Further cuts in U.S. military spending are certain, even if Congress and the White House find a way to avert damaging automatic reductions, a top U.S. Air Force general told Reuters as prospects for such a deal appeared to dim.
Lt. gen. Charles Davis, the top military official in charge of Air Force acquisition, said the Defense Department was working hard to identify ways to safeguard its most critical weapons programs but there were no easy answers.
At this point, he said, the prospect of further cuts to the overall Pentagon budget means every single acquisition program faces some reductions and schedule changes, which in turn would drive up the cost of individual weapons.
Mounting budget pressures also meant the Air Force would not be able to start developing new radar and satellites to replace aging current systems, Davis said, citing examples including the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) or Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS).
“There are definitely going to be cuts. We know that’s a given,” Davis said in an interview in his Pentagon office. He said it was unlikely the Pentagon’s budget would remain unscathed even if it can avoid sequestration.
Any future cuts would be in addition to $487 billion already slated to take effect over the next decade.
The general’s sober assessment came amid stalled talks between U.S. lawmakers and the White House about avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, as across-the-board budget cuts and tax increases take effect in January.
Even if the two sides reach agreement and avert the full $500 billion in Pentagon spending cuts required over the next decade under “sequestration,” top defense officials and industry executives are bracing for still undefined reductions.
Davis said the Air Force had already been thwarted by Congress in its bid to retire some aging F-16 and A-10 fighter aircraft in fiscal 2013 to save money for the many critical procurement bills coming due in coming years, and there were no other options that generated a similar level of savings.