Media Roundtable with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and General James Cartwright, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Selected Reporters
SEC. GATES: A couple of things to lead off. The announcements that I made yesterday are basically an outgrowth of the positions that I have been taking in speeches for the last 18 months and that in many respects were codified -- many aspects of the themes yesterday were codified in the national defense strategy last fall that we issued. So, there is continuity here. These are principles or approaches and problems that I've been talking about almost ever since I got this job.
This process will continue. There were a number of issues that -- as we look at the full range of programs, that I didn't feel I had enough analysis and understanding to make decisions, and so I delayed programs in most cases either because -- to allow the technology to mature a little more, or so that we could review them in the Quadrennial Defense Review and the Nuclear Posture Review. And then those -- that work will then contribute to shaping the FY '11 budget.
I guess the only other thing I would say is that, as I indicated yesterday, all of this debate and discussion and the decisions that were made really emanated entirely from within this building. There was -- I got no outside steers or direction or guidance.
I reviewed -- I told -- I got the president's agreement some weeks ago to go out with this package of -- with a package of changes before the budget was actually submitted to the -- to the Congress. And I explained why, as I did yesterday, in terms of wanting to put it all in a context. But, having gotten that approval from him to take this unorthodox approach some weeks ago, I actually only reviewed where I was headed on these programs with him for the first time a week ago yesterday. So this really has all come from within this building.
And so with those two points, I'll stop and let you start.
Q You mentioned the advice you got on the F-22 said no military requirement for more than 187. I'm curious, was that mainly a COCOM requirement, or was that an Air Force requirement?
SEC. GATES: It was both, as I recall.
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: I mean, the COCOM side of the equation was the need for that capability, that generation of capability, against a limited number of threats. And the time and the urgency and the scenarios were, in fact, limited, I mean, for utility and also tended to span the gap between the aircraft that we have today, which are very capable, and the emergence of the F-35.
And so the question here is -- they don't do the same thing, but the pairing of the F-35 and the F-22 gives you something that is significantly better than the pairing of the F-22 and, let's say, the F-18, F-16, F-15 crowd.
And so if we can get numbers in one, and the niche capabilities that the F-22 brings that the F-35 may not have as -- quite as good a qualitative advantage in, then modeling tells us that, against the threats that we believe we have today and the threats that we believe will emerge in the future, that that mix -- numbers in the F-35 and the qualitative edge of certain -- in certain areas of the F-22 -- that was the mix that came out.
Q As recently as a few weeks ago, Air Force leadership was still publicly saying 260, 265. When did that change for them?
SEC. GATES: Well, you'll have to ask them. (Chuckles.)
Q That 250 announcement of the tactical fighter retirements in fiscal '20 alone. Is that assuming you're going to take some risks in, like, 2010 through 2014 before you get JFCS numbers?
SEC. GATES: No. The analysis that we were shown indicated that we had – in tac air, with all of the different kinds of aircraft we had, that what -- that the force that we had was significantly excess -- or not significantly -- was excess to the requirement. And therefore, the Air Force -- this was actually an Air Force recommendation, to take 250 -- and I think they're mostly F-16s --
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: Yeah.
SEC. GATES: -- out of the force.
Q (Off mike) -- that we've heard about, is that --
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: Well, the --
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: No. It was also an acknowledgment, though, that the Predator has come online. The Reapers are beginning to come online. And they're starting to supplant some of that mission space. And heretofore, they were not included in the analytic side of the mission space that the F-16, F-15, F-15E were occupying.
And now you start to bring that capability on, and particularly with the Reaper, it's just an incredibly capable platform. And given that the conflicts that we're in and likely to be in for the next couple of years are conflicts in which being on station for extended periods of time, not delivering maximum loads every sortie, those platforms really do, in fact, give you a qualititave edge.
