate of severe budget-cutting and personnel reductions.
Spokesmen for the other services declined to comment on the planned reductions.
The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law required the Pentagon to trim a total of $1.7 billion from this year's budget, including nearly $1 billion from military personnel accounts.
The cuts are the result of a budget compromise between Congress and the White House, which calls for a reduction of $4.7 billion from the federal budget this year.
Gramm-Rudman's impact on military personnel could have been far worse than the expected 25,000-troop reduction if Cheney had not allowed the services to divert funds from other accounts to their manpower budgets.
Although details of the so-called "reprogrammings" were not known, service officials have said that to prevent deeper manpower reductions they would have to substantially scale back training and maintenance.
Discussions are continuing on how to apportion the cuts, according to a department spokesman. "We pretty much know where the money is going to go, but we don't yet know where it's going to come from," he said. "The final decisions haven't been made."
Staff writer Melissa Healy contributed to this story.