Defense Chiefs Say Deeper Cuts “Unacceptable”

America’s two top military officials warned lawmakers that further reductions would hollow out the force.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, answers questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington DC, November 15, 2011
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, answers questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington DC, November 15, 2011 (Department of Defense/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

America’s defense secretary and top military officer on Tuesday warned that deeper cuts to the nation’s military budget would incur “unacceptable risk.”

In testimony to two congressional committees, Secretary Leon Panetta defended the Obama Administration’s plan to trim $450 billion in defense spending over the next decade. He recognized that there was “very little room for error” as a consequence of the reductions but said they were “acceptable risks.”

Plans to reduce projected defense spending increases by another half a trillion dollars Panetta argued were “crazy” though.

The Pentagon requested a $525 billion budget for the fiscal year 2013 which starts in October. Its five year spending plan accommodates roughly $260 billion in savings, more than half of the $450 billion in cuts which were embedded in last year’s Budget Control Act. The rest of the cuts are supposed to be parsed out through the rest of the decade.

Initial savings will be achieved by slowing but not canceling weapons purchases. Procurement reductions make up roughly 40 percent of more than $5 billion in savings next year.

The Air Force will buy two fewer F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and six fewer V-22 Osprey tiltrotor troop transports in 2013. The purchases of unmanned drone aircraft will also be reduced. Next year’s budget contains $885 million to buy 24 MQ-9 Reapers for the Air Force, a reduction from 48 in fiscal year 2012, as well as $750 million to buy nineteen MQ-1C Gray Eagles for the Army, down from 43 last year.

The Air Force must also retire six fighter plane squadrons over the next five years but $300 million is requested to 2013 to fund development of a new strategic bomber plane.

As the military prepares to draw down forces deployed in Afghanistan over the next couple of years, Army and Marine Corps combined are set to lose more than 20,000 troops.

The Navy intends to retain its eleven aircraft carriers and a similar number of amphibious landing ships although the emphasis will shift from a fleet that is dominated by powerful surface combatants and submarines to one that is made up of smaller and lightly armed littoral combat craft and transport vessels.

If lawmakers fail to act, defense could be subject to up to $600 billion more in reductions. As a consequence of Congress’ failure to achieve $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, a “sequestration” plan was automatically enacted.

The Defense Department has refused to prepare for these additional cuts. As Secretary Panetta told legislators on Tuesday, “I don’t think we should try and bring some common sense to what I think is a crazy process.”

General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that under sequestration, he would have to cut spending on maintenance, operations and training. “That’s the definition of a hollow force,” he said.