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Automatic Budget Cuts Could Break U.S. Defense, Mullen Says

U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said military budgets may be trimmed by as much as $1.1 trillion during the next 10 years if a congressional supercommittee fails to agree on a deficit reduction plan, leading to automatic cuts.

A cutback that large “has a chance of breaking us,” Mullen testified today before the Senate Armed Services Committee. That would impose a “heavy penalty on developing equipment” for the military, he said.

Mullen was referring to a potential $450 billion in Pentagon cuts in the next decade under the U.S. Budget Control Act and possibly another $500 billion in automatic cuts if the supercommittee fails to find $1.5 trillion in overall savings.

Mullen told the Business Executives for National Security today that the initial $450 billion in cuts would “only be a little over 9 percent a year from our baseline” and is achievable. “They will also be difficult to identify and execute,” he said.

Mullen said his concern the deeper cuts could be devastating to the military was based on emerging results of a Pentagon review of roles, missions and capabilities.

“The pieces for me are the state of force after 10 years of war and the security environment” that’s been informed by the “extensive work we’ve done” on what might be cut to achieve $450 billion in savings, Mullen said.

Those insights “give me a good look into what would happen if we doubled that,” he said. “Fundamentally, we’d have to change strategy -- not just ‘thin out’ what we are doing right now. It would cause dramatic force structure cuts.”

“We’d get a whole lot smaller very rapidly and the intangibles about who stays and goes, our ability to recruit, breaking faith with our people, all of that, from my perspective, combines to if you took a $1 trillion out of defense right now, I think it would break,” Mullen said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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