SEC. GATES: As you may know this week, I'm visiting each of the service war colleges to discuss the budget recommendations I 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, then none of the other decisions we make will matter.
Second, to rebalance the Department of Defense's programs in order to institutionalize and enhance our capabilities to fight the wars we're in today 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 to our approach to procurement, acquisition and contracting.
During my visit to Quantico on Monday, I was asked why I decided to go 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 United States military thinks about and prepares for the future. Fundamentally, proposals are about how we think about the nature of warfare, about how we take care of our people, about how we institutionalize support for the warfighter for the long term, about the role of the services and how we can buy weapons jointly, a jointly as we fight, about reforming our requirements and acquisition processes.
These are just the kind of basic questions you will be dealing with as you go on to staff and command positions. So with that in mind, for the next few minutes I want to give you some more insight into the thinking and analysis behind my 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 experiences in this job for the last two-plus years. Starting with the roll out of the Iraq surge, my overriding priority has been getting troops at the front 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.
And whether the issue is fixing outpatient care, getting better armored vehicles or sending more ISR capability into the theater, I kept running into the fact that the Department of Defense, as an institution which routinely complained that the rest of the government wasn't 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 procurement plans or turn our bureaucracy and processes upside down.
As a result, the kind of capabilities that were most urgently needed by our war fighters in the 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, or sooner. The wars we are in clearly have not earned much of a constituency in the Pentagon as compared to the service's conventional modernization programs. That was the root of my frustration when I came here to Maxwell a year ago and spoke about pulling teeth to get more ISR.
And this situation applied as well to programs to care for and reduce the stress on people, the troops and their families, as a result of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. 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 war fighter on the battle fields, at home or in the hospital had a seat at the table when priorities were being set and long-term-based 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 fights for something, as a lioness does for her cubs, is to put that thing in its base budget. So the top-priority recommendation I made to the president was to move programs that support the war fighters and their families into the service's base budget where they can acquire a bureaucratic constituency and long-term funding. This includes, among others, more funding for medical research and treatment for TBI and post-traumatic stress, improved childcare, spousal support, lodging and education. In addition, priorities such as expanding the ground forces and halting Air Force and Navy manpower reductions were all put in the base budget, as was increased funding for Special Operations, helicopter support and ISR.
With regard to ISR, I would be remiss in this setting if I did not give credit where credit is due for what has been accomplished over the past year. We've seen a dramatic increase in UAV orbits in theater from 23 combat air patrols 12 months ago to 34 today. The Air Force also stood up a second schoolhouse and created an operational specialty for unmanned systems pilots. Due to that second schoolhouse, we are projected to reach 50 combat air patrols by fiscal year 2011.
With Task Force ODIN deployed in Iraq and now Task Force Liberty in Afghanistan, we've seen how a modest expenditure to mate advanced sensors to turbo-prop aircraft can make a huge difference to the men and women at the front. This year's budget recommendations include more funds for hardware and operations support in the area of ISR processing, exploitation and dissemination. These proposals then begin the effort to establish an institutional home in the Department of Defense for today's war fighter as well as tomorrow's.
Another theme underlying my 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 along a broad spectrum of operations and lethality, where near peers will use irregular or asymmetric tactics and non-state actors may have weapons of mass destruction or sophisticated missiles as well as AK-47s and RPGs. This kind of warfare will require capabilities with the maximum-possible flexibility to deal with the widest possible range of conflict.
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 unproven technology while continuing to produce and, if necessary, upgrade systems that are best in class and that we know work. This was a factor in my decisions to cancel the transformational satellite program and instead build more advanced, extremely high frequency satellites, the cap the Navy's DDG-1000 ships at three while increasing the buy of Arleigh Burke class destroyers, and to halt the airborne laser at the R&D phase while increase funding for the THAAD missile defense program.
Furthermore, where different modernization programs within services existed to counter roughly the same threat or to 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 last two decades, procurement remains overwhelming service-centric.
The combat search and rescue helicopter had major development and cost problems, to be sure, but what cemented my decision to cancel this program was the fact that we were on the verge of launching yet another single-service platform for a mission that in the real world is truly joint. This is a question we must consider for all of the service's modernization portfolios.
Another important thing I looked at was whether modernization programs, and in particular the ground modernization programs, had incorporated the operational and combat experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem with the Army's future combat systems vehicles was that a 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 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 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.
This was a major consideration with ship building and air superiority. I recommended accelerating the buy of the literal combat ship which, despite its development problems, is a versatile vessel 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 $1 billion ship to chase down a bunch of teenage pirates.
