Fort Carson could lose two-thirds of its 24,000 soldiers by 2020 under a doomsday plan to deal with budget cuts.
Characterized as a worst-case scenario, as many as 16,000 of the post's soldiers would be eliminated, according to documents released Thursday by the Pentagon.
The numbers were released as part of a required environmental assessment of troop reductions, which reflect cuts of 70,000 soldiers Army-wide. The Army says the cut would leave Fort Carson with 9,700 soldiers and civilian workers and take nearly $1 billion per year from the Pikes Peak region economy while dropping regional population by 40,000.
Local leaders said the possibility of huge cuts should spur Colorado's lobbying efforts to keep its military bases intact.
"The key thing is that we have to understand that the possibility of these cuts is here and now, and we have to be working now," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Anderson who heads the National Homeland Defense Foundation in Colorado Springs. "This is going to become very competitive as we go forward."
Fort Carson lost 1,500 soldiers in a round of cuts announced last summer.
Andy Merritt, who heads military programs for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance said the Army's new plan signals that the days of small-scale cuts are over.
"There's no military logic in continuing piecemeal cuts," he said. "They have to make large scale cuts at installations."
The way to avert the cuts is to boost Pentagon spending.
"I think part of this is sending a message about what the potential stark reality they face if they don't get some budget relief," Merritt said.
The cuts are part of wider proposed austerity measures to cut Pentagon spending by $900 billion over a decade. The Army proposed cuts of up to 16,000 soldiers at each of its nine largest bases, including Fort Carson, as part of the assessment.
"The Army evaluated the largest possible losses at each installation to provide flexibility," Army documents say.
It's clear the Army won't impose the full measure of cuts proposed at every base. While the service needs to cut 70,000 soldiers, the full-force cuts proposed at U.S. bases would give the Army the authority to eliminate 256,000 troops.
"The studied reductions for all 30 locations, if added together, would reduce the Army's active force to well below 400,000," the Army said. "Such deep reductions are not envisioned, but analyzing the potential reductions at each of the 30 locations will provide Army leaders flexibility in making future decisions about how and where to make cuts."
Fort Carson released a statment Thursday afternoon.
"Fort Carson leadership is aware of the Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment that is looking at Fort Carson as well as the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site and the possibility that Fort Carson could face reductions of soldiers and civilians," the post said. "We must emphasize that no decisions have been made at this time."
The Army says massive cuts may be needed to carve $95 billion required by 2011's Budget Control Act, better know as sequestration.
Congress could stop the cuts by appropriating more cash for troops. And with dozens of bases facing cuts, the Army may spur Congress to action, said Steve Bucci, an analyst for the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
"Its a great political tactic on the Army's part," Bucci said.
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, said the large numbers issued by the Pentagon were designed to get the attention of Congress.
"That's only a scare tactic," he said.
Still, Lamborn said he is working to avoid any cuts. "They already had my attention. This is for people who haven't been paying attention up to now."
But the Army's threatened cut also shows a measure of desperation.
"They are really up against the wall," Bucci said.
Colorado's Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall released a statement Thursday morning that shows the Army is getting plenty of congressional attention.
"While I have worked hard over a number of years to ensure that Fort Carson is well-positioned to avoid significant further losses, our Army will be critically weakened if the indiscriminate, automatic cuts of sequestration are allowed to resume," Udall said. "I will continue to develop alternatives to this misguided and harmful policy while working with Colorado community and military leaders to demonstrate Fort Carson's value to our nation and our state."
The release of the proposed cuts starts a two-month period for public comments, which will be followed by local meetings on the proposals.