Washington: For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the US has started culling generals and admirals from its top-heavy ranks to save money and make the military more nimble.
   
With the Iraq war over and US troops in Afghanistan on their way home, the Pentagon officials said they have eliminated 27 jobs for generals and admirals since March.
   
This is the first time the Defense Department has imposed such a reduction since the aftermath of the Cold War, when the collapse of the Soviet Union prompted the military to downsize.
   
The cuts are part of a broader plan to shrink the upper ranks by 10 percent over five years, restoring them to their size when the country was last at peace, before the attacks of September 11, 2001.
   
The changes are projected to save only a modest amount of money, but defence officials said they are symbolically important as the Pentagon adjusts to an era of austerity.
   
The Obama administration proposes to squeeze USD 450 billion from defense budgets over a decade. An additional USD 500 billion in cuts will be triggered if Congress cannot agree on a deficit-reduction plan in the next year.
   
Thinning the ranks of generals and admirals is also necessary to make the military more nimble, said Vice Adm. William E Gortney, director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
   
"If 10 years of combat have taught us anything, it's that flat is faster," said Gortney, who was appointed last year by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to review the number of top officers.
   
In March, Gates approved a plan to reduce the number of authorised billets reserved for generals and admirals from 952 to 850, giving the armed services five years to implement the changes.
   
In addition, 23 billets will be downgraded in rank; a job previously reserved for a three-star general, for example, will now go to a two-star.
   
Gortney said the military has eliminated 27 command slots since then — many of them key positions from the war in Iraq — leaving the Pentagon more than a quarter of the way to its goal of cutting 102 jobs.
    
The Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are all expected to continue shrinking because of budget cuts, the end of the war in Iraq and the Obama administration's planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, the report said.
    
Leon Panetta, the current defense secretary, backs Gates's plan, Pentagon press secretary George Little said.     

"The Secretary supports this initiative, and he is pursuing it in a way that ensures that outstanding leadership remains an indelible hallmark of the US military," Little was quoted as saying.

(Agencies)