SEC. GATES: These UAVs are a new piece of the equation, it seems to me, in terms of their capabilities. It's not just Predators doing strikes. It is long distances, long dwell. And that -- if I recall correctly, an F-16 has a range of about 500 miles. The Reaper has a range of about 3,000 miles. And so this is, I think, going to be an increasing part of the Air Force arsenal going forward.
I would just add, in terms of kind of looking at tac air and the -- and the ramp on the F-35, the intelligence that I've gotten indicates that the first IOC for anything like a fifth-generation fighter in Russia would be about 2016, and in China would be about 2020.
Q Let me ask you a couple of acquisition accountability questions. You highlighted the fee structure in the Future Combat System as not -- you know, not as tough as you'd probably like. It's the first time I ever heard a -- somebody of your level talk about a fee. What was your rationale for that? And going forward with this massive program, what do you want to do in terms of tightening up the criteria under which Boeing gets paid?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I don't want to get into any more detail on the contract than I did yesterday. But I would just say that I think that -- I would tell you that the FCS decision, of all the decisions I made -- and there were probably about somewhere between 50 and 60 program decisions that I made -- FCS was the toughest, and it was the last decision I made. And I spent a lot of time with General Casey and with Secretary Geren, and a lot of briefings. But at the end of the day, the principal concern that I had, beyond the cost, was that I felt that a program that had basically been first designed nine years ago had not really fully integrated the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan into the vehicle part of the buy.
I've always been impressed by the front end of this program. I saw it down at Fort Bliss. And so we're not just spinning that out to three or five BCTs, which was the original proposal, but to the whole force. But that was -- that was the principal factor for me on the FCS.
Q The fee portion, now, do you --
SEC. GATES: I just don't want to get into that.
Q Okay. Can I ask you a second accountability question? When Ash Carter is confirmed by the Senate, there's going to be questions about what steps you took to make sure he recuses himself from any contacts with his defense consultants that he acknowledged he had at his nomination hearing.
Just wanted to ask you straight up, I -- is that being reviewed so there is no -- even appearance of a conflict of interest, in terms of his clients?
SEC. GATES: I assume so. I have pretty much stayed out of the confirmation business, but I know that they've been working that -- those kinds of issues for whoever comes on board, both with our general counsel and with the -- and with the White House counsel, to make sure that there's no question of a conflict of interest.
Q So you don't got any specifics on that -- (off mike).
Q When you say that the U.S. has not fully integrated the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, well, what lessons are those?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think, first of all, the key was the -- there was a tradeoff in terms of -- and General Cartwright's probably going to have to help me here -- but a -- the -- there was a -- there was basically a reliance on the situational awareness of the vehicle -- of the vehicles that was, to a considerable extent -- and a couple other factors -- that were traded off against armor.
And I -- it looked to me like the -- and, for example -- and I give -- I give General Casey and Secretary Geren credit for this -- when they started looking at this -- and there have been adjustments to FCS over the last 18 months or so -- but one of the things that they pointed out to their own folks was that the infantry fighting vehicle had a flat bottom and was 18 inches off the ground. And so the question is -- and then they start looking at, well, how much additional armor can you put on this?
And it just -- it just seemed to me there was -- it was necessary to stop, take a deep breath, and kind of look at this whole thing freshly, based on the experience of these two wars.
I don't know if you want to add any to the --
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: I mean, the survivability piece, the realities of what the fight we're in brings to the game, the changes over the last five years, independent of IEDs, of the shaped explosives and their ability to really start to penetrate hard armor -- so what you find, if you go take a look at the units in Iraq and Afghanistan today, they generally will have three sets of vehicles. They've got their up-armored humvees. They've got their Bradleys. And then they've got their MRAPs.
And the question here is, can one vehicle really cover that span? At the low end, you're trying to be offensive and move very quickly through any kind of terrain. At the very high end, you're moving slowly, you're probing, you're accepting the fact that you're going to take on heavy fire and that you're going to have to withstand it. So can one vehicle really span all of that?
