Military official: Weapons programs could 'fall by the wayside' in budget cuts

The Pentagon likely will have to terminate some weapons programs as it enacts the big budget cuts being discussed as part of debt-reduction efforts, a key military official said Thursday.

“There are probably some of these programs … that may end up falling by the wayside,” Adm. James Winnefeld, tapped to be the next Joint Chiefs vice chairman, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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President Obama already has ordered $400 billion in national security cuts over 10 years. Sources say debt-ceiling negotiators have seriously discussed security cuts as large as $700 billion.

The Senate's Gang of Six released a debt-paring plan this week that calls for $866 billion in Defense cuts over a decade. The proposal sent shock waves through the Defense community.

While national security strategy would drive decisions about force structure — meaning people and weapons programs — the reality is that budgets play a bigger role, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said.

“I hope those decisions can be made with strategy in mind,” Winnefeld replied, acknowledging that Pentagon officials cannot ignore “budget realities.”

“But we’ve got to get that balance just right,” Winnefeld warned.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) questioned whether cuts the size of those in the plan offered by the Senate Gang of Six would “hinder operational readiness” and leave Defense officials unable to buy the things needed by troops “to do their jobs.”

Winnefeld said it “depends on how cuts are applied, reiterating “that’s why we need to do this in strategy-based manner.”

But large Defense spending reductions will mean the military cannot keep doing the kinds of resource-intensive missions it is now involved in, the Joint Chiefs nominee told the panel.

“As we get to higher and higher numbers, we will find that the strategies we currently have will reach inflection points,” Winnefed said, “and we will have to stop doing the things we’re doing because” not doing so would lead to a “hollow force” and an injured industrial base.

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