WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon will not let an impending $46 billion in budget cuts erode U.S. military power, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday. He said the cuts will "cause pain" but insisted that they can be managed without hurting national security.
At his first news conference since taking over for Leon Panetta as Pentagon chief, Hagel struck a more relaxed tone about the budget reductions, which are part of $85 billion in government-wide spending cuts that were taking effect Friday at midnight.
Whereas Panetta had warned of "catastrophic" effects that could reduce America to the status of a "second-rate" military power, Hagel said he believed the budget crisis can be managed in ways that do not put U.S. national security in jeopardy.
Hagel said the U.S. is "the best fighting force, the most capable fighting force, the most powerful fighting force in the world. The management of this institution, starting with the Joint Chiefs, are not going to allow this capacity to erode."
Shortly before meeting with reporters, Hagel met for a little over an hour with the chiefs of each of the services, plus the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, to discuss budget issues.
Hagel said numerous actions will be taken in coming days by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to begin meeting the requirement for $46 billion in budget savings by the end of the budget year on Sept. 30. He said thousands of defense civilian workers, for example, will be notified later this month that they could be required to take one day of unpaid leave per week through September.
"I know that these budget cuts will cause pain, particularly among our civilian workforce and their families," Hagel said. "I'm also concerned, as we all are, about the impact on readiness that these cuts will have across our force. For these reasons, the department's senior leadership and I will continue to work with the administration and Congress to help resolve this uncertainty."
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.