There have been many warnings issued in recent weeks about the consequences of cutting the defense budget—but little in the way of specifics. That’s because the Defense Department still hasn’t figured out how it will respond to either the $465 billion of cuts Congress has already mandated this year or the additional cuts, amounting in total to roughly a trillion dollars, that could be imposed if a super-committee doesn’t find some alternative this fall. But the House Armed Services Committee’s majority staff has performed a valuable service by releasing a detailed memo spelling out what cuts on this scale would actually entail.
It hasn’t been posted on the Internet yet, but I got a copy of the report on Friday—and it makes for alarming reading. If the Pentagon is forced to slash a trillion dollars during the next decade—which would amount to an 18 percent reduction from the Obama budget projections released earlier this year—the Committee staff projects the total size of the Army and Marine Corps could fall from 771,400 personnel today to just 571,000, a 25 percent reduction that would make it impossible to respond to a range of different contingencies around the world. Some 200,000 soldiers and Marines who signed up to serve their country will be fired—and many of them will be hard put to find work at a time when the national unemployment rate is over 9 percent and the unemployment rate for young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is believed to be over 20 percent. (For wounded veterans the rate is said to be over 40 percent.) We would not only be breaking faith with these heroes but also jeopardizing our security—and that of our allies—in the process.
The Committee further projects if the trillion dollar cut occurs, the Navy will fall from 288 ships today (already the smallest figure since the 1930s) to just 238; the Air Force will go from 1,739 fighters to 1,512; and from 118 bombers to just 101. The Navy will have to mothball more than 60 ships including two carrier battle groups, while the Air Force will have to substantially reduce the procurement of the F-35 which is supposed to be our bread-and-butter fighter for decades to come; the F-35 variants intended for use on amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers will most likely be cancelled altogether. Cutting all these programs will result in even more job losses—the report projects at least 25 percent of the civilian defense workforce will have to be furloughed, resulting in the elimination of 200,000 jobs.
Moreover, these cuts will call into question our nuclear deterrent—the bedrock of our security since 1945. The committee expects trillion dollar cut will result in significant cutbacks in our nuclear arsenal including much needed modernization of Minute Man III ICBMs and ballistic missile submarines. Also delayed or cut will be significant portions of our missile defense program which is badly needed at a time when rogue states such as Iran and North Korea are
working on longer-range missiles.
It is possible to quibble with this aspect or that of these projections; nothing is written in stone yet, and it is possible cuts will take a different form. But it is hard to quarrel with the report’s conclusion that if a trillion dollars in cuts were to occur—which looks quite possible at the moment—these cuts “would destroy jobs and stall the economy, they could force America to return to the draft, and we would incur more casualties as we defend our freedom.”