I also believe these budget recommendations demonstrate a serious commitment to maintaining U.S. air supremacy, the sine qua non of American military strength for more than six decades. This budget increased funding from 6.8 (billion dollars) to $11.2 billion for the fifth-generation F-35, accelerating the 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 total for all the services.
When examining the issue of air supremacy, we had to ask, what is the right mix of weapons to deal with the span of threats? What are the things that the F-22 and only the F-22 can do? And where would it be required? There is no doubt the F-22 has unique capabilities that we need, the penetration and defeat of an advanced enemy air defense and fighter fleet. But the F-22 is, in effect, a niche, silver-bullet solution required for a limited number of scenarios to overcome advanced enemy fighters and air defense systems. In assessing the F-22 requirements, we also considered the advanced stealth and superior air-to-ground capabilities provided by the fifth-generation F-35s now being accelerated in this budget, the growing capability in range of unmanned platforms like the Reaper and other systems in the Air Force and the other services.
I also considered the fact that Russia is roughly six years away from an initial operating capability of a fifth-generation fighter, and the Chinese 10 to 12 years away. By then we will have more than 1,000 fifth-generation fighters in our inventory. In light of all these factors and on the recommendations of the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff, I concluded that 183, program of record since 2005, plus four would be a sufficient number to meet the F-22 requirement. To be clear, the F-22 program of record is codified in the FY 2005 budget. And all budgets since will be completed, not cut, as many have said and written.
Looking forward, the goal of our weapon-buying is to develop a portfolio, a mixture of weapons whose flexibility allows us to response to a spectrum of contingencies on or beyond the horizon. Focusing exclusively or obsessively on a single weapon system to do a specific job or confront a single adversary ignores what a truly joint force can and must do in the 21st century.
Where the trend of future conflict is clear, I've made specific recommendations. In other areas, however, I believe that 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. I should note that this will be the first QDR able to fully incorporate the numerous lessons learned on the battlefield these last few years, lessons about what tactics future adversaries, both state and non-state actors, are likely to pursue, especially given our conventional dominance in the air and at sea.
Again, as noted earlier, the one thing that is clear is that going forward, the distinction between high-end and low-end war, between mechanized battles and stability operations are blurring to the point where the old definitions of conventional and unconventional are no longer useful. War in the future will often be a hybrid blend of tactics where a nation state might deploy a mix of crude and advanced weapons to limit options, disrupt freedom of action or deny access to key assets such as forward air bases.
We started to address these developments in the budget recommendations. The QDR, as well as other reviews such as the Nuclear Posture Review, will examine these issues more closely. That's one reason I delayed some decisions to do with, for example, amphibious operations and the next-generation cruiser, to develop an intellectual construct through which we can more precisely determine requirements and capabilities which will be needed in the future.
A few examples relevant to the Air Force. Before continuing with a program for a next-generation manned bomber, we should first assess the requirements and what other capabilities we might have for this mission as well as the outcome of post-START arms control negotiations. We know that the future will see an increase in unmanned systems of all kinds, with further reach and more capabilities. What are the implications of this reality on the number and types of manned fighters we need since the UAVs must be considered a key component of our air capabilities? And since UAVs do not need to refuel midair, how will this affect the number of tankers we buy? Having said that, I'm committed to moving forward on the rebid for the Air Force's KC-X tanker as quickly as possible, hopefully by this summer. Our aging tankers, the lifeblood of any expeditionary force, are in serious need of replacement, as you all know better than I do.
As we look toward the future, I've directed the QDR team to be realistic about scenarios where direct U.S. military action would be required. We have to be prepared for the wars we are most likely to fight, not just the wars we're best-suited to fight or threats we conjure up from potential adversaries with unlimited time and resources. As I've said before, even when considering challenges from nation states with modern militaries, the answer is not necessarily buying more technologically advanced versions of what we've built on land, sea or air to stop the Soviets during the Cold War.
While there are many other issues that arose and many other decisions that were made, I'd like to provide time for some questions, so I'll close with a final thought. Throughout its history, the Air Force has constantly reinvented itself to meet evolving threats, one of the primary reasons we have such air dominance today. 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 to be prepared for future threats.
With this budget, I've tried to make a holistic assessment of capabilities, requirements, risks and needs across the services. I ask you to do the same, to look outside of your area of specialty and outside your military branch, to look forward with the certainty that the battlefield is constantly evolving and that the Air Force and the joint force must always be evolving with it.
