Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, answer questions during a Pentagon press conference Aug. 4. (Jim Waston / AFP via Getty Images)
Defense spending cuts beyond the already planned $350 billion over the next decade would be dangerous and harmful as U.S. security threats increase, the Pentagon's top civilian and military leaders said Thursday.
In his first official press conference since taking the reins at the Defense Department, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Pentagon brass would spend the coming months informing Congress "of the dangers" of upping those cuts.
A debt ceiling agreement reached by Congress this week mandates about $350 billion in security spending cuts over the next decade. However as part of the deal, a bipartisan supercommittee must come up with an additional $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts.
If by Christmas the so-called supercommittee cannot reach a deal, and Congress does not approve it, then automatic "sequestration" cuts will go into effect in January. These cuts would be divided between federal departments. DoD's share would be about $500 billion.
"I came into this job to fight," Panetta said. "My intention is to fight to make sure that, hopefully, some common sense prevails here, and that the committee that is established does its work in looking at these other areas of the budget."
Panetta called sequestration a "doomsday mechanism."
During the same briefing, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said these additional cuts would put "at grave risk not only our ability to accomplish the missions we've been assigned, but those we have yet to be assigned as well."
But the two Pentagon leaders said they can safely cut $350 billion over the next decade.
"I feel pretty confident that that number is manageable, and that we can achieve it in a way that will protect our national defense," Panetta said.