* Additional cuts would be "devastating" -Panetta
* Senators express concern about Lockheed fighter program
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta expects about half of the $450 billion-plus in defense
cuts slated for the next 10 years to come from weapons
programs, a senior lawmaker said on Tuesday.
Panetta told lawmakers he remained concerned about the
prospect of having to cut defense spending by up to $600
billion more if a special congressional committee does not
reach agreement on $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions, said
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon.
McKeon, speaking after a classified briefing by Panetta and
other officials, said Panetta and General Martin Dempsey,
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had reiterated their
warning that cutting the U.S. defense budget up to $1 trillion
would have a "devastating effect" on the military.
Panetta did not provide details on where the $450 billion
or more in cuts already agreed to by the White House would come
from, and had not yet finalized those decisions, McKeon said.
But he said the secretary told lawmakers he had issued
general guidelines to Pentagon budget officials on how to reach
the total. "He wants to take 50 percent of the cuts out of
modernization," McKeon told reporters, referring to programs
for new weapons and upgrades to existing ones.
The remaining funds would come from efficiencies and cuts
to troop numbers and personnel costs like healthcare, McKeon
Panetta told reporters last week that the Obama
administration would unveil a five-year budget to Congress in
February that will include about $250 billion to $260 billion
President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress agreed to a
deal in August that requires as much as $450 billion in cuts to
security-related spending over 10 years, compared with previous
Big U.S. defense contractors like Lockheed Martin Corp
, Boeing Co and Northrop Grumman Corp are
anxiously awaiting details of the Pentagon's plans to gauge the
impact on big weapons programs.
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads the
Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters after an
earlier briefing by Panetta that he worried about the future of
Lockheed's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
Asked if he was concerned that international partners on
the multinational fighter program could scrap plans to buy F-35
fighter jets due to rising costs, Levin said: "I'm concerned
about us walking out on the program, unless we can control the
budget costs. So the answer is yes," he said.
Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the panel, said
he was reviewing news that the Pentagon's chief tester had
recommended a delay of up to 10 months in planned training on
the F-35 for Air Force pilots until more flight testing could
"We're analyzing it now, but it's not surprising. It's the
history of the program," he told reporters.
He said he did not have enough information to judge if the
issue would affect funding for the program in the coming year.
The F-35 program remains under tough scrutiny since it is
the largest U.S. weapons program and has already seen costs
rise sharply over the past 10 years -- making it a prime target
for future cuts as defense officials brace for up to $1
trillion in defense spending cuts over the next decade.
Officials estimate it will cost $382 billion to develop and
build 2,447 of the radar-evading fighter jets for the U.S.
military, but Pentagon officials have said they intend cut that
projected cost sharply through tough cost-cutting measures.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa and Susan Cornwell; Editing by
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