Newly confirmed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel struck a comparatively reassuring tone as the so-called sequestration of defense funding formally kicked in Friday, saying the military will "adjust" to the across-the-board budget cuts that are now mandatory for all services. (AP)
- Filed Under
Newly confirmed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel struck a comparatively reassuring tone as the so-called sequestration of defense funding formally kicked in Friday, saying the military will "adjust" to the across-the-board budget cuts that are now mandatory for all services.
"Today America has the best fighting force in the world, capable of responding to any challenge," Hagel, told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday. The management of this institution, starting with the Joint Chiefs, are not going to allow this capacity to erode."
"We will mange these issues. These are adjustments.
"We anticipated these kinds of realities and we will do what we need to do to assure the capabilities of our forces," he said.
Hagel, who served as an Army infantry sergeant in Vietnam and was sworn in as head of the Pentagon on Wednesday, spoke shortly after President Obama announced that the sweeping budget cuts known as sequestration will officially take effect at midnight.
Those cuts will require a roughly 10 percent reduction in planned spending across all the military services.
Hagel's comments were distinctly less alarmist than those of his predecessor, Leon Panetta, who often compared the automatic budget cuts to a "meat ax" or a "gun to the head" of Americans.
Nevertheless, Hagel said the "budget uncertainty" will have a significant impact on the military if Washington lawmakers fail to reach a new budget agreement.
"This uncertainty puts at risk our ability to effectively fulfill all of our missions," Hagel said.
For now, military paychecks are protected from the budget cuts because Obama invoked an exception for uniformed personnel. Yet officials say that means the impact of the budget cuts will fall more heavily other parts of the military, in particular training programs.
Specifically, Hagel echoed the comments of military service chiefs in recent days and said training would be curtailed immediately.
The Air Force will reduce flying hours. The Army will scale back training for all units that are not scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan. And the Navy is planning to stand down four air wings, the first starting in April.
While these budget cuts may not hit troops in their wallet, they will impact life in units worldwide, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at the Pentagon briefing.
"Our military personal will still feel things immediately.
"For example, if you planned to fly or to train in the next few months — that is their duty, that is their profession that is their responsibility to our national security — they are not going to get to do that," Carter said.