Budget cuts vs. Strike Fighter

The confirmation hearing of Ashton Carter, President Barack Obama’s nominee for deputy secretary of Defense, highlighted the dilemma the Defense Department is facing. On the one hand, DOD must cut billions of dollars in spending. On the other hand, it has to maintain combat readiness and, perhaps most importantly politically, keep the support of members of Congress whose constituents are in need of jobs and economic gains.

So it's not surprising that during his confirmation hearing, Carter pledged his best efforts to cut defense spending by more than $300 billion in the next 10 years while also pledging his full support for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) had threatened to stall Carter's nomination until Carter assured him of his commitment to the program, Foreign Policy reports. Lockheed Martin builds the F-35s in Texas.

During the hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carter vowed that if confirmed, he would work closely with Congress to identify and recommend cuts and savings that could realistically be implemented to help avoid the sweeping cuts that will kick in if a so-called super committee fails to pass a plan by mid-October to trim the federal budget.

However, those recommendations are supposed to be based on the results of a broad internal DOD review, which Carter said is now behind schedule. But the automatic cuts that would result from the super committee’s inability to agree on a strategy would be draconian, Carter said. He warned more than once that if the $500 billion-plus, across-the-board automatic cuts to defense spending were enacted under the sequestration process, it would be devastating to the military.

“Just the scale of it alone would lead us to have to consider truly draconian things: abandoning major weapons systems, furloughing civilian employees and abruptly curtailing training because we couldn’t pay for fuel, and so forth,” Carter said. “When we say ‘disastrous,’ that’s the kind of disaster we mean.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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