* Pentagon faces $46 billion in cuts over seven months
* Seeks smaller-than-expected military pay raise for 2014
* Threatened cuts follow a decade of growth
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, Feb 6 Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
delayed deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group to the
Middle East on Wednesday because of budget uncertainty, hours
after warning that congressional inaction on financial matters
threatened U.S. security.
The Pentagon also announced it would seek a
smaller-than-expected 1 percent pay increase for service members
during the 2014 fiscal year that begins in October, another sign
of fiscal pressures on the military after nearly a decade of
The outgoing Pentagon chief delayed the deployment of the
USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier and the USS Gettysburg
guided-missile cruiser because of uncertainty over the
department's finances, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
The two ships had been scheduled to leave their home ports
in the United States bound for the Middle East later this week,
"Facing budget uncertainty ... the U.S. Navy made this
request to the secretary and he approved," Little said in a
statement. "This prudent decision enables the U.S. Navy to
maintain these ships to deploy on short notice in the event they
are needed to respond to national security contingencies."
The decision leaves the United States with one aircraft
carrier in the tense Gulf region, the same force level it has
had since December. Little said the U.S. presence was "robust,"
with a mix of ships and warplanes that could respond to any
The decision to delay the carrier deployment came hours
after Panetta warned in one of his final speeches as U.S.
defense secretary that lurching from budget crisis to budget
crisis was threatening U.S. national security.
He told students at Georgetown University in Washington that
Congress' failure to deal with the government's financial
problems put the Defense Department on the brink of having to
absorb $46 billion in spending cuts over seven months.
The cuts, which are due to go into force on March 1 unless
Congress acts to avert them, would require the Pentagon to put
as many as 800,000 civilian employees on unpaid leave for 22
work days, reduce Navy operations in the western Pacific by up
to one-third and cut Air Force flying hours, Panetta said.
'GRIDLOCK AND RECRIMINATION'
"It's difficult to believe, frankly, that the Congress would
simply stand aside and ... allow the defense, economy and
quality of life of America to be irreparably damaged," Panetta
told the students.
"But time and again, they have postponed action and instead
have fallen into a pattern of constant partisanship and gridlock
Panetta's remarks came as the Pentagon struggles to deal
with the current budget climate. Halfway through the 2013 fiscal
year, Congress has yet to appropriate money for the Pentagon.
Instead, it is funding the department with a "continuing
resolution" that keeps spending at 2012 levels.
The Pentagon, which was already implementing a $487 billion
reduction in defense spending over a decade, is facing the
possibility of a $500 billion across-the-board cut over 10 years
under a process known as sequestration, beginning March 1,
unless Congress can agree on alternative savings.
Confusion over the Pentagon's budget has set back efforts to
produce a 2014 spending plan, and few details were available,
but an official said on Wednesday the department would ask
Congress for a lower-than-expected pay increase for uniformed
That would require lawmakers to stop linking pay increases
to the Employment Cost Index. Under Pentagon guidelines, the
expected pay increase for 2014 based on the ECI would be 1.8
percent. The department plans to ask for 1 percent instead.
Personnel costs have been rising rapidly at the Pentagon
since 2000, with Congress sometimes approving raises higher than
requested. The Employment Cost Index has risen 47.4 percent
since 2000, while military pay has gone up 63.3 percent, figures
Concerned about Congress' inability to reach a deal to avoid
more spending reductions, Pentagon officials have ordered the
military services to begin taking immediate action to reduce
costs and to report back this week on how they will implement
additional cuts if the sequestration takes effect.
The Navy is planning to reduce short-term spending by about
$6.3 billion, including canceling maintenance for dozens of
ships and aircraft in the third and fourth quarters, reducing
ship and aircraft operating hours and eliminating 1,121
temporary workers, mainly in shipyards and base support.
If additional budget cuts are implemented on March 1, the
Navy will consider cutting flying hours on carrier-deployed
aircraft in the Middle East by 55 percent and canceling several
The U.S. Air Force will have to curtail its orders for
Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter jet, restructure a
$52 billion tanker contract with Boeing Co and reduce
flying hours by 18 percent if the new budget cuts occur, the
service said in a draft plan.
The Army plans to release 1,300 temporary employees, cut
base operations by up to 30 percent and cancel ground and air
maintenance in the third and fourth quarters, according to a
draft plan obtained by AOL Defense and posted online.
If sequestration goes into effect, the Army could have
difficulty meeting payroll, even if it furloughed all civilian
employees for 22 work days, unless Congress agreed to let it
shift funds between its budgetary accounts, the plan said.