WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that hundreds of billions in proposed military budget cuts could cripple the fighting force, and vowed to work closely with Congress to avoid that outcome.
In a message to troops released Wednesday, Panetta said that they must be prepared for program cuts and more scrutiny of defense spending in coming months. But he also vowed not to “repeat the mistakes of the past,” specifically referencing the across-the-board budget cuts made following the Vietnam War.
“Achieving savings based on sound national security policy will serve our nation’s interests, and will also prove more enforceable and sustainable over the long-term,” he wrote.
“But I will do everything I can to ensure that further reductions in defense spending are not pursued in a hasty, ill-conceived way that would undermine the military’s ability to protect America and its vital interests around the globe.”
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama signed into law a new congressional compromise raising the country’s debt ceiling in exchange for steep federal spending cuts over the next decade.
That includes a plan to trim $350 billion in undefined defense spending over the next decade, but also the possibility of another $600 billion in cuts if Congress cannot agree on alternative savings or new revenues.
Panetta said $350 billion in cuts is in line with department expectations, and is possible without undermining military readiness. But he warned that deeper cuts would be devastating.
“If that happens, it could trigger a round of dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation,” he wrote. “Indeed, this outcome would be completely unacceptable to me as Secretary of Defense, the President, and to our nation’s leaders.”
The Defense Department is already conducting a budgetary review of its operations. Panetta said budget-saving targets would include an emphasis on developing “effective and affordable weapons,” as well as reforming procurement standards and reducing staff.
Members of the congressional committee charged with finding the budget alternatives have not yet been appointed, but the panel is scheduled to unveil its ideas by late November. Those could include new defense cuts or restructuring.