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House Army Caucus Breakfast
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington, D.C., Wednesday, July 22, 2009

     Chet, that’s very generous of you. I think part of the specialty of the job is having the ability to know that you’re brushing off on 18 and 19 year olds who are quite impressionable. It’s always good to see Chet – a Texas Aggie alum, and now representative of the district that includes College Station, my former home and the heart of Aggieland. Last week I bid farewell to Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, who served with him in that delegation, and had a chance to talk about Pete’s distinguished career. Chet, you’ll appreciate that I did note one glaring lapse of judgment on Pete’s part: transferring to and graduating from the other university in Texas.  And adding insult to injury, going to law school there.
     Let me also thank Congressman McHugh – for his work on the Armed Services Committee, for co-chairing this caucus, and, of course, for agreeing to serve as secretary of the Army, if confirmed. It is a great responsibility, but I have no doubt that John is up to the challenge. I look forward to working with John Carter, even though he also spent three years in Austin for law school.
     I know there will probably be a number of questions, so I’ll try to keep my remarks on the short side and cover three main topics. First, our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, the state of the Army. And, finally, a topic integrally related to the other two: the budget.
     Let me start very quickly with our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last month we marked a major milestone in Iraq – with our troops withdrawing from all cities in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement signed last year. Despite an uptick in violence since that transition, General Odierno is pleased with the progress that has been made, and confident that the Iraqis are taking the steps necessary to secure their country. I look forward soon to discussing the situation in Iraq with General Odierno and our other military commanders.
     Even as we reduce our presence over the next couple years, it is clear that we have an extremely important role to play with regards to political, diplomatic, and economic development as well as ongoing efforts to train, equip, and, when necessary, support Iraqi troops. The price in blood and treasure has been high in Iraq, but I believe we are now in a position to ensure that the sacrifices we have made will serve our national interest for decades to come.
     The situation in Afghanistan is very different. A few weeks ago, we kicked off a series of operations using the additional troops ordered to theater by the President, to implement his new strategy – one that combines new resources with new tactics and a new leadership team.  The commencement of these operations has, as expected, led to rising casualties both American and coalition. The next few months will be hard, especially as we clear and hold areas where we have not had a persistent presence, and as we attack an enemy that has, over the past few years, become more battle-hardened, lethal, and media-savvy. As with our troop increase in Iraq in 2007, we expect violence to increase before signs of progress and positive momentum start to show – hopefully by sometime next summer.
     The wars will continue to affect the state of the Army for years to come. We have asked extraordinary things of our ground forces over a number of years – and as you would expect, they have all risen to the occasion. With incredible courage and resilience, they have shown uncommon valor. But it has not come without high costs: such as lives lost, the wounds of war – both seen and unseen – and the overall stress we have placed on them and, just as important, their families.
     There is no doubt that prolonged and multiple combat tours have put great pressure on the force. I can assure you that we are monitoring the situation and paying close attention to telling statistics like suicide and divorce rates. We are meeting this challenge by developing and enhancing programs to get ahead of any possible trends. As the vice chief of staff of the Army recently said: “Any soldier, from private to general, may need help at some time in their Army career. Seeking that help, without fear of stigma, has to become second nature in our Army community, it has to become part of our culture.” General Casey has led the effort, engaging the entire force – the entire army in that respect.
     While the ratio of dwell-time to time in theater is certainly not what it needs to be, it is getting a little better. We have reduced the length of deployments that were extended during the surge in Iraq. And we believe we will be able to end the use of stop-loss at the beginning of next year.
     Toward that end, on Monday I announced my decision to authorize the Army to temporarily increase its personnel strength by up to 22,000 for a period of three fiscal years. Based on current deployment estimates, the Army’s ability to attain acceptable fill rates over the next year or so is at risk. This temporary challenge will peak in the year to come and abate over the course of the next three years. So this measure will allow us to give commanders the forces they need, and our soldiers and their families the relief they deserve. We will not seek additional funds in FY09 or FY10 for this increase, but will need to work with you to put together the necessary fiscal program for the following two years.
     Despite the stress of the two wars, and some worrying trends, the Army remains strong and, as we have seen, incredibly effective. It continues to meet its recruiting and retention goals – so much so that we will reach our end-strength numbers much earlier than planned. I believe this resilience in the face of great obstacles is in large part due to your support and the funding of key initiatives, such as:
     • Quality-of-life programs on bases across the country, from better housing to stronger support for military children;
     • Enhanced benefits, such as pay increases and the new GI Bill, which signifies a serious, long-term commitment to a new generation of veterans;
     • Your willingness to help me go outside the usual bureaucratic channels to buy weapons and capabilities needed by our troops on the frontlines – the most prominent examples being MRAPs and equipment to support our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance efforts; and
     • Of course, funding for permanently increasing the end-strength of our ground forces. 

     So I thank you for all of that. This is also a fitting introduction to my final topic: the Defense Department’s FY10 budget.
When I was putting together this budget, I had three principal objectives in mind:
     • First, and foremost, to reaffirm our commitment to take care of the all-volunteer force;
     • Second, to rebalance this department’s programs in order to institutionalize and enhance our capabilities to fight the wars we are in and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years ahead, while at the same time providing a hedge against other risks and contingencies; and
     • Finally, in order to do all this, fundamentally reforming how and what we buy. 

