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Warfighters Top Budget Priorities, Gates Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CARLISLE BARRACKS, Pa., April 16, 2009 – Making sure warfighters have everything they need “to fight, to win and to survive, while making sure that they and their families are properly cared for when they return” was the “overriding priority” of the fiscal 2010 Defense Budget request, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.

As part of rebalancing the department’s efforts, Gates told students at the Army War College here that he wants all DoD personnel to be on a war footing. Since taking office in December 2006, he said, he has noticed that this is not necessarily the case, “even as young Americans were fighting and dying every day.”

Part of the problem, he said, was that many in the department viewed the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as aberrations and not the likely models of future U.S. conflicts. The fact that mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles did not have a regular place in the Army or Marine Corps future planning, despite their success in theater, was in example of the problem.

“Therefore, we should not spend too much, or buy too much equipment not already in our long-range procurement plans, or turn our bureaucracies and processes upside down,” he said. “As a result of these failed assumptions, the capabilities most urgently needed by our warfighters were, for the most part, fielded ad hoc and on the fly, developed outside the regular bureaucracy and funded in supplemental appropriations that would go away when the wars did – if not sooner.”

But wars like Iraq and Afghanistan will not go away, the secretary, which led to his budget recommendations to give the warfighters a seat at the budget table. Gates shifted funding for programs that benefit the warfighters from supplemental appropriations to the services’ base budgets.

“One of the things I have learned since entering government 43 years ago is that the best way to ensure that an organization really cares for and protects something is to put that thing in its base budget,” he said.

Programs to benefit the warfighters include such things as more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets. The changes bulk up special operations forces and “train and equip” programs for foreign militaries. The changes also call for more tactical and strategic airlift.

“This shift should be of special resonance to our ground forces, which have borne the human and material brunt of the current conflicts,” Gates said.

The secretary also seeks to change the strategic mind-set of Defense leaders. DoD needs “to recognize that the black and white distinction between conventional and irregular conflict is an outdated model,” he said.

The future will be more complex and an enemy will likely confront America again, he said. Even near-peer competitors are likely to use asymmetric tactics, including cyber-warfare, guerilla tactics and low-tech roadside and car bombs, he said.

“Future adversaries will continue to employ new readily available technologies in sinister ways,” he said. “They will adapt and develop new tactics, techniques and procedures as fast as they can imagine ways to gain any advantage on us. This kind of warfare will require innovative, versatile leaders and capabilities with the maximum possible flexibility to deal with the widest possible range of conflict.”

Another thing that has to change is the acquisition and procurement system, Gates said. The department and the services must work more closely together. The American military is a world-class, joint organization. This joint capability, unfortunately, does not carry over to acquisition.

“Where different modernization programs within services exist to counter roughly the same threat, or accomplish roughly the same mission, we should look more to capabilities available across the services,” he said.

The services need to work together more closely and a capability in one service must be taken into consideration by other services, he said. The military needs to shift away from the 99 percent “exquisite” service-centric solutions. These programs are costly and take too long to build.

“With the pace of technological and geopolitical change, and the range of possible contingencies, we must look more to the 80 percent solution that can be produced on time, on budget and in significant numbers. As Stalin once said, ‘Quantity has a quality all its own,” said Gates, who holds a doctorate in Russian studies. 

The secretary explained his recommendation to cancel the Army’s Future Combat Systems vehicle program, saying it does not fully take in the lessons learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That the service needs to modernize is not a question. It’s how best to do it, he noted.

“Before we spend 10 years and nearly $90 billion, and before we send young soldiers downrange, we had better be sure to get it right – or as close to right as we can,” he said.

Gates said the Army will keep the money with hopes that a vehicle program can be re-launched. “My hope is that we can be ready to move forward in fiscal 2011,” he said. “And I have directed that all the money for FCS in the out-years be protected to fund the new vehicle modernization program.” 

He said that other decisions remain to be made. The Quadrennial Defense Review and the Nuclear Posture Review will provide guidance for the fiscal 2011 budget.

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