And we'd like to say the technology's there to do that, but already we saw, you know, almost a 40 and 50 percent increase in weight that was going to be piled on the original axle designs in order to accommodate survivability. And the idea was some of it would be permanent, some of it would be temporary. But think about maneuvering, what that does to transmissions and axles and all of those things. And you start to wonder, can it really take that? And is that original design going to be able to handle that span of activity? And so that's what started to make a lot of the questions about a vehicle -- a single vehicle to do this really questionable.
At the end of the day, the heavy brigades would not be as heavy as the heavy brigades of today -- that was a conscious decision -- which is okay as long as you're willing to have something that can go out there and persist where you're going to have either IEDs or very energetic projectiles, et cetera. And that was not going to be the case without really heavying up something that was not designed to be that heavy.
SEC. GATES: And the way I would put -- add to what General Cartwright said from -- kind of using my layman's language is, I didn't think the program had integrated the operational experience that we have had in Iraq and Afghanistan, where, as the general said, a commander has a menu of vehicles that he can draw on in any given unit, depending on what the mission is. And so that, plus the other factors that we were talking about, were the principal considerations.
Q Sir, just the -- for years now you've talked about the warfighter not having a place at the table. I'm just wondering, how's -- how -- maybe, how does your -- how do your decisions give the warfighters a place at the table? And how does that continue in the future? How does that get institutionalized?
SEC. GATES: Well, I would say in several ways. First, it puts some of these capabilities, like ISR in the battlefield, in the base budget. For the last several years they have been in the supplementals -- the greater helicopter capacity, the things that we're doing for the special operations forces. I mean, all of those things being in the base budget rather than in supplementals, they will be a part of a services budget at this point. And we know how good the services are at defending their budgets.
I would say another factor is, again, the -- over the last couple of years, the increase in end strength and a lot of the medical and quality-of-life initiatives have all been paid for by the supplementals.
By putting those in the base budget, I think that it -- it provides a -- it becomes a permanent part of the Defense Department's budget going forward, rather than dependent on whether we get a supplemental next year or not.
In terms of institutionalizing what I'm trying to do, those are a couple of things, but there's a third that I think is maybe even more important, and maybe it's because I'm an old Kremlinologist. I think the real institutionalization comes through the appointments of people. And I have the places where General Casey, General Corelli, General Dempsey, General Petraeus, General Odierno, General Austin -- the places where these people have been assigned provide, I believe, the opportunity to institutionalize in the Army the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are all war fighters, and their appointments were not accidents or just happenstance.
What I have tried to do is -- is put people in positions where -- you know, the institution can always beat one or two people, but it's very tough to beat four or five or six. You can't outlast that many, for the most part.
MR. : No, but they'll try. (Laughter.)
SEC. GATES: But I am assuming these guys will then recommend appointments behind them that -- and it goes to the Army Brigadier General Board last year that General Petraeus headed, and some of the people who were being promoted. So that's a big piece of the institutionalization as well.
Q (Off mike) -- in terms of I was wondering if you could -- (off mike) -- some of President Obama's reactions to your plans, or does he have any kind of additional concerns or any kind of pushback on the suggestions that you have made or whether he -- (off mike)?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I want to give him some space. He has not -- OMB has not reviewed this in detail. OMB got the details yesterday, about the same time you all did, and we will be providing the other details to them over the course of the week. And I -- and then the president will look at that. So I don't want to say that the president has approved all of this in detail.
But I would say, as I did yesterday, I consulted very closely with him. And I think that he is supportive, certainly in the -- of the general direction in which we're going. And I think, for the most part -- the program decisions, specifically -- that I want to leave him some space.
Q And then, if I may, on the presidential helicopter -- because everyone has something -- (off mike) -- what is the plan forward? I mean, are you starting a new competition on that?
SEC. GATES: Yes. Yes, we will.
