By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT EN ROUTE TO SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 15, 2011 - Nearly $1 trillion in defense cuts that the 2011 Budget Control Act could require would devastate the military and the defense industrial base, and could add 1 percent to the nation's unemployment rate, the Pentagon press secretary said today.
A "sequestration" mechanism in the nation's debt-reduction law automatically takes more cuts out of federal spending if Congress fails to enact further measures to reduce the deficit by Nov. 24.
For the Defense Department, that means another $500 billion from defense spending over 10 years, on top of $350 billion in cuts already identified over the same period.
"If we move toward sequestration," Press Secretary George Little told reporters, " ... we would be looking at, in all likelihood, the smallest Army and Marine Corps in decades, the smallest tactical Air Force since [that branch of the service] was established, and the smallest Navy in nearly 100 years."
Little made the comments en route to the Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations that start in San Francisco tomorrow. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is taking part in the meetings, along with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The department has been looking at hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has been adamant, Little said, that moving to sequestration would be a "devastating" scenario for the nation's security.
The secretary "has reiterated time and time again that we don't have to choose between our fiscal security and our national security," Little said, "but if we go to sequestration, we would very well have to make that choice.
Little said that $1 trillion in cuts would make it necessary for the Pentagon to break faith in some areas -- including jobs and salary benefits -- with those in uniform who are serving the nation.
"In a time of war," he said, "that's unacceptable."
At the Pentagon, internal analysis shows that sequestration also would have a profound impact on the U.S. industrial base, he added, by threatening many of the 3.8 million military and civilian jobs that the sector represents.
"We're not talking about just military jobs, we're also talking about jobs in the private sector that support the innovation and creativity and capabilities that we need to keep America strong," he said.
Moving to sequestration and the additional budget cuts it would require, department officials believe "would potentially add 1 percent to the national unemployment rate," Little said.
Panetta, he added, has made Congress aware of the consequences of such deep defense cuts.
The nearly $400 billion in cuts already expected from the Defense Department "is hard but manageable," Little said. "Tough choices have to be made. A trillion dollars in defense cuts is unacceptable."
It's important to have a national conversation about where the military is headed in the 21st century, he added, and the Defense Department wants the agreed-on cuts "to be defined and framed by strategy, and not by arithmetic."
The secretary and other officials are in close contact with Congress and will continue to discuss the issue through the fall, Little said.
"We are strongly encouraging everyone in this country to look at what we need to keep faith with our troops, to keep the strongest military in the world strong, and to go about this budget-cutting process in a way that's reasonable."
Everyone in Washington wants a strong national defense, the press secretary said, adding, "We want to make it very clear that sequestration is a red line that this government should not cross."
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