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Naval War College (Newport, RI)
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Newport, RI, Friday, April 17, 2009

     Good morning. It’s a real pleasure to be here for my first visit as secretary to the Naval War College. Based on the weather I’m thinking I may move the Pentagon here.
As you may know, this week I have visited each of the service war colleges and I discussed the budget recommendations I have made to the President. Those recommendations have three principal objectives:
     • First, to reaffirm our commitment to take care of the all-volunteer force, which, in my view represents America’s greatest strategic asset; as Admiral Mullen says, if we don’t get the people part of our business right, none of the other decisions will matter;
     • 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
     • Third, in order to do all this, we must reform how and what we buy, meaning a fundamental overhaul of our approach to procurement, acquisition, and contracting.

     Earlier this week, I was asked why I decided to come to the war colleges to discuss this topic. What I said then, and repeat now, is that these recommendations are less about budget numbers than they are about how the military thinks about the nature of warfare and prepares for the future. About how we take care of our people and institutionalize support for the warfighter for the long term. About the role of the services and how we can buy weapons as jointly as we fight. About reforming our requirements and acquisition processes. These are just the kinds of basic questions you will be dealing with as you go on to command and staff positions.
     So, with that in mind, over the next few minutes I want to give you some more insight into the thinking and analysis behind the budget recommendations, and then give you a chance to ask questions and share your views. In many ways, these recommendations are really a reflection of my experience in this job for the last two-plus years.
     Starting with the roll-out of the Iraq surge, my overriding priority has been getting the troops at the front everything they need to win, to fight, and to survive while making sure that they and their families are properly cared for when they come home. And whether the issue was outpatient medical care or sending more UAVs and ISR assets to theater, I kept running into the fact that the Department of Defense as an institution – which routinely complained that the rest of government was not at war – was itself not on a war footing, even as young Americans were fighting and dying every day.
     For too long there was a view, or a hope, that Iraq and Afghanistan were exotic distractions that would be wrapped up relatively soon – the regimes toppled, the insurgencies crushed, the troops brought home. Therefore, we should not spend too much, or buy too much equipment not already in our long-range procurement plans, or turn our bureaucracies or processes upside down. As a result of these failed assumptions, the kinds of capabilities that were most urgently needed by our warfighters in theater 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.
     I concluded that the wars we are in had not earned much of a constituency in the Pentagon, as compared to the services’ conventional modernization programs. This did not mean that conventional capabilities and preparing for other contingencies were not important. It was a matter of balance. I just wanted to see that the needs of the warfighter – on the battlefield, at home, or in the hospital – had a seat at the table when priorities were being set and long-term base budget decisions were being made. And one of the things I’ve 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 the base budget.
     So, the top priority recommendation I made to the president was to move programs that support the warfighters and their families into the services’ base budgets, where they can acquire a bureaucratic constituency and sustainable, long-term funding. This includes, among other things, more funding for medical research and treatment for TBI and post-traumatic stress, improved child care, spousal support, housing, and education. In addition, priorities such as expanding the ground forces and halting Air Force and Navy manpower reductions were put in the base budget, as was increasing funding for special operations, helicopter support, and ISR.
     Another underlying theme in the budget recommendations is the need to think about future conflicts in a different way. To recognize that the black and white distinction between irregular war and conventional war is an outdated model. We must understand that we face a more complex future than that, a future where all conflict will range across a broad spectrum of operations and lethality. Where near-peers will use irregular or asymmetric tactics that target our traditional strengths – such as our ability to project power via carrier strike groups. And where non-state actors may have weapons of mass destruction or sophisticated missiles.  This kind of warfare will require capabilities with the maximum possible flexibility to deal with the widest possible range of conflict.
     Nonetheless, some people may think I am too consumed by the current wars to give adequate consideration to our long-term acquisition needs. In this respect, the lessons of the last few years have implications for all Defense programs:
     • Lessons about preparing for the kinds of war we are most likely to face and not just the kinds we are best-suited to fight;
     • Lessons about the limits of technology when faced with the fog, friction, and ugly realities of an unpredictable battlefield; and
     • Lessons about our internal processes, and where they may come undone when faced with unexpected contingencies, evolving requirements, and the prolonged strains of persistent conflict. Not to mention the ability of an agile adversary to get inside our ponderous decision and acquisition cycle.
