Washington: The US military's combat readiness will be undercut and the country's national security will be undermined if lawmakers fail to stop automatic spending cuts in 2014, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel has warned. America's defence budget faces a USD 52 billion cut for the fiscal year 2014 beginning October 1.

In a strongly-worded letter to the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the defence secretary laid out a dire scenario in which the US military would be forced to take "draconian" steps to save money while jeopardizing its technological edge.

"I strongly oppose cuts of that magnitude because, if they remain in place for FY 2014 and beyond, the size, readiness and technological superiority of our military will be reduced, placing at much greater risk the country's ability to meet our current national security commitments," Hagel wrote.

In his letter to Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and its Ranking Member, Senator James Inhofe, Hagel said this outcome is unacceptable as it would limit the country's options in the event of a major new national security contingency.

“The automatic cuts would have far reaching consequences, including limiting combat power, reducing readiness and undermining the national security interests of the United States," Hagel wrote.

“Slashing defence spending by that amount would mean the size, readiness and technological superiority of our military will be reduced and the country's ability to meet national security commitments would be at much greater risk," Hagel further wrote.

Under the automatic cuts that began in March, known as sequestration, the Pentagon already has had to contend with USD 41 billion in reductions through the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30.

As a result, the Defence Department has scaled back training, curtailed maintenance and imposed 11 days of furloughs on much of its civilian work force, with hundreds of thousands of employees forced to take unpaid leave one day a week over the next three months.

"The resulting marked slowdown in modernization would reduce our long-term, critically important and historic technological superiority and undermine our better buying power initiatives," Hagel warned.

Even under the automatic budget cuts, the Pentagon's annual budget will still exceed other countries' military spending at more than USD 500 billion. Reacting to the letter, Senator Inhofe said Hagel's response makes clear that the devastation of sequester budget cuts will only be amplified beyond what has been experienced thus far.

"Sequestration is leading to the hollowing out of our military and if the Department of Defence's sequestration is not averted for future years, we will move beyond furloughs and programmatic reductions to firing personnel and cancelling our critical weapons programs," he said.

"Congress must end sequestration and pass a reasonable approach to reducing federal deficits," said Congressman Adam Smith, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee.


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