Q Going back to the -- a quick follow-up on the Army vehicle modernization efforts. Is there going to be any money in FY '10 for an S&T effort or an R&D effort to get this started, restarted? And then I had a separate question about termination costs and if there was any estimate on these programs that will be terminated, what it's going to cost.
SEC. GATES: I think we don't know the answer to the last question. I would say -- the way I would put it is I believe I -- as I said yesterday, I think an Army -- a -- an Army vehicle modernization program is essential. And it is a very high priority. And I think we have an obligation -- I have an obligation -- to make sure that the money is there for the Army in '10, '11, '12, to get on with a new modernization program.
Q Can you just give examples of program decisions you decided to defer until the QDR and explain why it made sense to do so?
SEC. GATES: Sure. The decision to delay the 11th LPD and the Mobile Landing Platform; both because I want to -- I want the QDR to examine, as we look at the 21st century, how much amphibious capability do we need?
And I don't know the answer to that. We need it, but how much do we need?
A second would be a follow-on bomber. And that, as I indicated yesterday, we'll look at that after the QDR, after the nuclear program review and after -- and in the context of the arms -- post-START arms control negotiations.
Q What about the EFV? Does that fall in that category?
SEC. GATES: Well, I didn't make any decisions on the EFV. And so that program is continuing as is. But clearly, that would be a part of the amphibious review, it seems to me.
Q Secretary Gates, I want to ask you about the long-term budget picture. So you put in a lot of extra money for the troops and their families, but you know that personnel costs are rising. At the same time, a lot of procurement decisions you made will eventually have to be paid for. In the out years, these budgets are going to cost us. So I'm wondering what can you -- how do you kind of square that circle? How do you plan to keep the costs - aside from acquisition-- (inaudible) -- will this budget restructure TRICARE fees? Will this budget do other things to fix some of those long-term problems that we all know are ahead?
SEC. GATES: What we're trying to do is begin -- first of all, begin a dialogue with the Hill in terms of TRICARE. We've gone up there three years in a row seeking an increase in the premiums -- a very modest increase, I might add, in a program where there's been no premium increase since the program was conceived or started, 10 years ago, 12 years ago.
And I think we just need to lay out for the Congress how health care is eating the department alive. As I said yesterday, we will spend in FY '10 $47 billion on health care. We will spend on health care what the entire foreign affairs budget is.
And so we have to have that conversation with the Hill, because I think they understand this, as well as we do it. But it is a tough issue.
I also will be making the case that I don't think that the department can sustain the programs that we have with flat growth. And therefore I believe that we need at least 2 percent real growth going forward. And that will be my case, and I'll make it as well as I can.
Q So you're simply saying you will request a TRICARE increase again this year?
SEC. GATES: No, we are going to full -- we are going to for the first time -- you know, hit us over the head with a two-by-four three times, and we're beginning to get the message.
SEC. GATES: So we are fully funding it this year. And we are not going up with that $1.2 billion hole in the budget.
But we are going to begin the -- we figure maybe we'll have a better chance of having a serious dialogue with the Hill if we go ahead and fund it and then begin the conversation. So we'll keep our fingers crossed.
Q So really the question is, personnel increases -- you've sped up the end-strength increase. There are calls for another end-strength increase. Is that off the table, or are you in part still considering another additional --
SEC. GATES: I think that, you know, we have -- we have increased the size of the ground forces, counting both the Army and the Marine Corps, by 92,000. Let's get there, see where we are with that. I think calls to expend it -- extend it beyond that are premature. I would not say that they're wrong. I just think they're premature.
Q Do you have a plan to curb service lobbying? (Laughter.)
SEC. GATES: That's the -- the word "Sisyphean" comes to mind. (Laughter.)
I think that -- I think -- I will say this. I think that based on everything I've heard and some of the things that I've seen, that there has been a deterioration of discipline in the way this building approaches the Congress about budgets.
