Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, has released a statement on the Gang of Six deficit reduction proposal:

Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of six Senators announced their “Gang of Six” proposal for reigning in the federal deficit. Though the deal proposes some positive steps towards reining in the deficit and government spending, the plan includes considerable tax hikes without addressing the principle driver of our massive debt, entitlements.

What has received less attention, but is equally concerning are the defense cuts enshrined in the proposal. The House Budget Committee estimated that the Gang of Six would strip approximately $886 billion from defense over the next ten years. With our military exhausted, our equipment suffering from severe maintenance and readiness shortfalls, and our troops deployed in three theaters of war, a financial cut that large would break our military.

Twenty years ago, the US Navy boasted a proud 546 ship fleet. Today we have 288, America’s smallest Navy since the 1930s. Without sufficient investments in maintenance for these vessels, the fleet will atrophy to levels that risk our ability to maintain sea lanes of communication and project power. Yet, in a recent hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, two Navy admirals admitted that a staggering percentage of Navy ships were not fully mission capable. They further testified that the Navy was forced to cannibalize parts and equipment from the active fleet in order to keep our ships sailing. They simply do not have sufficient funding to address longstanding maintenance issues.

Likewise, an overwhelming percentage of our Air Force planes were built during or prior to the Reagan administration, with an average age of 33 years. In 1990, the Air Force had a robust force of 82 fighter squadrons. Today that number has slipped to an astonishing 39 squadrons and continues to shrink. Some analysts have predicted that the United States could face a fighter-gap of approximately 800 aircraft in the coming years.

We have a little over half of the Army brigades that we fielded in the early 1990s. The average age of their helicopter fleet is approaching 20 years, their light attack vehicle is even older, and our main battle tank was procured by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld – when he served in the Ford Administration. Some soldiers have been deployed for over 6 years in the decade since September 11th. With these stresses taking their toll, the Obama Administration canceled a wide sweeping plan to modernize the Army in 2009 and announced plans to further shrink the Army by several brigades by 2015. End strength for the Marine Corps was also slashed before the Marine Corps could complete an analysis of its manpower requirements.

For three years, this Administration has taken the tools our fighting forces need to keep America safe to try and pay down their massive deficit. It hasn’t worked, leaving us with a most undesirable outcome: a larger deficit and a crumbling force.

In the meantime, tensions are flaring in the South China Sea, we are engaged in a new theater of war in Libya, our computer networks are attacked thousands of times a day, and Al Qaeda has morphed into a more globalized, and potentially lethal, network. At a time when American leadership and strength is needed more than ever, we are becoming complicit in our own decline.

Let’s be clear -- defense spending has already been reduced. In fact, projecting the fiscal year 2012 defense appropriation level out for ten years with no real growth, reveals that defense has already contributed nearly $500 billion when compared to the current fiscal year 2011 budget request. When Republicans accept that a new round defense cuts should be on the table for debt ceiling negotiations, we willingly shift the debate away from the real problem: entitlements. A strong national defense is enshrined in the Constitution and a cornerstone of the Republican platform. With the military at the breaking point, we abdicate our responsibility to America’s Armed Forces at our own peril.

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