A senior Defense Department official testifying before the House Armed Services Committee last week said implementing sequestration, across-the-board budget cuts set to take effect in January, “would represent a major step toward creation of an unready, ‘hollow’ military force.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s second-in-command, told House members that sequestration “introduces senseless chaos into the management of more than 2,500 defense investment programs” and “would be devastating to DoD, just as it would to every other affected federal agency.”

The cuts would take almost $55 billion out of the national security budget next year. Among the consequences Carter listed, it would:

  • Result in fewer people to fix weapons, including weapons damaged in war.
  • Force cuts in base support services, facility maintenance and maintenance of government-owned family housing.
  • Delay payments to service providers through the Defense Health Program, which provides health care for retirees and military dependents.
  • Indiscriminately reduce more than 2,500 procurement programs, research projects and military construction projects.
  • Force military managers to buy fewer weapons, including four fewer F-35 aircraft, one less P-8 aircraft, 12 fewer Stryker vehicles, and 300 fewer Army medium and heavy tactical vehicles compared with the President Obama’s budget for 2013.
  • Delay the new CVN-78 carrier, the Littoral Combat Ship program, and the DDG-51 destroyer procurement.

Outside of the armed forces, Carter said the cuts “would have devastating effects on the intelligence community.”

Several members of the House Armed Services Committee issued similarly dire warnings about sequestration last week at a YG Network Summit on Capitol Hill, moderated by The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano.

“Imagine if there is a day though where we’re involved somewhere, something kicks off, we need a carrier in the region, and there’s just literally no option,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) said at the event. “That’s a potential. That’s nothing we’ve ever imagined but it could happen.”

Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said that while the cuts would be painful for the military, they wouldn’t make a significant difference in the federal budget deficit.

“If we eliminated the whole discretionary budget, everything, take all the spending out of education, research and development, law enforcement, infrastructure, and defense — eliminate it all — we would still be running a deficit of a half a trillion dollars a year,” McKeon said.

The defense sequester would total $492 bill over the coming decade and come on top of $487 billion in cuts the Pentagon will already be forced to absorb under last year’s Budget Control Act. The defense cuts equal half of total spending cuts under the sequester, even though defense spending only makes up 11 percent of total federal outlays.

The cuts would come even as the military faces continued threats abroad and aging military equipment. On average, B-52 bombers are nearly 50 years old, long-range bombers are nearly 35 years old, midair refueling tankers are 49 years old, and fighter aircraft are 22 years old.

Carter said he could not even outline a plan that would mitigate the consequences of sequestration.

“The reason for this is that sequester was designed to be an inflexible and mindless policy,” he said. “It was never designed to be implemented.  Instead, it was enacted as a prod to Congress to devise a comprehensive package to reduce the federal deficit.”

Tray Smith is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.