Although there is much speculation about whether Congress would let those automatic cuts actually occur in January, military contractors are ringing alarms now. Pentagon boosters in Congress, including Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, are also issuing stark warnings.
"Congress is playing political chicken with people's jobs," McKeon said in an interview. "The clock is ticking."
The automatic cuts would come if a budget deal fails to emerge in Washington. Under a law approved last year, federal funds of all kinds would be held back - "sequestered" - until there is agreement, at which time the funds may or may not be reinstated. Congress passed an amendment last week, calling on the Obama administration to specify which federal programs would be affected.
The Aerospace Industries Association, a trade and lobbying organization in Arlington, Va., has estimated that one million jobs of all kinds nationwide would be lost if sequestration occurs.
Still, there is skepticism about whether sequestration will take place. If it happens, it would affect both military, which is a core issue for Republicans, and social spending, which is important to Democrats, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a website for military policy research.
"Because of the convergence of these two things, I have a hard time believing that sequestration will go forward," he said. "I have tended to think the whole thing is smoke and mirrors."
Meanwhile, military contractors are trying to raise awareness and drum up support. It's essential, they said, because they are required by law to issue warnings to employees and suppliers when their jobs and contracts are in danger of elimination.
Robert J. Stevens, chief executive of Lockheed Martin Corp., the world's largest defense firm, anticipated that the cuts could affect a significant portion of its 123,000-employee workforce and many of its 40,000 equipment suppliers.
"I suspect that on one level it might be flattering to believe that our industry is so robust, so durable, so as to absorb the impact of sequestration without breaking stride. But this is fiction," he said.