McHugh: Weapons programs would bear brunt of cuts if debt panel fails

Military weapons programs would be hit hard if a supercommittee fails to reach a deal cutting the deficit, Army Secretary John McHugh said Wednesday.

McHugh said hardware could be hit with half the cuts mandated by provisions in last summer’s debt-ceiling deal that trigger $600 billion in national-security cuts if the supercommittee fails to reach a deal on at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts over the next decade.

Panel members have until Nov. 23 to reach a deal, which would then have to be approved by Congress to avoid the triggers.

The cuts would be in addition to $350 billion in spending reductions already being implemented after the August debt deal. The combination of all those cuts would be catastrophic for the military, according to Pentagon officials and pro-military lawmakers.

The Army is expected to shrink its ranks to cut costs, but McHugh told reporters at a breakfast meeting that the service can only cut so many soldiers.

“You can’t have an Army without people,” said McHugh, a former GOP congressman from New York.

That means the service would have to find “half” the amount it would have to cut from its weapons programs, he said.

Defense trade organizations and hawkish lawmakers say that scenario would lead to up to 1 million terminated jobs across the nation at a time of high unemployment.

McHugh urged the supercommittee members to consider the economic effects of deeper Pentagon cuts.