Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is warning that the deficit-reduction supercommittee’s failure to agree on a savings plan will force dramatic cuts to America’s nuclear arms, including the elimination of ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, cancellation or delays in plans to build a new strategic bomber, and cuts to missile submarine production.
The drastic budget reductions triggered by the panel’s failure would lead to the smallest U.S. ground forces since 1940 and the smallest Navy since the beginning of World War I, he said Monday. The Air Force and the Defense Department’s civilian workforce would shrink to their lowest levels ever.
Panetta’s doomsday scenario comes in two letters to Senate Armed Services Committee members John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who have been pressing him for details after months of apocalyptic warnings of what would happen if the debt-reduction panel fails to come up with $1.5 trillion in budget savings by Nov. 23.
The failure would trigger an automatic cut of $600 billion in Pentagon spending in 2013, on top of $350 billion over 10 years already mandated.
The Pentagon is working on a strategic review that’s supposed to guide the cuts, but that’s not expected to be ready until next month and lawmakers have been getting anxious for details of what might occur.
In his letters, Panetta wrote that the supercommittee’s failure could also force cancellation of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the Army’s new ground combat vehicle and helicopter modernization programs, along with a planned missile defense shield in Europe.
“Unfortunately, while large cuts are being imposed, the threats to national security would not be reduced. As a result, we would have to formulate a new security strategy that accepted substantial risk of not meeting our defense needs,” he wrote. “A sequestration budget is not one that I could recommend.”
Panetta was to appear before the Armed Services panel Tuesday to talk about Iraq with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, but may also face questions about his letter. McCain, the panel’s ranking Republican, had requested the hearing in the wake of President Barack Obama’s announcement last month that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of this year, ending attempts to keep some troops behind as trainers.
In a statement accompanying release of the letter, McCain and Graham said, “the consequence of a sequester on the Defense Department would set off a swift decline of the United States as the world’s leading military power. We are staunchly opposed to this draconian action. This is not an outcome that we can live with, and it is certainly not one that we should impose on ourselves. The sequester is a threat to the national security interests of the United States, and it should not be allowed to occur.”
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