And while I know that the chiefs feel the obligation to give their individual -- their professional military advice when asked, that does not hold true of everybody in the building. And so I think we're going to try and be more disciplined about it, going forward.
Q Secretary, I spoke with several lawmakers yesterday who were very concerned about and critical of the proposals yesterday. I wanted to ask you what is your -- what strategy are you devising to address those concerns? And are you worried about any congressional pushback and, you know, the gravity of that pushback and what that might be?
SEC. GATES: Oh, I think there'll be a lot of pushback. I anticipated it from the very beginning. These are not -- these are not easy issues, and they affect some -- some members a lot. There are members who are concerned because of jobs in their states and districts. There are members who are dedicated and committed to certain of these programs, because they believe in them.
And we will just have to -- I think we have to have a dialogue. We have to sit down and talk to various members. I think that on the part of -- on the jobs aspect of it, I think we have to appeal to people, as I said yesterday, to rise above the parochial or local interest, and consider what's in the best interest of the country as a whole.
Where there are those who have substantive issues with the decisions, I think we just need to sit down and walk through the analysis with them. In other words, just to give you an example, I haven't seen the letter from Senator Lieberman and Senator Kyl and others on missile defense, but I think when I -- if we can sit down and show them what we're doing with THAAD and SM-3s on -- or THAAD on terminal phase, if we can show them what we are sustaining with the ground-based interceptors for midcourse, and the research and development that we have continued with respect to the boost phase, perhaps we can persuade them that all is not as bad as they had -- as they seem to think.
Q Mr. Secretary, when you were talking yesterday about what you called complex hybrid warfare, you mentioned that the U.S. may face an adversary with an AK-47 and a supporting element with a ballistic missile. And I'm wondering, could you elaborate what kind of groups are you talking about; and how does this budget position the Defense Department to fight them?
SEC. GATES: Well, one example would be Hezbollah. Hezbollah has more missiles and rockets than most countries, and some pretty sophisticated equipment to go with it, and yet also has a fairly basic terrorist and, as we say, irregular warfare capability. So that's one example.
I think one of the examples that we have seen in Iraq is some pretty sophisticated explosive penetrating devices that can take out some pretty significant armor on our side. And so I think those are the kinds of things that I'm talking about.
Q So how does this budget help the United States fight these adversaries?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think by providing the full range of capabilities, but also making sure that we have -- that we have -- really it's not so much -- and I'll invite General Cartwright to speak here. It's not so much the specific capabilities in the budget as it is the recognition that the irregular side of this threat has to be in the base budget, along with the programs to deal with the more modern kinds of systems, which have been in the base budget forever.
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: I think the --
Q (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: Yeah.
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: I think the -- kind of the key here is there's been a lot of discussion about the nexus between an extremist organization and WMD and the proliferation of that WMD in ways that -- in the past only sophisticated nation-states could have hoped to have these kind of weapons, and that time is quickly coming to an end.
And so what we acknowledge here is that the entire span of military operations is now extremely lethal. And so if we just concentrate at one end or the other, we leave ourselves exposed to what used to be considered the most dangerous threat.
And so the -- this activity, this budget and the capabilities we're advocating for here try to span a much greater ranger of that military operations and acknowledge the fact that the lethality is significant at both ends.
Q What people have taken away from the 2006 war with Hezbollah is that the Israelis were too focused on counterinsurgency; they weren't ready to fight Hezbollah's conventional force, which used IEDs to put them in kill zones and then used conventional tactics to kill them. Is that -- does the Pentagon take that away from the 2006 war as well?
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: Took that away from the lessons learned. And certainly, the Israelis have been very vocal about that since in our discussions.
But again, it comes back to we would never have thought about having to use a tank or heavy armor in a counterinsurgency. And so the lethality here is across the entire span. So back to the vehicle discussion, you need all three types of vehicles we have out there today. Even though the threat is considered relatively unsophisticated, the lethality of the threat is sophisticated.