     I appreciate the legislation that the House and Senate passed and the President signed on acquisition reform. I have been very happy with the response from the Congress on meeting many of my objectives – especially the need to fully fund and shift money for the warfighter and quality-of-life programs into the base budget. I also appreciate support for many of the programmatic decisions, such as ending the FCS vehicle program, allowing us to spin out mature technologies to the entire Army quickly, and ensuring that any future Army vehicle modernization program incorporates the lessons we have learned on the battlefield in recent years.
     Now a few decisions have not been received as favorably. Last week in Chicago I spoke in more detail about some of those, which are also detailed in my testimony before the Armed Services Committee in May. For the remainder of my time though this morning, I want to discuss two related long-term considerations – one, budgetary, and one, strategic.
     For far too many decades, roughly 90 years by my count, the defense budget has been characterized by a “boom and bust” cycle – if you graphed it, it would look like an EKG of a defibrillating heart. It has dramatically increased and then plummeted in a number of short cycles. Since 2001, for example, the base budget – not counting expenditures for Iraq and Afghanistan – has gone from about $300 billion to more than $510 billion last year.
     From the very first defense budget I submitted under President Bush in 2007, I have warned against doing what America has done multiple times over the last 90 years by slashing defense spending after a major conflict. The war in Iraq is winding down, and one day so too will the conflict in Afghanistan – whether in this administration, or the next, or the next. When that day comes, the nation – all of you – will again face pressure to cut back on defense spending, as we always have. And the higher our base budget goes now beyond what is sustainable in the long-term, the more drastic and dangerous the drop-off will be later – especially cuts for critical programs that might not have the same bureaucratic clout and support as big-ticket, long-term modernization programs.
     The fact is that even if the defense budget had been higher, my recommendations to the President with respect to troubled programs would have been largely the same. What is important is to have a budget baseline with a steady, sustainable, and predictable rate of growth that avoids the extreme peaks and valleys that are enormously harmful to sound budgeting and planning – I would add that as each cycle falls it will bring a great cost with it not only in treasure but in blood the next time we go to war.
     The grim reality is that, with regard to the budget, we have entered a zero-sum game. Every defense dollar taken to fund excess or unneeded capacity is a dollar that will be unavailable to take care of our people, to win the wars we are in, to deter potential adversaries, and to improve capabilities in areas where America is underinvested and potentially vulnerable – now, or in the future.
     All of this brings me to long-term strategic considerations. There is little doubt that the security challenges we now face, and will in the future, have changed – and our thinking must likewise change. It simply will not do to base our defense strategy solely on continuing to design and buy – as we have for the last 60 years – only the most technologically advanced versions of weapons to keep up with or stay ahead of a superpower adversary, especially one that has been gone for nearly a generation.
     We have to invest in new concepts and new technologies and take into account all the assets and capabilities we can bring to the fight. We have to measure those capabilities against the real threats posed by real-world adversaries with real limitations, not threats conjured up from enemies with unlimited time, unlimited resources, and unlimited technological acumen. And we have to prepare to wage future wars and break the habit of rearming for previous ones.
     Some have called for yet more analysis before making any of the decisions in this budget. Or cited varying definitions of “requirements” in defense of the status quo. A number of the arguments I’ve heard remind me of the line about those who use statistics the way a drunken man uses a lamp post – for support rather than illumination.
     Let there be no doubt that the Quadrennial Defense Review and the Nuclear Posture Review will offer a stronger analytical framework going forward on issues like sea and nuclear capabilities. I should also note that it will incorporate thoughts, ideas, and concerns from the Hill. But when dealing with programs that were clearly out of control, performing poorly, excess to the military’s real requirements, or designed for a threat that no longer exists, we do not need more study, more debate, or more delay. As I said last week, in effect, paralysis through analysis. What we need are three things – common sense, political will, and the guts to make tough decisions.
     For too long, on too many issues, we have blindly pursued the same defense strategies that underpinned our nation’s safety and security in a very different and long-gone era. Even with the country at war, with our young men and women fighting and dying, we have struggled to understand the full implications of the type of adversary we face and the painful, messy reality of war in the 21st century. We have struggled to adapt our thinking to address the new and increasingly vexing security dilemmas of a post-Cold War world, where the lines between regular and irregular war – between nation-states, quasi-states, and non-states – are often blurred to the point of irrelevance.
     And so, we are at a crossroads. We simply cannot risk continuing down the same path – where our major focus and acquisitions are increasingly divorced from the very real threats of today and the growing ones of tomorrow. From the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue to this one, everyone involved in our national security needs to rise above the politics, partisanship, and parochialism that have too often guided defense procurement. Just as our men and women in uniform are doing their duty to this end, we here in Washington must now do ours.
     So I ask you to support the President’s budget – and I also ask you to convince your colleagues that we need to make the tough choices today so that our military is prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.
     Thank you, and I’m happy to take some questions.