With the last American Combat troops set to pull out of Afghanistan by year’s end, the U.S.’s two lengthy land wars will be over–and the massive force required to fight them will no longer be needed. That’s what drove Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s Feb. 24 announcement that he hopes to shrink the Army from 520,000 to 440,000 troops, the country’s smallest standing force since before World War II. The moves are included in Hagel’s $496 billion budget proposal for 2015, which would replace spy planes with drones, closing bases to save money and ramping up the ranks of special forces. The plan, while still calling for nearly half a trillion dollars in military spending, signals a reduction in U.S. willingness to wage lengthy wars. The Pentagon, Hagel said, nonetheless must adapt “to a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable.” But Congress gets the final say, and lawmakers rarely vote to shrink anything.
This appears in the March 10, 2014 issue of TIME.