By: Charles Hoskinson
Politico, September 26th, 2011

Automatic cuts to defense spending could leave the Pentagon with its lowest share of the federal budget since before World War II, shrinking the Army and Marine Corps by some 150,000 troops and leaving fewer warships and combat aircraft to project U.S. power around the world, according to an analysis prepared for House Armed Services Committee Republicans.

The analysis, distributed Friday as part of panel Chairman Buck McKeon’s efforts to lobby against deeper defense cuts by the deficit-reduction supercommittee, paints a dire picture of a “hollow force” unable to meet national security needs and forced to return to a draft to fill its ranks.

“No mission goes unscathed,” a committee staffer said.

The greatest concern is that if the supercommittee fails to agree on a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, an automatic $600 billion reduction in Pentagon spending will be triggered on top of $350 billion already mandated.

The analysis notes that the Navy would need to take two aircraft carrier battle groups out of service, and the Air Force would lose a third of its fighters. The Marine Corps would no longer be able to maintain forward-deployed amphibious forces around the world. New weapons systems, such as the Navy and Marine Corps’ versions of F-35 joint strike fighter, would be canceled. The U.S. nuclear arsenal would be drastically reduced and modernization plans scrapped.

Aside from the troop cuts, there would also be massive layoffs of Pentagon civilian employees, and the elimination of many jobs in the defense industry, according to the analysis.

Though the analysis was prepared without input from the Pentagon or committee Democrats, both Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the panel’s top Democrat have indicated in recent weeks that they share many of its concerns.

If the supercommittee trigger is pulled “we’d be shooting ourselves in the head,” Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, repeating his frequent warning that such deep cuts would harm national security. Citing a Pentagon estimate, he has noted that it could also add 1 percent to the unemployment rate.

Panetta, a former White House budget director and chief of staff, has often invoked his own budget experience in efforts to lobby the supercommittee to focus on cutting entitlements and increasing tax revenues, rather than imposing further cuts on defense.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the Armed Services Committee’s ranking Democrat, said Friday he shares his GOP colleagues’ concerns about further cuts, but also hit them for not being willing to raise taxes.

“In order to avoid drastic cuts to our military and other important programs, revenue must be on the table,” Smith said. “We also cannot just issue dire warnings about the national security impacts of defense cuts. We must develop a comprehensive national security strategy that takes into account current and future funding and rationally appropriates our resources to best meet our challenges.”

The debate over how far to cut Pentagon spending has already prompted a rethinking of the U.S. role as a military power. Pentagon officials are working on a review of U.S. strategy and what kind of military is needed to fulfill it. The review is expected to be ready by this fall, and House GOP aides say they expect Panetta will outline what each service is recommending when he appears before the Armed Services panel on Oct. 13.

McKeon, a California Republican, has led the charge among those in Congress who believe it’s irresponsible to re-size U.S. military power in a dangerous world. But many on the left see it as an idea that’s long overdue.

A report by the Center for American Progress in July recommends as part of a “transition to a responsible and sustainable level of defense spending” some of the specific cuts identified as dire in the GOP analysis, including cutting the two carrier groups, reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal and cancelation of the Navy and Marine Corps F-35 variants.

A separate report from the group released Monday details how similar cuts could offset the estimated $447 billion cost of President Barack Obama’s jobs bill.

“Wasteful defense spending does not make our nation safer. Each dollar spent on defense diverts resources away from other critical investments in America’s future, especially in these times of fiscal austerity,” authors Larry Korb and Alex Rothman wrote.