The consequences of plans to slash defense spending are beginning to hit home. The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, based among numerous military installations in Hampton Roads, Va., reports: “Somewhere between Armageddon and business as usual is a snapshot of the military presence in Hampton Roads by the end of the decade. Thousands fewer soldiers and sailors. Fewer weapons systems and defense contracts. Jobs, departments consolidated.

Meanwhile, the Tennessean reports:

If military spending is cut as part of congressional debt negotiations, aerospace companies and weapons manufacturers won’t be the only ones affected.

Memphis-based Federal Express — Tennessee’s largest defense contractor — also would feel the impact. . . .

Between budget cuts and the gradual reduction of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, companies such as FedEx that transport soldiers and military cargo will see “a very significant reduction” in defense contracts, said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group.

“There’s no mistaking the way the long term is going to go,” he said.

Bill Selesky, an analyst at Argus Research Company, said defense contracts represent a significant piece of FedEx’s business. If income from those contracts returned to pre-war levels, the company’s earnings could fall by 5 to 10 cents per share, he estimated.

So at the very time President Obama is touring around the country bemoaning the jobs situation, we are slashing defense, without a care in the world for the economic impact it may have.

But, of course, the Pentagon is not a jobs program; it is in charge of national defense. When one looks at cuts already agreed to, as well as the potential for a sequestration of spending if the supercommittee doesn’t reach agreement, from a national security perspective the cuts to the defense budget make even less sense.

The House Armed Services Committee recently released a report outlining the potential scenarios in the event the sequestration goes into effect. The report is eye-opening with regard to the extent of the potential damage to our national security.

A sample:


End Strength

Nearly 200,000 soldiers and Marines are separated ... falling well below pre-9/11 levels that were insufficient to respond to current contingencies.

Finding employment for these veterans will be difficult.

The national unemployment rate is 9%, but the unemployment rate for young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 22%. For wounded veterans it is 41%.

The Navy and Air Force will not be spared. These services are already smaller than they were 10 years ago, but will likely be further reduced.

Service members will have to worry about keeping their jobs, as they put their lives on the line for the nation.

Please note that savings as a result of reductions to end strength is minimal in the near term. For example, CBO estimates that returning to pre 9/11 levels yields only $4.1B in FY 2013. . . . Savings increase in out-years, but the services’ procurement and research and development accounts (modernization) would likely be reduced disproportionately to achieve desired savings in the near term.

Even more startling is the impact on our defense capabilities. Among the consequences: “Resultant force structure is insufficient to decisively win an engagement in one theater while defending vital national interests in another. . . . Cuts to nuclear weapons inventories, homeland missile defense, and satellite space launch capabilities (creating critical communications and surveillance gaps). A threefold effect on our nuclear deterrent is anticipated – (1) we will have less early warning about a nuclear missile launch, (2) for the first time in seven decades, allies and adversaries will question our ability to provide a nuclear response to an attack, and (3) our ability to defend against incoming missile attack against the United States will be degraded.”

The Committee is clear that, even aside from a potential sequestration, the impact of already-agreed-upon cuts is severe. Gary Schmitt and Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute explain:

Consider the personnel strength of the Army and Marine Corps. Even with 771,400 soldiers and Marines on active duty, both services remain stretched well beyond their limits. Based on current funding, the committee estimates that end-strength will fall to 654,000 — smaller than pre-9/11 levels. Similarly, the Navy could slip to something on the order of 260 vessels — more than 50 ships below what the Navy consistently has argued it needs to carry out the country’s national security strategy. As for the Air Force, in 2000, it was flying more than 3,600 fighters; with cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act, that number may drop to less than 1,740.

Very little of this is being discussed by the president or the GOP presidential candidates. A rare exception occurred yesterday when Mitt Romney was interviewed by the editorial board of the Union Leader, arguably New Hampshire’s most influential newspaper:

Romney said military spending should be at least 20 percent of the federal budget, “an appropriate level of spending for a nation that sees the world with a number of very threatening forces in it.”

He cited China, which, he said, wants to “expand control into the South China Sea,” has its “eyes on Taiwan” and has “already seized Tibet.”

He cited “the Jihadists’” aggression against the United States and said Russia is “trying to rebuild parts of or elements of the old Soviet Union.” He said Iran is “about to become nuclear” and Pakistan “could easily become a failed state.

“So to pull back on our military, to me doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Romney said the U.S. Navy is smaller than it has been since 1917, while “our soldiers are on multiple rotations and are stretched extraordinarily thin.”

“You need more troops, more ships, you need a more modern Air Force and you have to give the care to our veterans that come home,” said Romney.

“It should remain at least 20 percent of our federal budget,” he said.

I asked Schmitt about the 20 percent figure. He replied, “Critics of Romney’s point will say that this is an arbitrary percentage. But of course those same critics are happy to cut the defense budget by hundreds of billions without the Pentagon having issued a single report on what it might mean for American global strategy. Seems pretty arbitrary to me.” As for the 20 percent figure, he said that “it is only 1% higher than where it was during the mid-Clinton years, so it is hardly outrageous.” Donnelly had this to say: “The figure is arbitrary, of course, but it’s nice to see someone making some case that suggests the need for continuing military power” He added, “It also implies a view on the role of government, that it’s primary responsibilities include national defense but not so much national health care. It’s all talking points/sound bites, but pretty sensible on the whole. I’d be pleased if this were the Republican candidate’s stance.”

Perhaps in his speech this week at the Citadel Romney will discuss this at greater length. But one thing is certain: It is critical that we have a national debate as to whether we are endangering ourselves and our allies with cuts that make little contribution to debt reduction but make a huge difference to our national security, and our economy.