How will Defense sequestration harm national security? Let me paint you a picture

Lance Cpl. Kowshon Ye/U.S. Marine Corps.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Robert Dominguez, a team leader with Regimental Combat Team 8, 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, walks between cornfields while conducting a security patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, on July 22, 2011.

Here is a chart that shows the damage that will be done by $492 billion in automatic defense cuts.  
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill want to kick the can down the road and address this impending damage next year.  Their logic is that the automatic cuts do not kick in until 2013, so there is no need to address them now.  They are wrong.  The Defense Department does not operate from year to year – it operates off of long-term budgets.  DoD will have to start cutting right away, in 2012, to meet spending reduction targets in 2013 and beyond.  As the House Armed Services Committee has pointed out, “some decisions would be irrevocable. A shipyard closed because of program cancellations will not be there when we are ready to buy ships again.”

According to Secretary Panetta, in a letter and submission to Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, current law does not provide flexibility in applying the sequester cuts, which means that they must be applied in equal percentages to each “program, project, and activity” in the Defense Department.  Immediate 23% cuts in weapons programs and military construction projects would require not just reductions in expenditures that could be ramped back up late, but wholesale cancellations of vital projects – because, as the Panetta points out, you cannot buy three quarters of a building or a ship.  Among the programs on the chopping block, according to the Secretary.

•               Terminate Joint Strike Fighter; minimal life extensions and upgrades to existing forces ($80B);
•               Delay next generation ballistic missile submarine; cut force to 10 subs ($7B);
•               Terminate littoral combat ship and associated mission modules ($22B);
•               Terminate all ground combat vehicle modernization programs ($17B);
•               Terminate all Army helicopter modernization programs ($llB);
•               Delay or terminate major space initiatives, including space protection, communications satellites, and ISR systems ($27B);
•               Terminate European missile defense ($2B);
•               Eliminate ICBM leg of Triad ($8B).

As for personnel, the Department might have to turn to furloughs of a month or more next year to meet the immediate requirements of the sequester.  In the longer term, according to Panetta, “Reductions at this level would lead to the smallest ground force since 1940.” as well as the smallest civilian workforce in the history of the Department.

The damage this would do is incalculable. Today, the United States has the best trained, most capable, battle-hardened military force in the history of the world.  They are a national security asset whose value is without measure.  If something is not done, we will begin giving those experience troops pink slips in 2012 – and once they have left for civilian life, there is no way to get back that lost knowledge and experience down the line.

The time for Congressional Republicans to act is now – not in 2013.

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Marc A.
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  • A member of the White House senior staff under President George W. Bush, Marc A. Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to the president and to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Prior to joining the Bush administration, Thiessen spent more than six years as spokesman and senior policy adviser to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). He is a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, and his articles can be found in many major publications. His book on the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation program, Courting Disaster (Regnery Press, 2010), is a New York Times bestseller. At AEI, Thiessen writes about U.S. foreign and defense policy issues for The American and the Enterprise Blog. He appears every Sunday on Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends" and makes frequent appearances on other TV and talk radio programs.


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