And that's what -- that's what this acknowledges is -- so we used to say, two major theater wars, whatever the construct, everything else being a lesser included case. That reality is gone now.
The span of the lethality is just so pervasive, and the opportunity as we go into the future for things like projectiles that can penetrate thick armor, for weapons of mass destruction, when it starts to get out into things like cyber and bio and chem -- and these are, unfortunately, as the technology proliferates, going to become some of the realities of the battlefield.
SEC. GATES: You.
Q Yes. Secretary, you talked earlier about some discipline breaking down with regard to the Hill, and I wanted --
SEC. GATES: Not the Hill's discipline. Our discipline. (Laughter.) I just want to be very clear about that.
Q Well, I was wondering if you could elaborate on that a little bit, and also talk about your nondisclosure agreement. Was that an attempt to impose more discipline on the process? And did you have to discipline any individuals in going through this exercise?
SEC. GATES: No, because there were no leaks -- in case you hadn't noticed. (Chuckles.)
No, I must say, everybody that I know, and me, have -- actually have been astonished by the discipline that was shown in this process, which has been -- which started about three months ago. And I think it's -- I think it's mainly -- you know, the disclosure -- signing the nondisclosure thing, the -- was kind of an afterthought that -- I can't even remember who suggested it to me. (Laughter.) And -- (chuckles) -- and I think what you have is a building, fortunately, with men and women in it who, when they put their name to something saying they won't do something, have the character and integrity to stick with it.
So I didn't have to say -- I didn't have to say a word to a soul through this whole process. And what -- and I've -- the thing that is important is to reinforce that, within the building, that there -- in terms of dealing with the Hill, that there is a chain of command, and once the decisions are made with -- I've tried since I got here to get everybody the maximum possible opportunity to voice their views and to guide me, to advise me, to counsel me, to try and change my mind about things.
But once the decision is made then -- and particularly, once the president signs off on the budget, then there needs to be discipline about people not conducting guerrilla warfare against decisions the president has made.
Q And how many people were involved in this budget process?
SEC. GATES: Gosh, I have -- what? -- what do you figure overall? I would guess --
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: I don't know, a hundred and -- 100, 150? When you talk about the principal staff plus their two or three people that do the paperwork and the actual work, mostly inside the comptroller and the PA.
Q Can I ask you a couple of follow-ups on the budget, questions that have come out? The 47 billion (dollars) in health care, did that drive some of your decisions on programs?
SEC. GATES: No.
Q Did Obama approve conceptually your approach on the FCS -- he being a Chicago native who talked about this during the campaign?
SEC. GATES: No. Didn't discuss it specifically.
Q Mr. Secretary?
SEC. GATES: No -- well --
Q Oh, sorry.
Q Sir, I know you said that you made these decisions in a sense apolitically. Hoping you can take this question divorced from --
SEC. GATES: As opposed to naively? (Laughter.)
Q Well, call it what you will. But I hope you can take this question divorced from politics, because industrial base can be political, but it doesn't have to be. I’m curious -- what, if at all, about the industrial base went into these decisions? What do you want the industry message to be, a takeaway? There are some people that say, oh, it's like a wake-up call for industry, but obviously, there have been plenty of program formations in the past few years that you can say were wake-up calls. So what's the message?
SEC. GATES: It did not play a significant role in -- in most of the decisions. You guys know better than I do that most of these companies have multiple programs with us. And I guess I'd just leave it at that.
GEN. CARTRIGHT: You know, I mean, if anything, the move -- and we used this word yesterday -- to move from exquisite to quantity, given the diversity of the threat that we're going to face, trying to get away from exquisite to quantity, because the reality is we're going to need quantity, that should be actually an advantage for the industrial base. Having stable funding, have programs that are funded at effective, efficient quantities of record, and then just the idea, like with the F-35, that we're going to go for quantity as well as quality.