     All of this goes far beyond Iraq and Afghanistan – it goes to the heart of maintaining a defense posture rooted in real-world scenarios with real-world assessments of our capabilities and, perhaps most important, our limits, both institutionally and operationally. As I’ve said before in other settings, the responsibility of this Department first and foremost is to fight and win wars – not just constantly prepare for them.
     Now, even with this in mind – and perhaps especially with this in mind – we cannot ignore the risks posed by the military forces of other state actors. This is a particularly salient issue for this group, as the weight of America’s conventional and strategic strength has shifted to our air and naval forces. This brings me to some of our conventional and strategic modernization programs, which continue to make up the overwhelming bulk of the department’s procurement, research, and development accounts.
     Broadly speaking, there were several principles or criteria that governed, either in total or in part, most of my major program decisions. The first was to halt or delay production on systems that relied on promising, but as yet unproven, technologies, while continuing to produce – and, as necessary, upgrade – systems that are best in class and that we know work. This was a factor in my decision to:
    • Cancel the Transformational Satellite (TSAT) program and instead build more Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites;
     • Halt the airborne laser at the R&D phase while increasing funding for the THAAD missile defense program;
     • Cancel other programs where costs and “requirements creep” had spun wildly out of control – the President’s helicopter being a prime example.

     Furthermore, where different modernization programs within services existed to counter roughly the same threat, or accomplish roughly the same mission, we should look more to capabilities available across the services. While the military has made great strides in operating jointly over the past two decades, procurement remains overwhelmingly service-centric. This was a major factor in the decision to cancel the Air Force’s Combat Search and Rescue helicopter, apart from its cost and development problems.
     Another important thing I looked at was whether modernization programs, in particular ground modernization programs, had incorporated the operational and combat experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem with the Army’s Future Combat Systems was that a vehicle program designed nine years ago did not adequately reflect the lessons of close-quarter combat and improvised explosive devices that have taken a fearsome toll on our troops and their vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
     Finally, I concluded we needed to shift away from the 99 percent “exquisite” service-centric platforms that are so costly and so complex that they take forever to build, and only then, and deployed in very limited quantities. With the pace of technological and geopolitical change, and the range of possible contingencies, we must look more to the 80 percent multi-service solution that can be produced on time, on budget, and in significant numbers. As Stalin once said, “Quantity has a quality all of its own.”
     With regard to air supremacy, this budget increased funding for the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by more than $4 billion dollars. This commitment will accelerate the F-35’s development and testing regime to fix the remaining problems and begin rolling out these aircraft in quantity – more than 500 over the next five years, and more than 2,400 for all the services. We will also acquire 31 more FA-18s for the Navy in FY10, and probably still more in FY11.
     Similar considerations guided my thinking on shipbuilding – though I’m aware that other factors come into play. A few months ago I was reading about Henry Knox, the first Secretary of War. He was charged with building the first American fleet to help combat of all things, overseas pirates. To get the necessary support from the Congress, Knox eventually ended up with six frigates being built in six different shipyards in six different states. So some things never change.
     Where the trend of future conflict is clear, I have made specific recommendations. For example, I hope to accelerate the buy of the Littoral Combat Ship, which, despite its development problems, is a versatile ship that can be produced in quantity and go to places that are either too shallow or too dangerous for the Navy’s big, blue-water surface combatants. As we saw last week, you don’t necessarily need a billion-dollar ship to chase down a bunch of teenage pirates. The size of the ship in such cases is less important than having Navy SEALs onboard. To carry out the missions we may face in the future – whether dealing with non-state actors at sea or near shore, or swarming speedboats – we will need numbers, speed, and ability to operate in shallow waters.
     We also must examine our blue-water fleet and the overall strategy behind the kinds of ships we are buying. The need to show presence and project power from a piece of sovereign territory called a United States Navy ship will never go away. But we cannot allow more ships to go the way of the DDG-1000 – where since its inception the projected buy has dwindled from 32 to three as costs per ship have more than doubled. One of the things that I am recommending in this budget is to upgrade and build more Arleigh Burke destroyers, still a best-in-class ship that has been the workhorse of the U.S. surface fleet for nearly two decades. And a ship that has proven that it can be upgraded rapidly with new capabilities and technologies.
