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Joint Chiefs warn against 'irreversible' damage of sequestration

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One by one, military leaders laid out the dangers of the automatic cuts: reductions of 100,000 soldiers, the loss of planes and ships, cuts in essential training and an inability to carry out the new U.S. military strategy.

“What you have this year in the next few months is a true crisis in military readiness,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. “The cloud of uncertainty hanging over our nation’s defense affairs is already having lasting and irreversible effects.”

Sequestration is set to go begin on March 1, and would cut $46 billion from the Pentagon’s 2013 budget. Cuts of roughly equal size would also hit non-defense domestic spending.

The sequester cut would wipe away approximately 9.4 percent of the Pentagon’s $600 billion-plus budget, with areas like military personnel exempted. While military leaders stayed mostly quiet when sequestration was set to hit in January, the Pentagon has taken a different — and more vocal — tack after the “fiscal cliff” deal pushed the deadline back to March 1.

The department is planning cost-cutting moves like a hiring freeze and the cancellation of Navy carrier deployments if sequestration occurs. The Pentagon has warned that sequestration will result in up to 22 furlough days for the nearly 800,000 members of its civilian workforce through the end of the fiscal year in September. The problems of sequestration are compounded by the continuing resolution (CR) that’s in effect through March 27. Pentagon leaders warn that extending the stopgap spending bill for a full-year — which keeps funding levels the same from the prior year — would cause nearly as many problems as sequestration itself.

“We need budget certainty, that is, we need the antithesis of sequestration: a steady, predictable funding stream,” said Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Tuesday’s Senate hearing was designed in part as an effort from defense-minded lawmakers to convince their colleagues that sequestration is a danger to national security. The Joint Chiefs will also be testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

For more on Senate Armed Services hearing, click here.