- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2011

A new congressional report spells out in detail how the military would become “hollow” if Congress’ supercommittee fails to agree on deficit reductions, triggering $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts.

The Army and Marine Corps would lose 200,000 troops, bringing active strength “well below” pre-Sept. 11, 2001, levels, and the armed forces would not be able to carry out its essential mission, says a 14-page analysis by the Republican majority staff of the House Armed Services Committee.

The report also says the cuts would deplete weapon systems, further degrading the fighting capabilities of the armed forces.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has warned repeatedly in recent weeks of a weakened, or hollow, military if a congressional supercommittee fails to agree on deficit reductions by Nov. 23. By law, the stalemate would require across-the-board slashing at all federal agencies, including the Pentagon.

Mr. Panetta has not offered many details, but the House analysis is now filling in the blanks.

According to the report, the base defense budget, minus actual war costs, would plunge from a planned $596 billion in the fiscal year be ginning Oct. 1, 2012, to $491 billion.

“Resultant force structure is insufficient to decisively win an engagement in one theater while defending vital national interests in another,” states the internal report, prepared for committee chairman Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican.

“[This] jeopardizes ability to respond to potential contingencies in North Korea or Iran, and adequately defend allies [including Israel and Taiwan] and deployed U.S. forces,” the report states.

If there is no supercommittee agreement, the report says:

• The Navy fleet will shrink from about 300 ships to 238 vessels, with two fewer aircraft carriers to project power.

• The strategic bombing aircraft will fall from 153 planes to 101.

• Air Force fighters, the backbone of gaining control of the skies in a conflict, would drop by more than half, from 3,602 aircraft to 1,512 planes.

The report does not predict what new weapon systems would be cut by the Pentagon to meet the budget law.

But it puts “at risk” the F-35 Lightning multipurpose fighter for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as new Army combat vehicles that would provide improved protection for soldiers.

“As a result, the ability of the United States soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine to maintain a technological advantage on the battlefield would be in jeopardy,” the report says.

Other concerns: The U.S. will lack sufficient, heavy-lift rockets to put spy satellites in space; will not be able to upgrade the only ground-based ballistic missile interceptors now in operation; and will be forced to slash more than 100 of the 450 ICBMs now on alert.

Mr. McKeon is against further budget cuts, seeing enough when a bipartisan agreement with President Obama resulted in about $340 billion in defense reductions over 10 years.

“I remain concerned that our nation is slipping back into the false confidence of a Sept. 10th mindset, believing our nation to be secure because the homeland has not been successfully attacked, believing that we can maintain a solid defense that is driven by budget choices, not strategic ones,” Mr. McKeon said earlier this month.

The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, says the GOP needs to consider tax increases, something most Republicans oppose.

“Recently, Republican members of the Armed Services Committee have been issuing dire warnings about the potential impacts of additional defense budget cuts,” Mr. Smith said.

“I share their concerns, but at the same time, my Republican colleagues refuse to consider raising any additional revenue. In order to avoid drastic cuts to our military and other important programs, revenue must be on the table.”

The bipartisan, 12-member supercommittee is planning to meet next month with members of congressional military committees to seek their recommendations for budget cuts.

The automatic cuts are part of the deal House Speaker John A. Boehner reached with President Obama last month in exchange for raising the federal government’s debt ceiling.

The deal established the supercommittee to recommend spending cuts or tax increases totaling at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade. If the supercommittee fails to come up with anything, or if Congress fails to pass its recommendations by Christmas, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts would take effect.

Lawmakers said they intended the automatic cuts to be painful, arguing that will force the supercommittee to do its job. Half of the cuts would come in defense spending.

The committee, split between six Democrats and six Republicans, has held two public hearings and several other meetings to try to hash out options for reducing deficits.

Republicans argue that most of the savings should come from spending less on government programs, including entitlements such as Medicare, while Democrats insist that tax increases must be part of a final agreement.

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