Sunday October 4th, 2015 7:49PM

Panetta warns of 'crisis' in military readiness

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Looming across-the-board budget cuts present the U.S. military with the most significant readiness crisis in more than a decade and quick action is needed to avoid the spending reductions, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned during testimony Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

If the billions of dollars in cuts are allowed to stand, Panetta said, he would have to throw the country's national defense strategy "out the window," and the United States would no longer be a first-rate power. "This will badly damage our national defense and compromise our ability to respond to crises in a dangerous world," Panetta said.

But Panetta assured lawmakers the Defense Department would take the steps necessary to deal with possible threats in the Persian Gulf region after he approved the Navy's request to halve its aircraft carrier presence in the area.

Anticipating the Defense Department will have less money to spend, Panetta said the Pentagon has already put in place a freeze on hiring and cut back on maintenance at bases and facilities. Those moves are reversible, he said, as long as Congress acts quickly to head off the cuts, known as sequestration, and approves a 2013 military budget.

The potential for sequestration is the result of Congress' failure to trim the deficit by $1.2 trillion over a decade. The Pentagon faces a $42.7 billion budget cut in the seven months starting in March and ending in September. The reductions through sequestration would be in addition to a $487 billion cut in defense spending over the next ten years mandated by the Budget Control Act passed in 2011.

Panetta said that the department understood that it needed to do its part to help deal with the federal deficit and has been working to adjust its plans to deal with the lower spending levels. But adding sequestration on top of that creates an untenable situation, he said.

"But as time went on and the erosion that would take place in our capabilities, instead of being a first-rate power in the world, we'd turn into a second-rate power," Panetta told the committee. "That would be the result of sequester."

Panetta, who is retiring soon from his post, has been leading a vocal campaign to stop sequestration because it would leave the military "hollow," meaning the armed forces would look good on paper but would lack the training and equipment they need to handle their missions.

As part of that campaign, the Defense Department has been providing greater details on the impact of the cuts. The department on Wednesday said it is cutting its aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf region from two carriers to one, a move that represents one of the most significant effects of sequestration. The U.S. has maintained two aircraft carrier groups in the Gulf for much of the last two years.

The deployments of the USS Harry S Truman and the USS Gettysburg, a guided-missile cruiser, are being delayed as part of the Navy's plan to deal with the budget uncertainty.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided in 2010 to keep two carrier groups in the Gulf region as tensions with Iran escalated. Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway through which roughly a fifth of the world's oil supply passes, in retaliation for increased Western-led sanctions.

"We're going to do everything we can to make sure that we are prepared to deal with the threat from Iran," Panetta said. "We will have one carrier there and we will deploy other forces there so that we can hopefully fill the gap."

Congress has not approved a defense budget for the 2013 fiscal year. Lawmakers have instead been passing bills to keep spending levels at the same rate as last year. That means the Pentagon is operating on less money than it planned for, and that compounds the problem, Panetta said.

"We have got to end the cloud of budget uncertainty that hangs over the Department of Defense and the entire U.S. government," Panetta said.
© Copyright 2015
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Ethics laws set to take effect Jan. 1 in Georgia
After dominating much of the legislative session, a set of major ethics reforms is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
7:04PM ( 1 year ago )
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 1 year ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Feds announce test sites for drone aircraft
The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the march of the unmanned aircraft into U.S. skies.
2:23PM ( 1 year ago )
Congress letting 55 tax breaks expire at year end
In an almost annual ritual, Congress is letting a package of 55 popular tax breaks expire at the end of the year, creating uncertainty - once again - for millions of individuals and businesses.
2:21PM ( 1 year ago )
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 1 year ago )
UN is next stop for Obama after success with Iran, pope; top issues are IS, Syria, Russia
NEW YORK (AP) — Fresh from successes on Iran and with the pope, President Barack Obama still carried heavy burdens into critical meetings this week at the U.N. General Assembly.They include the threat...
3:31PM ( 1 week ago )
Stunning Congress, House Speaker Boehner announces plans to resign; tea party declares victory
WASHINGTON (AP) — Plunging Congress into deeper turmoil, House Speaker John Boehner abruptly announced his resignation Friday, shutting down a tea party drive to depose the nation's highest-ranking Re...
6:14PM ( 1 week ago )
Tornado heavily damages 10 homes but causes no injuries on island in South Carolina
JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — A tornado quickly blew through a neighborhood on the South Carolina coast early Friday and blew out windows, knocked down trees and heavily damaged ten homes.The tornado touc...
5:08PM ( 1 week ago )
Caterpillar says it may cut more than 10,000 jobs by 2018, lowers 2015 revenue expectation
Caterpillar is planning another round of job cuts that could exceed 10,000 people through 2018, as the construction and mining equipment maker adjusts to downturns in key markets.That could amount to...
10:06AM ( 1 week ago )
Escaped tarantula grounds Atlanta-bound flight in Baltimore
An eight-legged creature that escaped in the cargo hold of a passenger flight from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International grounded the plane and sent passengers onto another flight.
By The Associated Press
9:06AM ( 1 week ago )