* Additional cuts of $50 billion looming in 2013
* Defense secretary hoping Congress will act to avert cuts
* Says "crazy" cuts cast a pall over defense industries
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, Feb 16 Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta told lawmakers on Thursday the Pentagon - a department
that prides itself on being ready for everything from war to
natural disaster - had no plan at all for dealing with the real
threat of another $50 billion in budget cuts next year.
Panetta called the second round of cuts due to go into
effect next year "crazy" and said it was casting a pall over
defense industries. But he indicated the Pentagon had not
designed its new military strategy or its 2013 budget to reflect
the looming reduction, part of a process known as sequestration.
"Look, we're not paying attention to sequestration. I don't
think it's going to happen," Panetta told a panel of the House
of Representatives during a hearing on the Pentagon's proposed
2013 spending plan.
"I don't think that Congress is going to allow it to happen.
But at the same time, the threat that it may happen is something
that's having an impact," he said, acknowledging it was casting
a "huge shadow" over the military.
Whether Congress is willing or needs to avert a new round of
cuts is open to debate. Defense analysts say post-war U.S.
military drawdowns usually see Pentagon budgets fall by more
than 20 percent, far more than the cuts currently envisioned.
The 2013 defense budget sent to Congress earlier this week
begins the process of cutting $487 billion in projected defense
spending over the next decade as required by the Budget Control
Act passed by Congress last August.
The law also established a special congressional panel to
come up with another $1.2 trillion in federal spending
reductions by the end of the year. The panel failed to do so,
triggering another $600 billion in national security cuts over
the next decade beginning in 2013.
Few analysts believe Congress will ultimately allow the
second round of cuts to stand, but many agree lawmakers missed
their best opportunity to reach a deal last year when the
special committee was meeting.
The issue is complicated by election politics, with little
likelihood of action before the presidential vote in November,
more than a month after the 2013 budget goes into effect Oct. 1.
Officials say if there is no congressional action by late
summer, the White House budget office will probably have to
advise the Pentagon to begin planning for the additional cuts.
That worries analysts and lawmakers, who say it leaves little
time to prepare for a $50 billion across-the-board reduction.
Todd Harrison, of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary
Assessments think tank, warned in a recent paper the Pentagon
was being overly optimistic about not having to cut further.
Previous military drawdowns have seen spending decline for a
decade, not remain flat as in Pentagon's projections, he said.
"The failure to plan for the possibility of additional
reductions in defense spending is a major shortfall in the new
defense strategy," Harrison wrote. "The Pentagon can and should
begin preparing for the possibility of more reductions,
especially the prospect of sequestration."
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, told lawmakers there were good security reasons not to
cut defense spending as deeply as the drawdowns that followed
the Vietnam War or the Cold War.
"In the previous two we were entering a relative stability,"
he said. "I can't impress upon you that in my personal military
judgment, formed over 38 years, we are living in the most
dangerous time in my lifetime, right now, and I think
sequestration would be completely oblivious to that."
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Todd Eastham)