Thank you for your time this morning, and thank you for your service to our country.
And I'd be happy to take some questions. Yes.
Q Sir, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Higgins.
It concerns me these days that most Americans seem more likely to know who won "American Idol" than who won the Medal of Honor. And I've had the opportunity on an ad hoc basis over the last few years to go out and speak to several high schools and civic groups and most Americans really have little impact with folks in uniform these days, which is also I think, troubling.
My question is whether the DOD has any thoughts or plans to institutionalize an outreach program to link up the American people with men and women in uniform?
SEC. GATES: I think that the way we do that best -- I think one of the worries all along about the all-volunteer force -- although, first I'll tell you that I don't know a single senior military officer, and have never known one in the last 15 years, who does not think the all-volunteer force is the best military the United States has ever had and wouldn't trade it for a draft for anything.
That said, one of the worries, I think, has been: Does an all-volunteer force create some kind of an elite element that has no connection to the American people as a whole? And what I would say is that our best connection to the American people and to communities is in fact the reserve component -- the National Guard and the Reserves. And the fact that they have been turned into an operational reserve and have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and go back to their communities, I think, has had a huge impact.
And I think that if you think that the military has been -- has become too detached from the American people and the American people too unappreciative of the sacrifices that people in the military make, all you have to do is read about what happens in towns and cities when our fallen come home where the whole town turns out and the Boy Scouts and everybody with flags and lining the streets and so on.
So I actually think that there is a good connection there. And frankly, it was one of the reasons why I made the decision -- if the families agreed -- to allow media coverage at Dover so that the American people could see in the most real and graphic possible terms the sacrifices their sons and daughters are making.
So I -- this is actually, as I go around the country and so on, this is something I had worried about. But I think the reality is -- particularly with the Guard and the Reserve and just the general feelings of the American people for the military -- this is not a concern that I have, frankly.
I got an e-mail from a friend of mine who was the vice president for Student Affairs at Texas A&M when I was there. And he was in the Dallas Airport in one of the terminals. And some guy came into this crowded terminal and shouted: "There's a bunch of guys coming back from Afghanistan downstairs!" And he e-mailed me that the entire terminal emptied as everybody went down to greet them. So I don't think this is a problem.
Q First of all, sir, I'd like to say that I appreciate your budget and I think that it's appropriate. There's just one question I have with it and that is we've got 19 B-2s at Whiteman and we're going to buy about 1,700 Joint Strike Fighters.
Given the strategic imperative -- both of nuclear deterrents and conventional power projection and the flexibility -- you mentioned both strategic and flexibility -- that the bomber provides for all phases of conflict, the B-2 was used in the initial phases of the war, B-52s would be ones that have been used extensively in Phase IV now -- doesn't it make sense to re-shift some -- pare down some of that Joint Strike Fighter so that we can buy more of the long-range persistent strike threat?
SEC. GATES: Well, this is one of the questions that I have that I think that the Quadrennial Defense Review has to address.
You know, there are a lot of decisions that I made that I haven't talked about publicly. For example, I decided not to make any change in the 76 deployed B-52s. That force will remain.
But the question is, depending on where post START ends up, if we go down significantly in the number of nuclear weapons that we have deployed, the question is whether the traditional triad makes sense anymore and I think we have to address that.
Also, when you're looking for a long-range persistent capability, maybe a manned bomber isn't the answer. An F-16 has a range of about 500 nautical miles. Reaper has a range of 3,000 miles. It has a long-dwell capability. And as you all know, we can load them up with weapons.
So I think these are the kinds of issues that we have to look at in the QDR as we look forward to a very different environment than we had during the Cold War.
Q Sir, Lieutenant Colonel Looney (sp) from the Air War College. I'm an HH-60 pilot from the Alaska Air National Guard.
The advocacy for Air Force rescue seems to have been sidetracked by the CSAR acquisition program to the detriment of our mission itself.
While I recognize the arguments that drove your recommendation to cancel the CSAR-X, I know that Air Force rescue is not a single -- or does not merely have a single purpose itself.
As you know, we've performed thousands of joint and coalition recoveries in CENTCOM, largely because the operational flexibility of our profession transcends the risk capability of other recovery forces and allows often -- often provides the best chance, if you will, to recover a wounded soldier from the point of injury back to effective trauma care within the golden hour.
Given the dichotomy between the current issues and that objective, can you clarify for us please what is your vision for Air Force rescue as a core function of the Air Force and what would be a more sustainable approach at this time?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think if you look back at the last time we had a pilot down in hostile territory it was in the Balkans. And it ended up involving several services, including the Special Forces, to rescue that pilot.
