Regardless of who wins the November presidential election, current law dictates that massive cuts in defense spending will take affect on Jan. 2, 2013. It’s a policy known as sequestration, and it will take $492 billion out of the defense budget.

Speaking at Heritage’s Bloggers Briefing this week, House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said the consequences of those cuts would be catastrophic.

“I don’t think people understand the seriousness of it,” McKeon said. “The Pentagon will be just paralyzed.”

The additional cuts come on top of $487 billion in defense cuts already slated to take affect over the next decade, meaning that if Congress fails to act and prevent sequestration, the military would be faced with nearly $1 trillion in total spending cuts.

McKeon pointed to the Pentagon’s thousands of contracts with defense suppliers, saying they would have to be rewritten to comply with the new spending limits.

“They won’t be doing anything other than working to rewrite contracts,” he said, adding that such revisions could subject many suppliers to extensive litigation.

McKeon said that the impact of sequestration is already being felt in the defense industry. Last week, Lockheed Martin announced that it may send out notifications in early November to nearly all of its 123,000 employees, warning that they could be laid off next year.

Federal law requires companies to provide notice of layoffs at least two months in advance and, because the company does not know which defense programs will be hurt by sequestration, it does not know which employees it may ultimately have to let go.

McKeon said that sequestration would probably require Lockheed to cut at least 10 percent of its workforce.

“All the Democrats have done is say we need more taxes. They have not put anything in writing,” he said. “This needs to be fixed now, right now. We don’t have time to wait until November.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned that cuts of the magnitude imposed by the sequester would lead to the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest naval fleet since 1915, and the smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.