Republican hawks use sharp rhetoric to fight deeper Pentagon budget cuts

Republican lawmakers are using increasingly sharp rhetoric to argue against additional cuts to defense spending, warning the military will cede its technical edge, manufacturing will further erode and conscription will return.

House GOP lawmakers have not shied away from bluntly sounding alarms about what nearly $1 trillion in defense cuts over a decade would bring. Some have gone so far as to warn that a “dismantled force” would threaten the American way of life.

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A House Armed Services Committee Republican staff report that surfaced this week concluded that cuts deeper than the $350 billion agreed to as part of the August debt deal would force Pentagon officials to shrink the military to pre-9/11 levels. The study also said most of the military’s big-ticket weapons programs would be placed “at risk” of termination or big changes to cut costs.

GOP lawmakers and aides are increasingly convinced the Pentagon’s plans to buy over 4,000 F-35 fighters for the Air Force, Navy and Marines would be shrunk considerably — or the program would be shut down.

The Republican staff report predicts the Navy would retire around 60 ships — including two aircraft carriers — and Army vehicle programs would be terminated.

The GOP staff goes so far as to warn that more Defense Department budget cuts “could force America to return to the draft” because the Army and Marine Corps would collectively shed 200,000 troops to cut costs.

But not everyone in the national security realm agrees with the kinds of dire warnings being put forth by House Republicans.

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a Friday interview that he agrees deeper Pentagon spending cuts would “have deep and profound impact on [the military’s] ability to carry out some missions.” More cuts would “fundamentally” alter what the military could do, leaving it with “nowhere near the power projection the current force has.”

Still, he labeled the GOP rhetoric “scare tactics.”

“I don’t believe what Republicans have been saying is completely accurate,” Smith told The Hill. “I don’t believe [additional cuts] would lead to a draft. … That sounds more like trying to alarm people enough to get their attention.

“I don’t think we’ve been having a sober discussion of the implications,” Smith said. “I think [GOP members] have been trying to make it look as bad as possible to dissuade people from making [additional] cuts.”

Gordon Adams, who ran national security budgeting for the Clinton administration, panned the HASC report.

“It appears the [GOP] staff started by asking, ‘What can I do by picking my targets to make this look like the end of Western civilization?’” Adams said. “It’s designed to scare people.”

Republican hawks and Pentagon officials — including outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen — use words like “devastate” and “break us” when describing what would happen to the military if it is forced to take the bulk of another $600 billion cut over the same decade.

That would happen if a special congressional deficit-reduction panel fails to find at least $1.2 trillion in cuts across the federal budget by Thanksgiving.

One leading House GOP hawk this week said deeper military cuts would significantly change America.

If those additional cuts are enacted, the “American way of life is at risk,” Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee, warned this week in an op-ed for The Hill.

“Members of Congress … are poised to preside over the dismantling of our military that will reshape the future of our nation,” Forbes wrote. “Deep, looming defense cuts have the potency to reconfigure a nation of today into what is unrecognizable to those coming of age 10 and 20 years from now.”

Warnings that the U.S. military would be unable to hold its own against future foes if all the possible cuts are enacted are unfounded, Adams countered.

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“If you put the military the report describes — with the end strength and program cuts — we would be scared to death of that military,” Adams said.

Republican lawmakers are not alone in using sharp language.

Industry executives say their firms likely would soon lack the work to retain an ability — and workforce — to design new combat systems.

For instance, James Albaugh, Boeing’s commercial aviation chief, told reporters last month that there could soon come a time when few weapons manufacturers have the in-house engineering brainpower to design a new combat aircraft from scratch.

The possibilities of industrial design atrophy might not stop there, according to a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments report released late last month.

“It is not unrealistic to foresee a day in which the U.S. defense industry no longer possesses the design or production capabilities for certain weapons systems,” the CSBA wrote. “Indeed, this has already happened to the United Kingdom in the case of nuclear attack submarines.”

Forbes wrote that the nation’s ability to design and build war ships, avionics suites and other advanced systems would “suffer the slow and painful dismantling witnessed in the once-great American manufacturing bastions of textiles, furniture, televisions, computers and steel.”