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 said.
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
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 beyond.
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.
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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.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander;
editing by Ryan Woo)
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