Cutting One-Fifth. Twice.

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Defense Business Board

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that he has ordered a 20% cut in the ranks of the Pentagon’s top military officers and senior civilians.

Beginning in 2015, and completed by 2019.

Well, as we used to say: speed kills.

The estimated 4,000 jobs at stake represent not only a fifth of those working at the highest levels of the U.S. military, but also represent about one-fifth — of 1% — of the U.S. military’s total full-time workforce.

Hagel’s warning shot of budgetary pain to come marks the first time he has revealed action called for by the Strategic Choices and Management Review he launched in March. Many Pentagon officials acknowledge the layering on of civilian oversight since 9/11 has been excessive, is unsustainable, and needs to be trimmed back.

A study by the Pentagon’s own Defense Business Board – using highly-suspect Defense Department numbers – shows that the defense secretary’s own workforce climbed from 1,974 people on 9/11 to 2,708 a decade later.

That’s a 37% hike.

Cutting that 2011 body count of 2,708 by 20% would scale back the workforce to 2,168, 10% more than the 9/11 total.

That’s only a start, to be sure, but if – and that’s a big if – comes from the top ranks, it will set the tone for additional cuts needed given the financial pressure that the Pentagon is facing.

“That isn’t going to fix the problem,” Hagel said of the cuts at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida. “But, yes, everybody’s got to do their part.”

Late Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman George Little elaborated in a statement:

Today Secretary Hagel announced a 20 percent reduction in funding for the office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and the Military Service Headquarters. These reductions are targeted for the FY 15-19 timeframe. Early estimates indicate that the total savings could be in the range of $1.5-2 Billion. Personnel reductions associated with these savings will be determined during the development of detailed execution plans. Secretary Hagel’s announcement is based on the work of the Strategic Choices and Management Review, which scrutinized the Department’s spending priorities and determined that these headquarters reductions should be pursued now, regardless of future fiscal circumstances. These cuts will be implemented even if Congress lifts sequester-level budget caps.

Mandated sequestration cuts call for roughly a 10% reduction in military spending over the next decade, absent a White House-congressional deal to cut the federal deficit that shows no signs of happening. “I don’t see a lot of hopeful signs,” Hagel said Tuesday in Florida, “that this is going to be resolved.”

Translation: Tuesday’s announcement was merely an X-Acto knife, compared to the ax all but sure to come.