Hagel: Budget cuts will 'cause pain'

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said there’s only so much the Pentagon can do to prevent the sequester from cutting into military capabilities.

In his first public appearance as the Pentagon’s chief, Hagel insisted the U.S. military would remain the world’s strongest even as spending cuts from the sequester begin to hit.

But he said the cuts will have consequences.

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“These budget cuts will cause pain,” Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon. He said the spending cuts will put “at risk our ability ... to fulfill all of our missions,”

Over the next two weeks, the Defense Department will begin cutting training and flight hours for Army units and Air Force combat wings that are not preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, Hagel said.

The Navy will ground four air combat wings and the department will begin issuing the first tranche of furlough notices to the nearly 800,000 civilian employees at the Pentagon and elsewhere, according to Hagel.

Hagel insisted the U.S. military's fighting capacity will not be drained by the sequester.

"We will not allow that capacity to erode," Hagel said after a meeting with Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and the rest of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Thursday.

At the meeting, Hagel and the Joint Chiefs talked " about consequences ... and how we will continue to adjust to the realities" of sequestration, Hagel said.

If the full sequester goes into effect, Pentagon spending will be cut by about $500 billion over 10 years.

Hagel said a deal between Congerss and the White House was the only way to prevent “tremendous damage" to America's armed forces.

“That is the only way we are going to get out of this,” he said.

Hagel said the Pentagon has no plans to adjust the defense objectives outlined in the White House's national security strategy unveiled last February.

That post-Afghanistan strategy, which emphasizes a large-scale shift of U.S. forces from the Mideast to the Asia-Pacific region, will not be sacrificed, Hagel said.

“In my opinion ... it is [still] the right policy,” he said.