The notion of -- the design of CSAR-X was basically to have a helicopter with the range to rescue a downed pilot 250 miles inside enemy territory. Frankly, the notion of an unarmed helicopter going 250 miles by itself to rescue somebody did not seem to me to be a realistic OPCON.
So what I want is a joint effort. We're also not just talking about Air Force pilots here. So what I want -- and we will start in FY '10 -- is to look at what we do next in combat search and rescue. It is an area where we need more capability. There's no question about that. But this is an area a little bit like the presidential helicopter where the acquisition and the requirements process got out of control.
And so I think that we need to take a hard look at it and a joint look at it and then go ahead and try to do something that we can bring to fruition. But again, I think it needs to be a joint capability.
And nobody cares more than I do about that golden hour. And one of the things that I've been devoting a lot of time to over the last several months is how do we get our troops in Afghanistan within that envelope of the golden hour? And we polled grade 60s from around the country and we added 10 helicopters a couple of months ago to give us the kind of -- and three additional field surgery -- surgical hospitals to Afghanistan to make sure that we could provide that capability for the troops there. That need will be met when the next -- when the combat aviation brigade deploys in May.
So I feel very strongly about giving our troops on the ground the assurance that somebody will be there within an hour for them. And we will provide that capability, but we will provide it, I think, more on a joint basis and an affordable one.
Q Sir, I'm Colonel John Stabilo, Seminar 14 from the Philippines.
On the aspect of operational tempo, based from your operational program budget, what are the expectations of the Northeast and Southeast Asian region?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think this is an area where we've had some -- this is where our Section 1206, 1207 money comes in in terms of building partnership capacity.
I think one of the major themes in the Department of Defense over the past couple of years that is codified in my FY '10 budget recommendations -- and probably will be as well in the QDR and in a number of the plans that have been put forward by the combatant commanders -- is how do we build partnership capacity? How do we leverage our capabilities -- both our people and our equipment -- in order to strengthen our allies and our partners in a way that makes it unnecessary for us to deploy forces?
I think we've had a good program in that respect in the Philippines. We have programs like that in a number of countries in Southeast Asia. I think that's the key for us.
I might just say it's -- it's not responsive to your question, but speaking of Southeast Asia: I think it's interesting, as we look at the piracy problem, to see how Southeast Asia had handled it compared with the problem that we have around Somalia.
There was a huge piracy problem in the Strait of Malacca and hijackings were almost as frequent as they are now off of Somalia. But our partnering -- first of all, because of the actions of governments in the region -- Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and others -- combined with our help, our training and our equipment, they have basically significantly reduced piracy in the Strait of Malacca.
The problem is that in the Somali area, we don't have governments like we had in Southeast Asia to be able to deal with the problem. And I think that's what makes Somalia a particularly difficult issue for us.
But I think that the OPCON in Southeast Asia, obviously, will depend -- I mean the operational tempo in Southeast Asia, obviously, will depend on what's going on there. But it seems to me right now the focus of our efforts is on building this partnership capacity.
Q Good morning, sir. Welcome to Air War College. My name's John Rogers from Seminar 13.
Question: Last year, the DOD identified cyberspace as a war-fighting domain. And since then, many of the components that are currently the Air Force, Army, Navy have been struggling with working in that domain.
Is there any discussion at the DOD level of establishing a new department for that domain -- for cyber domain?
SEC. GATES: Well, one of the things that we're looking at right now is whether to -- there's a major review of this going on under the auspices of the National Security Council. But one of the things that I'm looking at is establishing a sub-unified command STRATCOM for cyber and that would encompass NSA and various other capabilities.
One of the things this budget does that I haven't talked about very much is significantly increase the throughput of training of experts in cyber. We graduate about 80 students a year from our cyber schools right now. We're going to quadruple that by FY '11. And the services have -- the service chiefs have basically been told that filling all the slots in the cyber school is their first priority.
We are desperately short of people who have capabilities in this area in all the services and we have to address it. This is going to be one of the significant new realms of conflict, in my view.
Q Good morning, Mr. Secretary. I'm Lieutenant Colonel Sherry Griffin from Air War College.
I'm a career acquisition officer and we've been reforming the acquisition process my entire career. But what I would like to ask is the part we always seem to ignore are those things outside of the service -- specifically, lack of competition and the fact that we have a very small base to work with, which creates lack of negotiation room on our part -- and also, the influence of the lobbyists and the Hill, quite frankly. The dual tanker buy is a perfect example of that.