     The United States must not take its current dominance for granted and needs to invest in programs, platforms, and personnel that will ensure that we remain preeminent at sea. But rather than go forward under the same assumptions that guided our shipbuilding during the Cold War, I believe we need to develop a more rigorous analytical framework before moving forward – the type of framework that will be provided by the Quadrennial Defense Review. That is one reason I delayed a number of decisions on programs such as the follow on manned bomber, the next generation cruiser, as well as overall maritime capabilities. The purpose was to develop an analytical construct through which we can more precisely determine what will be needed in coming years. To determine what kind of tactics and strategies future adversaries, both state and non-state actors, are likely to pursue.
     In this respect, it is important to keep some perspective. For example, as much as the U.S. Navy has shrunk since the end of the Cold War, in terms of tonnage, its battle fleet, by one estimate, is still larger than the next 13 navies combined – and 11 of those 13 navies are U.S. allies or partners. In terms of capabilities, the over-match is even greater. No country in the rest of the world has anything close to the reach and firepower to match a carrier strike group. And the United States has and will maintain eleven until at least 2040. I might also note that we have a number of Expeditionary Strike Groups and will in the not-too-distant future will be able to carry the F-35.
     Potential adversaries are well-aware of this fact, which is why, despite significant naval modernization programs underway in some countries, no one intends to bankrupt themselves by challenging the U.S. to a shipbuilding competition akin to the Dreadnought arms race prior to World War I. Instead, we’ve seen their investments in weapons geared to neutralize our advantages – to deny the U.S. military freedom of movement and action while potentially threatening our primary means of projecting power: our bases, sea and air assets, and the networks that support them.
     This is a particular concern with aircraft carriers and other large, multi-billion dollar blue-water surface combatants – where the loss of even one ship would be a national catastrophe. We know other nations are working on ways to thwart the reach and striking power of the U.S. battle fleet – whether by producing stealthy submarines in quantity or developing anti-ship missiles with increasing range and accuracy. We ignore these developments at our peril.
     The Royal Navy’s greatest defeat in World War II – the sinking of the capital ships H.M.S. Repulse and the brand new Prince of Wales by Japanese aircraft just days after Pearl Harbor – was due in part to a command with little appreciation for air power, and in particular the threat posed by a single, air-delivered torpedo.
     I have also directed the QDR team to be realistic about the scenarios where direct U.S. military action would be needed – so we can better gauge our requirements. One of those that will be examined closely is the need for a new capability to get large numbers of troops from ship to shore – in other words, the capability provided by the Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. No doubt, it was a real strategic asset during the first Gulf War to have a flotilla of Marines waiting off Kuwait City – forcing Saddam’s army to keep one eye on the Saudi border, and one eye on the coast. But we have to take a hard look at where it would be necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious action again. In the 21st century, how much amphibious capability do we need?
     Overall, we have to consider the right mix of weapons and ships to deal with the span of threats we will likely face. The goal of our procurement should be to develop a portfolio – a mixture of weapons and capabilities whose flexibility allows us to respond to a spectrum of contingencies on and beyond the horizon.
     While there were many other issues that arose, and many other decisions that were made, in this process over the past few months, I’d like to give you plenty of time to ask questions. So I’ll close with a final thought.
     Right now, sailors around the world, at sea and on shore, in all kinds of settings, are doing extraordinary things to protect our country and defend our national interests – including a number of things that no doubt would have Alfred Thayer Mahan spinning in his grave. Indeed, all of the services are challenged to find the right balance between preserving what is unique and valuable in their traditions, while at the same time making the changes necessary to win the wars we are in and, particularly in the case of the Navy, to be prepared for likely future threats. With this budget, I have tried to make a holistic assessment of capabilities, requirements, risks, and needs across the services. I ask you to continue to do the same thing in your studies here and carry this kind of thinking to your future posts and commands.
      Just over 50 years ago, Admiral Arleigh Burke wrote of his beloved service:
“The Navy believes in putting a man [– and, today, we would add “woman” –] in a position with a job to do, and let him do it – [and] give him hell if he does not perform . . . We . . . capitalize on the capabilities of our individual people rather than . . . make automatons [out] of them. This builds the essential pride of service and sense of accomplishment. [And] if it results in a certain amount of cockiness, I am [all] for it.”
     Looking to the challenges America’s Navy will face in the years ahead, you have reason to be confident – in your own abilities and in the traditions of leadership and excellence of this great institution.
     Thank you for your being here this morning, and thank you for your continued service to our country.