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Mr. Panetta told sailors aboard the command ship USS Blue Ridge in Yokosuka, Japan, on Wednesday that he is committed to protecting the military from declining because of budget constraints.

“I commit to you, and I’ve been in touch with our service chiefs and work with them every day, all of us are committed to maintaining the best military in the world. And we will do that,” he said.

Mr. Panetta said he plans to “protect” the military from drastic cuts and make sure it does not become a hollow force.

“We’re going to make sure we never hollow out the force,” he said. “That’s a mistake that’s been made in the past; we’re not going to make that mistake now.”

Subcommittee Chairman J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican, said the budget cuts could prove “devastating to the military.”

“I remain concerned that we may have already gone too far,” he said. “Over the last 20 months, the department has reduced its 10-year budget authority by $754 billion from the levels submitted with the president’s budget for fiscal year 2011.

“It has already canceled many of its most advanced systems like the CG(X) next-generation cruiser program, the F-22, the Army’s future combat systems, and the transformational satellite program … among others.”