PENTAGON — The part of the U.S. government set to be hurt the most if U.S. lawmakers and the White House don't reach a budget deal is the Defense Department, which is set to take about half the budget cuts. Discussions have been going on at the Pentagon on where the U.S. military will have to make nearly 10 percent reductions totaling $500 billion in the next decade.
The cuts are set to be massive, $50 billion a year for 10 years, and so are the consequences.
That's the warning from officials including the nation's top military officer, General Martin Dempsey.
"We can't yet say precisely how bad the damage would be, but it is clear that sequestration would risk hollowing out our force and reducing its military options available to the nation. We would go from being unquestionably powerful everywhere to being less visibly globally and presenting less of an overmatch to our adversaries, and that would translate into a different deterrent calculus and potentially, therefore, increase the likelihood of conflict," Dempsey said.
Visibility is a central part of U.S. strategy, which calls for shifting more forces to the Pacific, where the cuts would mean the Navy would have to slash the number of vessels operating in the region.
Other areas to be hit: research, technology, weapons, and training. Automatic cuts would not include troop reductions. The result, commanders say: a large number of people in uniform but insufficient training and equipment to support them.
The cuts would be on top of $487 billion the Pentagon has already slashed. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned sequestration reductions will destroy President Obama's new defense strategy and weaken national defense.
"I can't reduce the budget by half a trillion dollars and frankly not increase risk," Panetta said.
On this, the president's adversaries on Capitol Hill agree.
Republican Kelly Ayotte is a member of both the Senate Budget and Armed Services Committees. She worries the perception of a weakened military will encourage terrorists and rogue nations to attack U.S. interests.
"The numbers speak for themselves, but the message that it sends in terms of encouraging other people to act further and act badly is not a good one in terms of the safety of America," Ayotte said.
Nearly 80,000 Defense Department civilian jobs are at risk. Pentagon officials hope to avert layoffs. They are instead considering asking employees to take up to a month off from work without pay.