The Air Force could put some missile warning and space surveillance programs on banker’s hours if mandatory budget cuts take hold March 1.
Missile warning programs have been on 24-hour alert from the early days of the Cold War, using a combination of satellites and ground-based radars to spot incoming threats. Air Force Space Command says budget cuts could reduce parts of the missile warning program down to eight hours a day.
The command wouldn’t say Friday which parts of the system could be cut back and how the cuts could impact U.S. ability to detect attacks.
A Friday afternoon news release from the command’s headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base said the move would impact “national missile warning, missile defense, space situational awareness, and the intelligence community.”
The Space Command release comes as the Pentagon sounds the alarm about $50 billion in annual cuts that would hit if Congress fails to reach an accord to avoid automatic budget reductions required under “sequestration.”
The cuts were avoided earlier this year when lawmakers voted to buy more time to reach a budget deal. But Democrats and Republicans have continued to fight over taxes and federal spending and an continued impasse would bring the cuts.
The automatic cuts were put in place during wrangling over the 2011 budget and would reduce federal spending by $1.2 trillion over a decade with about half that amount coming from defense spending. That would take almost 10 percent from the Pentagon’s annual budget of more than $600 billion.
Defense leaders at first declined to plan for the sequestration cuts. But in recent days, the Pentagon has warned that the nation will face an extreme security risk unless the military gets its money.
Space Command, with an annual budget topping $12 billion, is especially vulnerable to cuts. Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy have frozen hiring and cut building maintenance. Space Command would also cut programs to monitor world traffic in nuclear materials and cut support for an aging military communication satellite system.
The threat of reduced missile warning sounded immediate alarms in Congress.
“I am very concerned that reducing our nation’s missile warning and space surveillance capabilities could endanger our national security,” U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, said in a statement.
Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, issued a statement saying the automatic cuts threatened national security and Colorado’s economy.
Getting noticed by Congress may be the point, said Ed Anderson, of Colorado Springs, a retired Army lieutenant general and former deputy commander of U.S. Space Command and Northern Command.
“I’d like to think ... that they’re just making threats to try to get Congress’ attention,” he said.
“It’s one thing to cut infrastructure, people. When you have to cut back on operations, that is when it’s really going to hurt.”
Threatened cuts at Space Command could crash to Earth before they’re implemented. Reducing missile warning capabilities would require approval from U.S. Strategic Command and Pentagon planners. Any decision that would seriously impact security would likely need presidential approval.