The automatic spending cuts triggered by the failure of the Supercommittee could "tear a seam" in defense, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Monday.
The so-called super committee's failure on Monday to agree on $1.2 trillion in deficit-cutting measures triggers up to $600 billion in additional defense cuts over 10 years beginning in 2013.
"If Congress fails to act over the next year, the Department of Defense will face devastating, automatic, across-the-board cuts that will tear a seam in the nation's defense," Panetta said in a statement.
"The half-trillion in additional cuts demanded by sequester would lead to a hollow force incapable of sustaining the missions it is assigned."
Republicans have vowed to prevent automatic cuts from hitting the military. Republican Representative Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, announced on Monday he would introduce legislation to prevent the military cuts from taking effect.
President Barack Obama, accusing Republicans of scuttling the committee's efforts by refusing to consider tax increases on the wealthy, said he would veto any effort to bypass the automatic trigger.
Panetta said he backed Obama's "call for Congress to avoid an easy way out of this crisis. Congress cannot simply turn off the sequester mechanism, but instead must pass deficit reduction at least equal to the $1.2 trillion it was charged to pass."
That $600 billion is in addition to the $450 billion already cut from defense when Robert Gates was secretary. This isn't just a question of eliminating new weapons systems or wasteful spending. The money will come from core Pentagon programs dealing with readiness, and benefits for current and retired military.
It is shocking to think that the president and Democrats in congress would allow these cuts to go forward. But unless a sizable number of Democrats step forward and defy Obama's veto by overriding it in congress, the cuts will become real - and so will our vulnerability.