Hagel: Budget cuts could harm nation's defense

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 1, 2013 at 2:27 am •  Published: August 1, 2013
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Pentagon officials insist they are not crying wolf when they say proposed budget cuts could severely harm the military.

In a detailed and stark warning, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said about $500 billion in automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect over the next decade could leave the nation with an ill-prepared, underequipped military doomed to face more technologically advanced enemies.

If Congress doesn't act to avoid the cuts, he said, the Pentagon may be forced to mothball up to three Navy aircraft carriers and order additional sharp reductions in the size of the Army and Marine Corps — shortfalls the military hasn't seen since World War II.

"I know there's politics in all this," Hagel said Wednesday. "But what we're trying to project here is not crying wolf or not trying to overstate or overhype."

Speaking to Pentagon reporters, and indirectly to Congress, Hagel laid out a worst-case scenario for the U.S. military if the Pentagon is forced to slash more than $50 billion from the 2014 budget and half a trillion over 10 years as a result of congressionally mandated cuts.

His remarks were the latest in a persistent Pentagon drumbeat about the dire effects of the budget cuts on national defense as Congress continues to wrangle over spending bills on Capitol Hill.

Sitting alongside Hagel, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, said a major frustration is that the Pentagon doesn't know how much money Congress eventually will allocate to defense, or when lawmakers will make a decision.

"What we were doing here is teeing up choices. We haven't made those choices yet," Winnefeld said. "When we finally get an answer on what the financial outlook is going to look like, we will then begin to make those choices."

Going from 11 to eight or nine carrier strike groups would bring the Navy to its lowest number since World War II. And the troop cuts could shear the Army back to levels not seen since 1940, eroding the military's ability to keep forces deployed and combat-ready overseas.

Detailing options, Hagel said America may have to choose between having a highly capable but significantly smaller military and having a larger force while reducing special operations forces, limiting research, and cutting or curtailing plans to upgrade weapons systems.

That second option, he said, likely would result in the U.S. military using older, less effective equipment against more technologically advanced adversaries. And it would have a greater impact on the nation's private defense companies.

Hagel said the U.S. risks fielding a military force that in the next few years would be unprepared due to a lack of training, maintenance and upgraded equipment.

And even if the Pentagon chooses the most dramatic cuts, Hagel said it still would "fall well short" of meeting the reductions required by the automatic budget cuts, particularly during the first five years.

While noting that no final decisions have been made, Hagel laid out a few specific ideas under consideration.

He said that to achieve the savings by shrinking the force, the Pentagon might have to cut more than 100,000 additional soldiers from the Army, which is already planning to go from a wartime high of about 570,000 to 490,000 soldiers by 2017. The current plan to reduce the size of the Marine Corps to 182,000 from a high of about 205,000 could also be changed, cutting it to as few as 150,000 Marines.



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