Gates Discusses Surveillance, Transition Programs
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 10, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he is pleased with the early results from a panel looking into intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.
Speaking to reporters on his way back to Washington after visiting several Air Force bases, the secretary also discussed the upcoming transition to a new administration and ongoing studies to ensure the transition is smooth.
The secretary said that airmen asked him how much intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets -- known as ISR -- the military needs. “I said I had no answer for that. It’s a matter for the commanders in the field and the providers of those capabilities to work together,” he said. “I did say that the extraordinary fusion of intelligence and operations has ended up creating an insatiable appetite for information provided by these systems.”
Commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan have found these assets -- which include unmanned aerial vehicles, satellites, communications -- are tremendous combat multipliers. The assets allow for 24-hour surveillance., and demand for these assets has skyrocketed along with the sophistication of operations they can perform, Gates said.
Planners need to think out of the box on this capability, Gates said. “For example, we have X number of platforms that we keep here in the United States for training purposes,” he said, wondering aloud if there is a way the military can reconfigure the way training is conducted so that one or two of those platforms can be sent to the theater.
The ISR panel reported to Gates last week. “They have identified some of the areas where there are shortfalls – for example in ground stations and linguists,” the secretary said.
Addressing those shortfalls will help make these platforms more useful.
“I think they made some headway in finding capabilities here in the U.S. and elsewhere that we will soon be sending forward to the theater,” Gates said.
The panel also is working with commanders to see if they could get more out of platforms they already have. “For example, let’s say they fly a platform for 20 hours a day,” Gates asked. “What are the roadblocks to flying it 22 hours and getting yourself 10 percent more capability? How do you squeeze more out of what you already have?”
Gates also discussed the upcoming administration change in January. This is the first administration change during a time of war in 40 years. He said he wants the transition to be smoothly and the department to be responsive. “I’ve asked the Defense Policy Board to look at this for me and see what we can prepare in order to assure a smooth transition," he said.
Gates said he asked the Defense Policy Board to look at issues the new secretary of defense will have to “know about and deal with on Day 1.” While the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan will obviously top the list, there are other areas of concern, Gates said. These include Iran, North Korea, the fiscal 2010 budget, ISR capabilities, and the Air Force nuclear issue.
“Then what are some of the longer-range issues that might not be a crisis on Day 1, but he or she is going to have to start addressing pretty quickly?” the secretary said, adding that the board will present its recommendations later this month.
In addition, Gates said he wants to work with Congress to accelerate the process to confirm appointees so the Defense Department has fewer empty slots for senior leaders when it’s managing two wars.
“I’ve asked a lot of the folks at the Pentagon to be prepared to stay on -- should they be asked -- until a successor is confirmed,” Gates said.
That way the next administration can “have some continuity while the confirmation process moves forward, so a new secretary doesn’t arrive and find that, on the civilian side of the government, he’s all alone.”