Panetta Tells Senators Sequestration Would Devastate DOD

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)