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Panetta, Dempsey: Sequestration Would Defeat Defense Strategy

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2012 – The Defense Department’s senior leaders strongly warned Congress today that doubling defense spending cuts would leave the military without a workable strategy to counter staggering global threats.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, along with Pentagon Comptroller Robert F. Hale, logged their third day of congressional budget testimony, speaking before the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee.

Under the 2013 budget request, the Defense Department will spend $614 billion in fiscal 2013, divided between a $525.4 billion base budget and $88.5 billion covering war costs. The request incorporates the 2011 Budget Control Act’s requirement for a $487 billion reduction in defense spending over the next 10 years. The act also included a “sequestration” provision for an additional $500 billion in across-the-board cuts to take effect in January if Congress does not pass a plan to reduce the budget.

“If additional efforts are made to go after the defense budget, I think it could have a serious impact in terms of our ability to implement the strategy,” Panetta said.

Panetta repeatedly has emphasized the 2013 DOD budget request supports a new defense strategy, released in January, aimed at creating a smaller, more mobile and technologically advanced joint force. The secretary has also emphasized keeping faith with the all-volunteer force and the families who support them.

While he doesn’t think Congress will permit sequestration, the secretary said, the threat alone is creating a “huge shadow of doubt” over defense industries, their workers and the military.

Panetta outlined global threats from ongoing war in Afghanistan to challenges in the space and cyber domains to growing competition in the Pacific region and a volatile Middle East, where, he said, “any one of these countries could explode on us.”

A half trillion dollars in new defense cuts could result in a military unprepared to meet those threats, he said.

“It is very important that we get together -- both the administration and the Congress -- and we develop a package … to make sure this doesn't happen,” the secretary said.

Dempsey said he shares the secretary’s “deep concerns, … actually, anxieties, about sequestration.”

“The two things about sequestration that are alarming to us is one, the magnitude, [and] second, the mechanism,” he said. The law calls for across-the-board cuts if sequestration kicks in, but certain areas of military spending can’t be cut, the chairman explained.

In restructuring the force, he noted, the current plan of trimming 124,000 troops over the next five years -- mostly from the Army and Marine Corps -- can’t be done much faster. Another round of service member reductions, which sequestration could require, would mean “we just … hand them a pink slip and send them off. And I don’t think anybody wants to do that,” he said.

Infrastructure costs also are fixed, Dempsey said. Even if Congress approves new base realignment and closure processes, as the Defense Department has requested, the department won’t save any money on facilities for five to 10 years, he said. That leaves only a few budget areas the military could cut under sequestration, Dempsey said.

“It’s coming out of three places, and that’s it,” the general said. “It’s coming out of equipment and modernization, that’s one. It’s coming out of maintenance, and it’s coming out of training. And then, we’ve hollowed out the force.”

Dempsey told the House panel he has lived through two military drawdowns in his nearly four-decade career: one after Vietnam, and another after Desert Storm. The current drawdown is different, he said, because the previous two happened during a period of relative stability.

“In my personal military judgment, formed over 38 years, we are living in the most dangerous time in my lifetime right now, and I think sequestration would be completely oblivious to that, and counterproductive,” the chairman said.

President Barack Obama was deeply involved with department leaders in developing the new defense strategy, Dempsey said.

“It is a strategy that has to have this budget to support it,” he added. “Anything beyond this, we have to go back to the drawing board on the strategy.”

The defense strategy is an aggregate of military objectives, the resources available, and how to meet those objectives with those resources, he said.

“We’ve got it balanced right now,” the chairman said. “But any change in the future means we have to go back and redo our strategy.”


Contact Author

Leon E. Panetta
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

Related Sites:
Special Report: Fiscal 2013 Defense Budget Proposal
Fiscal 2013 Defense Budget Request Overview
Defense Strategic Guidance
Defense Budget Priorities and Choices
Defense Budget Fact Sheet
Photo Essay: Defense Leaders Testify Before Defense Subcommittee


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