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Aug. 8, 2011—The Defense Department's Fiscal 2012 budget request of $553 billion is likely to get chopped by $28 billion due to the recently enacted Budget Control Act of 2011 that raised the US debt ceiling, but also included discretionary spending caps.

A $525 billion defense topline would be $5 billion less than the Pentagon's current Fiscal 2011 spending level, wrote Todd Harrison, a senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in a brief released last week.

If the new Joint Committee of Senators and House members established under the new legislation can't reach an agreement on further federal budget cuts, as outlined in the bill, a trigger provision would kick in and DOD would stand to lose another $77 billion from its projected Fiscal 2013 request, according to Harrison.

That would bring defense spending back to its Fiscal 2007 level, adjusted for inflation, or about $472 billion, based on the Congressional Budget Office's projection of $549 billion for the Pentagon's base budget in Fiscal 2013, he said.

If that happens, spending levels would likely hold "near that level for the following eight years," he noted.

"Given the abruptness of the cuts imposed under the trigger and the real possibility that Congress may not be able to reach a deficit compromise in time to avoid the trigger, DOD should immediately begin contingency planning for how to handle such a reduction," wrote Harrison.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters last week that the initial cuts "are largely in line" with the Pentagon's expectations. DOD officials will be able to implement them without posing a significant risk to national security, he said.

However, Panetta was particularly concerned about the impact that the debt-reduction law could have if the trigger provision kicks in.

"This kind of doomsday mechanism that was built into the agreement is designed so that it would only take effect if Congress fails to enact further measures to reduce the deficit," he said. "But if it happened—and God willing that would not be the case, . . . it would result in a further round of very dangerous cuts across the board."

Such reductions, "would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our military's ability to protect the nation," warned Panetta.

(Panetta-Mullen briefing transcript)