I mean, the exquisite is the piece, it was the -- in the discussion yesterday, was, you know, to get to the point where you're building one ship for each coast or one airplane for each coast, we've got to get away from that. The problem is, we can't have 10 or three or something every place that needs. We've got to have an order of quantity, so LCS, on the shipping side, the F-35 on the air side, the idea of multiple vehicles but an expensive/inexpensive and affordable rate. So if industry takes anything from that, it is we've got to get back to economic quantities, orders of quantity. We've got to get to stable funding platforms that don't get strung out artificially. We build them, we build them efficiently, and we get them out there.
SEC. GATES: So quantity becomes quality of its own at a certain point. And the truth is, if we can get this acquisition process in a better place, I think that it will be a significant advantage for the industrial base for defense, in no small part because it will afford greater stability and predictability.
Q Okay. And a takeaway on the tac air side then that JSF really is the future for the industrial base in the tactical aircraft side. -- bombers tabled for now -- F-18 might have a few more years if you guys did a multi-year, but there's really not a sustainable argument for keeping St. Louis in business outside --
SEC. GATES: JSF and Reaper.
SEC. GATES: JSF and Reaper.
Q (Off mike) -- returning a lot of the civilian staff back to the Pentagon, and taking responsibility from the contractors. A lot of people have talked about contract management and oversight for a long time. Of course, the reason that they were originally contracted out was so that the department could have flexibility. So I'm wondering if you worry about taking away that flexibility. And also, how do you define what is an inherently governmental function?
SEC. GATES: Well --
Q Where do you draw the line? What should be contracted civilian and what shouldn't?
SEC. GATES: First of all, one of the reasons we have so many contractors, particularly in the acquisition arena, to help us is because the numbers of acquisition professionals were slashed during the 1990s. The Defense Contract Management Agency went from 27,000 professionals to about 9,000. Those involved in procurement generally in the department went from 5(00,000) or 600,000 to less than half that number.
And so, you know, will we be able to get rid of all the contractors? No. I mean, the point -- the point yesterday, we're just going from 39 percent back to the pre-2001 level of 26 percent, is the goal over the fit-up. So there will probably be a continuing role for contractors.
But the truth of the matter is -- and this is one area where I think practically everybody on the Hill agrees -- we have to restore a professional acquisition cadre both in the services and in the department as a whole, and enough people to provide government employees who are overseeing this. There's just -- the Hill has a problem -- and I understand it and agree with it -- with us hiring contractors to oversee contractors.
Q And what is the inherently governmental function and what are the functions?
SEC. GATES: I think that when it comes to acquisition, I think, above all, the oversight of the process is inherently governmental.
How far down the chain you go beyond that, I think, is a judgment call.
Q LCS and the Joint Strike Fighter are two programs that have had a lot of problems in development. So how do you justify continuing to ramp up those two, the purchase of those two systems, when at the same time the presidential helicopter program's getting the axe for not meeting its goals?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, it's my impression -- and I don't have the history on this as well as General Cartwright, so I'll say something and then I'll invite him to comment -- my impression is, there -- clearly the developmental phase of the Joint Strike Fighter has had its problems and has been expensive. My understanding is that most of those problems are behind us at this point, as we're going forward.
And similarly, I think that the initiation of the LCS was a challenge, given the nature of the ships. But I think this is one of these places -- it's a little bit like the proposal to build all three DDG-1000s in Bath. When you're building one, it's -- it -- there are going to be huge inefficiencies, and you don't have this -- you don't have the workforce skill set and so on. If you're going to build several, then you're going to make the investment not only in the workforce but you learn from the mistakes that you've made.
And so -- and I think that people believe that a fifth-generation fighter is critical and that the Joint Strike Fighter is better to be the one you buy in numbers than the F-22, and the same way in the Navy with the LCS. But --
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: I think all of those points and also in the ramp are additional assets for tests, which we didn't have, and so it's going to let us have a more robust test program.
