Washington: Last week Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. military would turn into a ‘paper tiger’ if it is hit with a $1 trillion dollar budget cut over the next decade. Today, he described in painstaking detail what exactly that would mean.
In a letter sent today to Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain, Panetta listed a litany of programs and services that he said would have to be cut if the congressional super committee fails to cut $1.2 trillion from the national debt. The panel has little over a week to come up with that plan. If it can’t, Pentagon coffers could be slashed by $500 billion. Piled on top of the cuts already mandated by the White House, the Pentagon would be staring down a $1 trillion spending cut.
“Under current law, that 23 percent reduction would have to be applied equally to each major investment and construction program. Such a large cut, applied in this 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 other modernization efforts,” Panetta wrote.
To hear the defense secretary describe it, the fallout from these cuts would be devastating: The smallest Navy since the the beginning of World War I. The smallest Army and Marine Corps since the beginning of World War II. The smallest Air Force ever. Period. “Unfortunately, while large cuts are being imposed, the threats to national security would not be reduced,” Panetta says in the letter
The department would have to gut almost every high-priority, big-ticket program in each of the services. The department’s largest program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, is number one on the doomsday hit list. The Pentagon could save an estimated $80 billion over 10 years by axing the JSF. The next thing to go would be the Air Force’s next generation bomber program and its $18 billion dollar price tag. And Panetta’s list goes on and on.
The Navy’s $7 billion dollar SSBN-X submarine replacement program? It would be gone. The Navy’s $22 billion-dollar next generation Littoral Combat Ship? Sunk. New space satellites and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems? Not for $11 billion dollars. Spending $16 billion to set up a new missile defense system for Europe to protect against threats from Iran? Maybe next decade. Maintaining all three legs of the nuclear triad? Something the U.S. will have to learn to live without.
And that’s just the weapons programs.
Under a $1 trillion budget cut, the Pentagon “would have to formulate a new security strategy that accepted substantial risk of not meeting our defense needs.” That means keeping soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in the field longer. That means those troops would be using equipment that is often near the breaking point after more than a decade of war in Southwest Asia. That would mean less places in the world where U.S. forces can operate in and might become the center for the next Al Qaeda.
The department is finalizing its own $260 billion budget reduction plan in the coming weeks, Panetta said last week. That will be part of the Pentagon’s six-year budget blueprint due to Congress in early February. It will also get roughly halfway to the Obama administration’s goal of cutting up to $500 billion in defense spending over the next five years.
The Super Committee’s time is running out. The Defense Department is doing its part, according to Panetta. Capitol Hill has until Thanksgiving to do theirs.