WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2011 — If the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction cannot reach an agreement, the results would be devastating for the Defense Department, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta wrote in a letter to two senators yesterday.
The so-called supercommittee must reach agreement on debt reduction by Nov. 23. If they cannot do so, the Budget Control Act calls for “sequestration,” with the Pentagon budget absorbing most of the cuts.
DOD already is cutting $450 billion over the next 10 years, Panetta wrote to Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“These cuts are difficult and will require us to take some risks, but they are manageable,” Panetta wrote. “If the maximum sequestration is triggered, the total cut will rise to about $1 trillion compared with the fiscal year 2012 plan.”
If triggered, sequestration would begin in January 2013, Panetta wrote, noting it would add $500 billion to $600 billion to already-planned cuts. The fiscal 2013 budget would be cut by $100 billion. While military personnel probably would be exempted, the secretary added, the rest of the cuts would come from other parts of the DOD budget, and no major weapon program would be exempt.
The department, Panetta wrote, could not exempt all civilian employees.
“Furloughs — perhaps a month or more [in length] — might well be needed because there would not be time to reduce personnel levels to achieve savings,” according to an enclosure Panetta sent to the senators.
Sequestration, the secretary wrote, would tie DOD’s hands and cut 23 percent equally to each major investment and construction program.
“Such a large cut, applied in such an indiscriminate manner, would render most of our ship and construction projects ‘unexecutable’ — you cannot buy three quarters of a ship or a building — and seriously damage our modernization efforts,” Panetta wrote.
The situation does not improve in the out years, the secretary wrote, noting it would mean a reduction of $100 million each year. After 10 years of cuts, he continued, the U.S. military “would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915 and the smallest Air Force in its history.”
“We would also be forced to terminate most large procurement programs in order to accommodate modernization reductions that are likely to be required,” Panetta added.
Funding for the war is exempt from sequestration, the secretary wrote. But, he added, the effects on the base budget would be so severe that they would affect support to the Afghan war. Contracting, for example, would be impaired, he wrote, because the number of contracting personnel would be reduced.
The effects on the defense budget and programs would be far-reaching, Panetta wrote. Sequestration reductions, he added, could mean terminating the joint strike fighter and the next-generation bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile. It could terminate all ground combat vehicle modernization programs, he noted, and mean “minimal life extensions and upgrades” to current equipment.
The sequestration could mean eliminating ICBMs, one leg of the nation’s strategic triad, Panetta wrote. It could also stop European missile defense and delay or terminate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.
While the means will shrink, the threats will not, Panetta said.
“As a result, we would have to formulate a new security strategy that accepted substantial risk of not meeting our defense needs,” he added. “A sequestration budget is not one that I could recommend.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)