Rather than having one or two platforms, we're actually going to buy several, now, and branch that out. And generally, for the aircraft side, we have a set -- aircraft for the attack mission, a set of aircraft that are associated with the air-to-air mission. And so we're going to have, now, that ability so that we can get that done. That'll allow us to have fewer changes in a shorter period of time.
And so in other words, if you find, you know, 10 problems across that, rather than stretching that out over five years, which means now you got to go back and retrofit five years' worth of aircraft, get it done in two or three years so you're retrofitting less and moving the fleet forward.
We're doing the same in the LCS program, with the different variants. It'll give us a much better idea, much more quickly, of what our challenges might be in production as we move to that stage.
STAFF: Okay, sir, we've gone our 45 minutes. Let's take two more.
Q Mr. Secretary, the defense -- national defense strategy calls for taking risks in areas of excessive overmatch in conventional capabilities. Do you think the budget decisions announced yesterday address that fully? Or do you think the services need to assume greater risk in that -- (off mike)?
SEC. GATES: I think that the one thing -- and let me answer, then again ask General Cartwright. I think the one area where -- that I've talked about where we really haven't done as much as we should is assessing capabilities across the services and seeing where you might be able to take more risk in one service, in a program, a given program, because you have a program in another service that mitigates that.
One of the problems that we have -- and it's one of the reasons why I canceled -- recommended canceling the CSAR-X -- is we do -- we have really come to a point where we do extraordinarily well in terms of joint operations. But we do not do well in terms of joint procurement. It is still very service-centered. And that's an area where, both analytically and then in the way we actually conduct our business, I think we need to do better.
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: In some places where we clearly had a qualitative and quantitative edge that was overmatch, we made decisions now. Many of the decisions talking about risk and whether -- how to shift and manage risk were moved to the QDR.
Because if you change your strategy -- if we rebalance the force for a broader spectrum of conflict -- that also, then, changes the mix. And you've got to take a look then: Where do you want to consciously take your risk?
And as the secretary said, let's just take a bomber versus an aircraft carrier. If I put 10 bombers in the Pacific instead of an aircraft carrier, is that a reasonable match? And if I bring the bombers out and put a carrier in, is that a reasonable match?
Are there capabilities like this that have synergy against the types of threats we think we're going to face? And do we need to pretend that the only thing that exists is either the bomber or the carrier? And we can't really afford that any more.
SEC. GATES: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
Q How far will you go in your fight against whatever Congress may do with the changes in this? I know they're saying it's their prerogative to make changes obviously, but how far are you going in your fight to protect your plan, and does President Obama agree to it?
SEC. GATES: Well, there's different pieces to the process, as you well know. The Congress, as a coequal branch of government, will, I am confident, be active in shaping the budget in a way that they think is appropriate. But there is a final part of the process, and that is when that bill comes back to the president. And we'll just see.
I am an optimist. I am -- I believe that because there is support on the Hill for acquisition reform, because we have announced this package of changes, it is, I think, a little more difficult for a member to say, "I'm all for acquisition reform and doing these things better, and all that stuff is really good; but this one thing that happens to be in my state should be an exception." And so I think that I just -- I think we will have a very productive dialogue over the next number of months, and I'm optimistic.
You know, you never get 100 percent of what you ask for. And I think we'll just have to see how the dialogue unfolds. But like I say, I'm an optimist. I think -- I think the members of Congress want to do the right thing.
Q Sir, can I ask you a quick Iraq question?
STAFF: (Off mike.)
Q Well, but the situation in Iraq, how do you interpret this -- the uptick in violence of Iraq?
SEC. GATES: I think General Odierno's view is that the violence level is still at very low levels. These are still basically 2003 levels. These are spectacular events that are basically al Qaeda's last gasp, I hope.
Q Thanks a lot, sir.
Q (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: That's at OMB now, actually.
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