I wonder if you could comment on what we're doing in those areas. Thank you.
SEC. GATES: Well, for one thing, I'm opposing the dual tanker buy -- (applause) -- laying my body down across the tracks. (Laughter.)
We have, I think, neglected both on the civilian and the military side proper attention over the last number of years to our cadre of professional acquisition officers. The Defense Contract Management Agency has gone from 27,000 people in the early '90s to 9,000 today. We have probably cut our acquisition and procurement professional force in half.
I think, I've been told, that we have something like 50,000 contractors helping us manage contractors and that's what I want to change in terms of beginning to put acquisition professionals -- civilian and uniformed -- in place. And our goal is to put about 20,000 professional acquisition officers in place by the end of the five-year defense plan, starting with 4,100 this year or in FY '10.
It's also not been the most promising career in any of the services. And the truth of the matter is, as a career field, contracting and acquisition nearly disappeared in the Army. And thanks to the efforts of General Casey and Secretary Geren, they have allocated several general officer slots to the acquisition career field.
We have a requirement, when I get the recommendations from the service secretaries for promotions from colonel to brigadier general, there is a requirement that acquisition people be considered and be given some preference in their career field. And if they don't meet the standard either for jointness or for acquisitions, then they get questions back from me about why not.
And so I think the key thing for us first is to strengthen our own capabilities in acquisition -- both numbers and professionalism. We will never get away from the outside influences on our procurement and acquisition programs.
Several months ago I read a biography of Henry Knox, the first secretary of War. And he commissioned the first ships for the Navy -- six heavy frigates including the Constitution, the Constellation and so on. They were built in six different shipyards in six different states. This is a problem that has been with us from the beginning of the republic and I don't think that I'm in any position, probably, to change it.
But I do think that we can take advantage of the concerns on Capitol Hill about our acquisition process and about some of the horror stories that have come out, frankly, to try and leverage that in making some changes and doing things that make sense from the standpoint of the services and the nation's defense.
And I've been somewhat surprised, frankly, by the lack of a stronger reaction to the proposals that I've made. And maybe, partly, that's because there are so many of them. And maybe partly it's because I'm in the eye of the storm and Congress is in recess, but I anticipate that the next few weeks will be fairly exciting on the acquisition front.
Q Mr. Secretary, I'm Lieutenant Colonel Ed Bond with the Colorado Air National Guard, student here at Air War College.
Relative to the acquisition question, but not limited to that, you referenced turning the bureaucracy on its head. During your tenure, we've seen operations, procurement, warfighter care successes where we first had to defeat our internal DOD bureaucracy before we could "benefact" the problem -- in some cases.
My question to you is, as my colleagues and I graduate from these Air Force leadership schools, what is your intent for us to be bureaucracy busters, if you will, or to go out into the system and make change?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think, first of all, the leadership of the department and of the services has to create the conditions that make it possible for you to do that. And that's one of the purposes behind my putting a number of these programs in the base budget.
As long as they're funded in supplementals, as long as end strength is funded by supplementals, it is always going to be at risk. As long as these family-oriented, quality-of-life programs are funded in supplementals, they will be at risk.
As long as some of these capabilities that we need in the fight today, whether it's the anti-IED effort, whether it's ISR, whether it's wounded war (sic) care, whether it's MRAPS, any of those things. If they're done outside the bureaucracy and outside the system, as all of them have had to be done, they are vulnerable and testimony to, I think, the deficiencies of the regular bureaucracy.
What we have to figure out, and I confess that I don't have a full answer to your question, the Department of Defense is a place that -- where most people come to work every day planning and acquiring for the next war.
How do we establish within the Pentagon bureaucracy, the Department of Defense bureaucracy, the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time? The ability to plan for future war and, at the same time, having people come to work every single day saying, what can I do to help the war fighter today?
What can I do to fund an MRAP within the Department's budget, within the base budget, out of funds that we have, and deal with some of these other current needs of the war fighter?
Part of the problem, frankly, in my view, is leadership. It is the willingness of service heads and of the secretary and the deputy secretary and others to say, we're going to do this. You're going to do this. You're going to find room in your base budget to take care of these problems, and then seeing to it that it happens.
I don't know any other way to make it happen. It's not creating another office. It's not creating a parallel bureaucracy. I think that that is a formula for -- probably for, if not paralysis, disaster. So we just have to --
I think it's a matter of, at the end of the day, of leadership in making the system take into account the needs of the war fighter who is in the fight today. And that may -- and that means making very tough acquisition decisions. It means choosing this over that, because there isn't enough room in the budget for both.
