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Sounding much like the man he has been tapped replace, Chuck Hagel believes billions of dollars in defense spending cuts, know as sequestration, would devastate the U.S. military.
Hagel, the former Republican senator that President Barack Obama has nominee for defense secretary, expressed many of the same opinions on major budget and programmatic policies as current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a 112-page document submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The panel of senators will have a chance to question Hagel during a Jan. 31 confirmation hearing.
"[Sequestration] would harm military readiness and disrupt each and every investment program," Hagel said. "Based on my assessment to date, I share [Panetta's] concerns. I urge the Congress to eliminate the sequester threat permanently and pass a balanced deficit-reduction plan."
Panetta has repeatedly said sequestration - about $500 billion in defense spending cuts over the next decade -- would cause significant damage to the military. The cuts are even more problematic, defense officials say, because Congress has not passed a 2013 defense appropriations bill, meaning the Pentagon is operating under a continuing resolution where spending is frozen at 2012 levels.
The impact of a year-long continuing resolution and sequestration scheduled to begin on March 1 has prompted the Pentagon to freeze hiring and slow contract awards. DoD is also preparing to cancel aircraft and ship maintenance scheduled later this year.
While the preparations are reversible, they could severely harm the readiness of forces over the long term, defense officials say.
Hagel said a year-long continuing resolution would put DoD in a "straightjacket."
Like Panetta, Hagel said sequestration-level spending cuts means DoD would need to "significantly revise the defense strategy."
Other Key Subjects
• On the defense industrial base, Hagel said: "While I think our industrial base is currently strong, I am concerned about the impact that further defense budget cuts would have on the ability of the base to provide the broad range of products and services that the Department and our nation need. If confirmed, the continuing health of the industrial base will be a high priority for me."
• If confirmed, Hagel pledged to examine the health of the F-35 joint strike fighter, the Pentagon's largest weapon program. "I will make it a high priority to examine the health of this program to determine if it is on a sound footing and ensure the aircraft are delivered with the capability we need and a cost we can afford."
• Asked about the future of the U.S. Army, which is preparing for force structure cuts as operations in Afghanistan come to a close, Hagel said: "[T]he best Army does not mean the largest. We must have the Army be appropriately sized for the contingencies we deem likely, and it also must be trained and modernized."
• On conventional prompt global strike, the ability to hit any target in the work within hours, Hagel said: "I understand, however, that there are concerns about this operational concept. At this point, I believe that it makes sense to assess potential approaches to conventional prompt global strike."