| WASHINGTON, March 11
WASHINGTON, March 11 Top U.S. defense officials
are bracing for a brutal season of budget negotiations, warning
U.S. lawmakers that the U.S. military will gradually become
unable to respond to emerging crises if Congress blocks the
Pentagon's plans to cut military compensation, close bases and
retire entire fleets of aircraft.
Senior officials have also begun mapping out in stark terms
what additional weapons and capabilities will be sacrificed if
Congress does not reverse mandatory budget cuts that are due to
resume in fiscal 2016 under a process known as sequestration.
Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning told reporters on
Tuesday other programs would have to be cut if Congress blocked
the service's plan to retire both its U-2 spy plane fleet and
its fleet of A-10 Warthog planes for close air support.
"In my view, we can't cut into readiness far enough to cover
keeping those two fleets. Something would have to give," he
He said the Air Force faced big bills in coming years for
its three top priorities: Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35
fighter jet, a new long-range bomber, and Boeing Co's new
tanker to refuel fighter jets in mid-air.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert told
reporters late on Monday that the Navy would have no choice but
to curtail funding for a planned refueling of the
nuclear-powered USS George Washington aircraft carrier if sharp
cuts in military spending remained in effect for 2016 and
Such a decision, he said, would have a big impact on the
shipbuilding industrial base, noting that the refueling involved
several hundred thousand man-days of work, and could affect the
ability of carrier building Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc
to build the next aircraft carrier.
Huntington Ingalls, General Dynamics Corp, Lockheed,
Boeing and other weapons makers are each lobbying to maintain or
increase funding for their programs, warning that big cutbacks
will be especially hard on smaller suppliers.
Greenert said the Navy had included money in the fiscal 2015
budget to get the carrier ready for de-fueling beginning in
September 2016, something that will have to happen regardless
whether the ship is ultimately retired or refueled.
If Congress blocked those plans - which the Navy estimates
would save $7 billion - the Navy would be forced to reduce its
orders of submarines and destroyers instead, he said, noting
that it would be hard to find big enough cuts elsewhere.
Greenert said the Navy still had a requirement for 11
carriers, but had been forced to make tough choices in its
fiscal 2015 budget as it tried to balance competing priorities,
including the need to start work on a replacement for the
Ohio-class submarines that now carry nuclear weapons.
Greenert is due to testify before the House Armed Services
Committee along with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Marine Corps
Commandant General James Amos on Wednesday.
Lawmakers are already resisting specific proposals in the
Pentagon's budget plan, often based on their interest in
preserving jobs in their home districts. But they have also said
they don't expect lawmakers to agree on other deficit reducing
measure that could allow them to end sequestration.
Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, last week told lawmakers he knew the proposed reforms
were "unpleasant and unpopular" but the department urgently
needed to cut its overhead to keep pace with growing threats.
He appealed to lawmakers to allow the Pentagon to cut
infrastructure, slow the rate of growth in military pay and
retire older weapons so it could invest in new technologies.
"We simply can't ignore the imbalances that ultimately make
our force less effective than what the nation needs," he told
the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. "Kicking the can
down the road will set up our successors for an almost
impossible problem. We have to take the long view here."
Byron Callan, analyst with Capital Alpha Securities, said
the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review made it clear that the
biggest threat facing the U.S. military was not China or some
other military power, but dealing with the budget cuts.
He said military officials had thus far failed to explain in
clear terms what effect the budget cuts would have on the
military's ability to respond to military conflicts or disasters
like the disappearance of a Malaysian airliner.
"The bottom line is that we won't be able to do some of the
things that we're accustomed to doing," he said, noting that
fewer military assets would invariably lead to higher casualty
rates and potentially longer military conflicts.
Given continued uncertainty about future budget levels, top
Pentagon leaders have told the services to once again prepare
two alternate budgets for fiscal 2016 - one that reflects the
mandatory budget cuts, and another that adds about $115 billion
of funding as proposed under the five-year plan through 2019.