WASHINGTON — Looming spending cuts will reverberate beyond the thousands of civilian workers furloughed at military bases to the private businesses that provide the Defense Department with supplies and services, top Pentagon leaders told senators Tuesday.
At aircraft maintenance centers, such as the one at Tinker Air Force Base, work will stop and many of the small businesses that provide parts and people for specialized work will suffer, Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
If the cuts go into effect in about two weeks, maintenance on 150 airplanes and 85 engines will be postponed, creating a backlog that will last for years, Welsh said. Tinker's depot, which employs about 9,000 civilians, specializes in engine work.
Training would have to be curtailed in all branches of the military, Pentagon leaders said; that could mean extending the tours of service members in Afghanistan since there will be no properly trained units to replace them.
Under a deal reached between Congress and the White House in 2011, $1.2 trillion in cuts, spread out over 10 years, are set to be triggered on March 1. The Defense Department would have to cut $46 billion immediately, and other federal departments and agencies would also have to slash spending.
Defense Department officials warned Tuesday that about 800,000 civilian workers could be furloughed for up to 22 days from March through September, effectively cutting their pay by 20 percent. However, those furloughs would only save about $5 billion; the rest of the money would have to come from cuts in training, maintenance and new weapons systems, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said.
More than 14,000 civilians could be furloughed at Tinker, and a total of 10,000 more civilian workers are vulnerable at Fort Sill, Vance Air Force Base, Altus Air Force Base and the Army ammunition plant in McAlester. Vance and Altus are pilot training bases; Fort Sill is an Army artillery training post.
Military personnel are spared from furloughs, and operations in Afghanistan would be fully funded, along with health care for active duty forces.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Tulsa, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, asked the service leaders to provide details of how the cuts would be spread across each state and installation.