Panetta: Obama's Cuts Create ‘Risks’ in Military’s ‘Capability to Respond’

January 27, 2012 - 1:40 PM
Panetta

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brief the press on the defense budget proposals at the Pentagon on Jan. 26, 2012. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad McNeeley)

(CNSNews.com) - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday that the cuts in defense proposed by President Barack Obaama will create "risks" in America's "capability to respond" to threats.

“The risks come with the fact that, you know, we will have a smaller force," Panetta said a t a Pentagon briefing. "As we said, it’s larger than we had prior to 9/11, but obviously it will be a smaller force, and when you have [a] smaller force there are risks associated with that in terms of our capability to respond.”

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed Panetta’s assessment, while pointing out that when the admnistration's cuts in defense are implemented there will be risk that the U.S. military will not be able to do as much as quickly as it can do now. 

“The primary risks lie not in what we can do, but in how much we can do and how fast we can do it," said Gen. Dempsey. "The risks therefore are in terms of time and capacity and we fully considered these risks.”

Both men, however, said the risk could be managed. In part, this could be done, Panetta said, by be ready "to re-grow the force quickly if we have to."

The U.S. military is currently an all-volunteer force dependent on individual citizens joining the service only when and if they want to join it.

“The force structure shifts I’ve outlined today entail some risk to be sure, but to manage that risk we will ensure that we can mobilize, surge, and adapt our force to meet the requirements of an uncertain future,” Panetta said.

“To that end, the Army will retain more mid-level, mid-grade officers, and NCOs [non-commissioned officers]--these are the guys who have the experience--and they will maintain them even as their overall strength decreases to ensure that we have the structure and experienced leaders necessary to re-grow the force quickly if we have to,” he said.

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U.S. Army forces in Iraq. (AP Photo)

Panetta reiterated that the new "risks" to national defense come from the proposed budget cuts.

“The risks we’re going to be facing obviously come with some of the areas where we had to reduce the budget," said Panetta, "but what we’ve done is to try to develop the kind of agility and capability so that we can respond to the threats that we’re going to face in the 21st century, and I think this is the force for the future. Are there risks associated with it? You bet. Can we deal with those risks and make them acceptable? You bet.”

Gen. Dempsey said the military needs to change the way it does things or face even greater risks.

“I’m convinced we can properly manage them by ensuring we keep the force in balance, investing in new capabilities, and preserving a strong reserve component,” said Dempsey. “And as I’ve said before, we will face greater risks if we don’t change the way we’ve been doing things.”

Panetta

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brief the press on the defense budget proposals at the Pentagon on Jan. 26, 2012. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad McNeeley)

During the press conference, Panetta conceded that the United States still faces “a number of very important threats in the world,” such as terrorism and turmoil in the Middle East, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Iran, North Korea, and cyber warfare.

Nevertheless, according to Panetta, the FY 2013 defense budget that Obama will present to Congress will reduce the size of the Army from 562,000 now to 490,000 in 2017. Over the same five-year period, the active Marine Corps will decrease from its current level of 202,000 to 182,000.

“We could reduce, streamline, and standardize our airlift fleet with minimal risk,” said Panetta.

In accordance with the Budget Control Act, the 2013 defense budget plan reduces spending by $259 billion over the next five years ending in 2017.

For FY 2013, Obama’s Defense Department will request $525 billion for its base budget, which is down from $531 billion in FY 2012. It will ask for an additional $88.4 billion for overseas contingency operations that involve combat troops, which is  down from the $115 billion in FY 2011.