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Thursday, February 7, 2013 - Page updated at 08:00 p.m.

Defense chief Panetta says military cuts pose ‘readiness crisis’

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In the wake of President Obama’s appeal to Congress to stave off across-the-board military- and domestic-spending cuts, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Wednesday that reductions from the automatic cuts would curtail U.S. naval operations in the western Pacific by as much as a third and force one-month furloughs for as many as 800,000 Defense Department civilian employees starting this spring.

He described the cuts, which are scheduled to take effect March 1, as “the most serious readiness crisis that this country is going to confront in over a decade.”

Under sequestration, the Pentagon would have to cut nearly $50 billion, or about 9 percent, of military spending by Oct. 1.

The potential cutbacks in naval operations in the western Pacific are particularly striking since they would undermine what the Obama administration has promoted as a critical part of its defense strategy — a “pivot,” or rebalancing, of forces to the Asia-Pacific region to counter the increasing assertiveness of China’s military.

Navy officials said Wednesday that they were considering cutbacks throughout the 7th Fleet area of operations, which encompasses more than 48 million square miles and ranges from the Korean Peninsula to Guam to Australia and beyond. The officials said that the cuts would potentially reduce the number of ships, aircraft, joint military exercises and personnel in the region.

The furloughs would potentially begin as early as April and would cut one workday a week from the Pentagon’s vast civilian workforce for the next six months. The employees would face a corresponding 20 percent cut in pay, which Panetta said would have a substantial negative effect on the economy.

Panetta said the across-the-board cuts would also force the Pentagon to reduce training and maintenance for the Army, including putting two-thirds of active-duty brigade combat teams outside Afghanistan at “reduced-readiness levels.”

Also Wednesday, the Pentagon said it is cutting its aircraft-carrier presence in the Persian Gulf region from two carriers to one,in a move that represents one of the most significant effects of budget cuts on the U.S. military presence overseas.

Panetta has approved keeping just one carrier in the Persian Gulf region.

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