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Don't mess up US defence budget, Congressmen told

May 11, 2012 08:53 IST

Top Pentagon leaders have warned US lawmakers against including their "pet projects" in the annual defence budget, particularly at a time when it is struggling to save money in view of the tough economic environment.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen Martin Dempsey appeared before the Pentagon press on Thursday afternoon to publicly air their views against the Congressional moves to add several pet projects of US lawmakers to the 2013 defence budgets.

"My concern is that if Congress now tries to reverse many of the tough decisions that we reached by adding several billion dollars to the president's budget request, then they risk not only potential gridlock, because it's not likely that the Senate will go along with what the House did, and if they did, they could force the kind of trade-offs that could jeopardise our national defence," Panetta said.

Under the Budget Control Act passed by the Congress, Pentagon is required to reduce its defence spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years. The immediate provocation of the top Pentagon leaders appears to be the $100 million approved by the House Armed Services Committee to conduct an environmental survey for missile defence shield silos that it did not request.

"The Department of Defence -- and, I believe, the administration -- are not going to support additional funds that come at the expense of other critical national security priorities. And if members try to restore their favourite programmes without regard to an overall strategy, the cuts will have to come from areas that could impact overall readiness," Panetta said.

"There's no free lunch here. Every dollar that is added will have to be offset by cuts in national security. And if for some reason they do not want to comply with the Budget Control Act, then they would certainly be adding to the deficit, which only puts our national security further at risk," he said.

"The bottom line is we cannot cut a half a trillion dollars from the defence budget and not cause some pain. But the price for that pain should be a 21st century force that can effectively defend our country in what remains a very dangerous world. We can do this, but we have to do this together," Panetta said.

Echoing Panetta, Dempsey said the current Congress has its own daunting task: debate and decide on a defence budget with a war under way and with increasingly complex security challenges ahead.

"Keep in mind this is a budget for a joint force. It should not be thought of as just a set of separate service budgets, but as a comprehensive and carefully devised set of choices, choices that reflect the right mix among force structure modernization, readiness, pay and benefits. Different choices will produce a different balance," Dempsey said.

Responding to questions, Dempsey said the Department of Defence did not request for money for East Coast missile defence shield, nor does it thinks that it is necessary.

"On the ballistic missile defence, as you know, we went through a strategic review back in the fall, and then we mapped our budget to it. And what I can tell you, is in my military judgment, the programme of record for ballistic missile defence for the homeland, as we have submitted, is adequate and sufficient to the task. That's a suite of ground-based and sea-based interceptors. So I don't see a need beyond what we've submitted in the last budget," he said.

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