Specter of big defense cuts prompts big worries

By Rob Hotakainen, Adam Ashton and Curtis Tate
McClatchy Newspapers
Published: September 25, 2011
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WASHINGTON — The boom times are over for the nation's military.
After more than doubling in the past 10 years, Pentagon budgets are in for big cuts from Congress in coming years. No one yet knows exactly what will be cut or how deeply the cuts will go, but everyone knows they're coming.
In North Carolina, where military communities already are preparing for the drawdown of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials wonder what cuts will mean for defense contractors and the size of the state's force structure.
Across the nation, it's a similar story, reflected by simple numbers: Defense spending hit a record high of $553 billion this year, excluding the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And it must be cut by $350 billion over the next 10 years because of the debt-limit agreement passed by Congress last month.
But that's just the beginning: If Congress' "supercommittee" doesn't reach agreement in the next two months on a plan to reduce the nation's deficit by at least $1.2 trillion, automatically triggered cuts would slash as much as $600 billion from defense and security programs over the next decade.
Marion Blakey, president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Industries Association, said the possibility of large automatic cuts is "the abyss" facing members of the supercommittee. And she said the economic risks are very high, with the aerospace and defense industry supporting 2.9 million jobs in all 50 states.
"Make no mistake — combining the cuts already incurred and the potential for more defense cuts, hundreds of thousands of American workers' jobs are at risk," she said at a news conference last week at the National Press Club in Washington.
The uncertainty has created much angst across the nation, particularly in states that rely heavily on U.S. defense spending.
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