Spending Cuts Could Force Choice Between New Bomber, Existing Fleet

Congressionally mandated spending curbs, if sustained into the future, would force the United States to either "retire older Air Force bombers" and sustain funding for the new long-range strike bomber, or maintain a larger fleet of aging nuclear-capable aircraft with few or no modern replacements, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a Wednesday press conference at the Pentagon.

More broadly, a decision either to trim back the military or put off planned weapons updates could threaten U.S. security strategy, the New York Times cited Hagel as saying.

The Defense Department formulated the alternatives in its Strategic Choices and Management Review, a four-month process to determine how to contend with funding limits imposed by budget sequestration. Though Pentagon leaders have said they were trying to protect strategic nuclear forces from the effects of budget cuts this fiscal year, every Defense program was "on the table" for possible reductions in the sequester-driven SCMR exercise.

One of the two options "would result in a force that would be technologically dominant but would be much smaller and able to go fewer places and do fewer things, especially if crises occurred at the same time in different regions of the world,” Hagel said. 

The other alternative would essentially be "a decade-long modernization holiday," he said. "The military could find its equipment and weapons systems -- many of which are already near the end of their service lives -- less effective against more technologically advanced adversaries."

"These two approaches illustrate the difficult tradeoffs and strategic choices that would face the department in a scenario where sequester-level cuts continue," Hagel said. "Going forward in the months ahead, DOD and ultimately the president will decide on a strategic course that best preserves our ability to defend our national security interests under this very daunting budget scenario."