If Congress does not come up with an agreement to avert sequestration in FY2014, the Department of Defense (DoD) will have to cut $52 billion from the budget the president sent to Congress in April.

To implement these cuts, DoD will be faced with a series of bad choices that would have a damaging effect on defense readiness and capabilities, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told Congress last week. “If the cuts continue [in FY2014] the department will have to make sharp cuts with far-reaching consequences, including limiting combat power, reducing readiness and undermining the national security interests of the United States,” Hagel said In a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ranking Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). The senators had asked Hagel to detail the effects to DoD of sequestration in FY2014.

The so-called “Plan B” to implement a $52 billion funding cut in FY2014 (described in the letter) would reduce “the size, readiness and technological superiority of our military” and cause a “virtual halt to military modernization,” Hagel warned.

Hagel said that the current hiring freeze and cuts to facilities maintenance funding implemented to meet lower funding due to sequestration in FY2013 will continue into FY2014 if sequestration is not averted.

He acknowledged that Congress provided needed flexibility (e.g. additional reprogramming authority) to help mitigate the effects of sequestration in FY2013. But, if sequestration continues into FY2014 the negative effects will overwhelm the relief any flexibility measures could provide, Hagel stressed.

In FY2013, DoD is furloughing some 650,000 civilian employees for 11 days until September 30. Most furloughed employees will take either Monday or Friday of each week during the period as a non-paid furlough day. If sequestration continues next year, Hagel said “DoD will have to consider reductions-in-force [RIF] to reduce civilian personnel costs.” By implementing involuntary RIFs, DoD would be able to target cuts to civilian personnel rather than using the across-the-board approach of the FY2013 furloughs, he said.

The president exempted Military Personnel accounts from sequestration in FY2013, but in FY2014 they may not be completely spared. Hagel said the large cuts that would be required under sequestration in FY2014 could be accommodated only by “putting into place an extremely severe package of military personnel actions including halting all accessions, ending all permanent-change-of-station moves, stopping discretionary bonuses and freezing all promotions.”

Hagel said he would work with Congress to avoid sequestration in FY2014.