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Chuck Hagel on defense budget cuts under sequestration: 'We're adjusting to the realities'

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday that the cuts under sequestration “will cause pain” and potentially impact readiness ”across our force,” but avoided any doomsday scenario for the impact on national security. Hagel also expressed optimism the White House and Congress would come to an agreement to head off any serious consequences.

In his first briefing for reporters, Hagel said America “has the most capable, the most powerful fighting force in the world” and the Pentagon will “not allow this capacity to erode.” Hagel added “we’ll do what we need to do to assure the capabilities of our forces.”

“We’re adjusting to the realities.”

“I have confidence in the president and the Congress that decisions, consensus will be reached to at some point to avert tremendous damage to this institution. This is the security of America we’re talking about … adjustments are being made ... to assure the capabilities and readiness of our forces.”

That said, he also laid out steps that are already being taken as a result of sequestration.

Hagel said the Navy will gradually stand down four air wings, 80 jets and helicopters, beginning in April.

Starting immediately the Air Force will reduce flying hours, having an impact on training and readiness.

The Army will curtail training for all units except for those deploying to Afghanistan, affecting about 80 percent of all Army operational units.

Notices go out later this month for thousands of civilian furloughs, reducing pay by 20 percent.

Steps already taken include a hiring freeze, terminating or laying off some contract employees, cutbacks in maintenance.

Hagel added,  “I know these cuts will cause pain, particularly in our civilian workforce.”  He added  “I’m also concerned, as we all are, about the impact on readiness these cuts will have across our force.”