The “perfect storm of budget uncertainty” howling around his department is the biggest immediate threat facing the U.S. military, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters today.

Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed during a regular Pentagon press conference that unless Congress acts, the nation’s military readiness will be compromised.
The United States has a number of adversaries around the world, Panetta said, “but the most immediate threat to our ability to achieve our mission is fiscal uncertainty: not knowing what our budget will be; not knowing if our budget will be drastically cut; and not knowing whether the strategy that we put in place can survive.”

Panetta emphasized that DOD “is doing its part” by implementing over the next decade the $487 billion spending reduction set by Congress. “We designed a strategy; we know what the elements of that strategy are; we built a budget based on that, and we achieved our savings by virtue of that strategy,” he said.

But the additional half-trillion-dollar “meat-axe cuts” sequester would trigger still loom “less than 50 days away,” the secretary noted.

“While we appreciate … that both parties came together to delay sequester, the unfortunate thing is sequester itself, and the sequester threat, [was] not removed,” Panetta said. “And the prospect … is undermining our ability to responsibly manage this department.”