And I -- and that's why it's so important to look across the services for joint procurement and joint capability so that a single service doesn't bear the full burden of completing a mission that actually will involve all of the services.
And so figuring out how to do that, I think, is the challenge that lies in front of us and, frankly, is a challenge that the Department has not met, in my view, up to now.
Q Good morning. Lieutenant Colonel Conway. I'm a Louisiana Guardsman, a student at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies.
I have a health care question, and I'd like to give a little context.
For at least the past 20 years, service in terms of timeliness, options and transparency has steadily declined to the point that uniformed members receive worse service than Medicaid recipients.
In fact, TRICARE does not even require professional board certification for its physicians. Neither of the two pediatricians serving the huge Maxwell/Gunter community are board-certified.
It occurs to me that TRICARE takes advantage of a community that is unwilling and unused to complain.
What initiatives are afoot to get us back to the standards we enjoyed with uniformed health care providers were the norm and not the exception or, in any event, the standards enjoyed by other government employees, no less those who do not work at all?
SEC. GATES: TRICARE has been an interesting experience for me. (Laughter.) I live in parallel universes.
I get briefings at the Department of Defense, at the Pentagon, and I get shown surveys and data that tell me how well TRICARE is doing and how popular it is and how well it compares with private HMOs and others. And I leave the room feeling gratified.
And then, no matter what base or post or port I visit in the United States, I hear a very different story from every soldier, sailor, Marine and airman that I talk to. And I hear an especially different story from their spouses. And let me tell you, the spouses are never afraid to speak up. (Laughter.)
And it is a concern to me, because I hear a lot of complaints about TRICARE. I hear about long waiting lines; I hear about bureaucracy; I hear about having to travel significant distances to get appointments with specialists; the difficulty of getting appointments, and so on.
By the same token, I would tell you health care is eating the Department alive. We will spend $47 billion on health care in the Department of Defense in FY '10. We --
The treatment of our wounded, the medical care of our wounded is the best in the world. It's the post- medical care, it's the outpatient care that was such a problem. Now, thanks to the --
One of the things that I've wanted to do while I was in this job was make a significant improvement in the quality of the hospitals on our major facilities. Thanks to the stimulus package, we are going to build two, I think, world-class hospitals at Fort Hood and at Camp Pendleton.
But I also want the services to try and find the money significantly to upgrade the hospitals at other posts.
Because it seems to me that if we have world-class hospitals on our posts, that A, we relieve some of the pressure on TRICARE, and maybe we'd get more retirees who are willing to come back on post or on base to use those facilities if they're world-class, and if they have the kind of physician care that people expect and want.
Another part of the problem is we cannot get any relief from the Congress in terms of increasing either co-pays or the premiums.
TRICARE is now about a dozen years old. There has not been a single premium increase allowed since the program was founded. What medical plan in the nation has not had a single increase in the premium or co-pay in the last dozen years?
And we're not talking about the active force, and we're not talking about the force that's qualified for Medicare. We're talking about the people who retire at 50 and are in their 50s and are not qualified for Medicare yet.
So they are mostly working another job, and employers will influence them to stay on TRICARE because it saves the employer money.
So the system, the health care system for the Department, I think, has -- we have incredible people working it, incredible people devoted to it, especially the nurses and the doctors and so on.
But there is no question that we have a systemic problem, in my view, with TRICARE, just because when the chairman and I go to any one of our military facilities, we hear exactly the same kind of concerns that you expressed in your question.
We're trying to deal with it. We're trying to find -- we are, as I said at the outset in my remarks, we're fully funding health care this year. We're not leaving any gaps for -- that we can't take care of. But it is a real problem.
And I know that's not a very satisfactory answer to your question, but it does tell you I know there's a problem, and we're trying to work with it.
Q Sir, Lieutenant Colonel Bradbury from Camp Seminar 11.
I was a PRT commander in Afghanistan a couple years ago, and my question concerns stability operations and command relationships.
We're continuing to see some of the same mistakes that we've been making for several years over there, most recently in January with American conventional and sometimes Special Forces conducting kinetic operations and raids without Afghan troops or police in the lead, or in some cases, apparently, even present.
My concern with this is not only do these things cause problems with our relationships with the Afghans, but they undermine the credibility of the government and the security forces that we're trying to build capacity in and connect to their population.
Has there been any thought given to redefining the supported and supporting command relationships within Afghanistan among provincial reconstruction teams and some of the other actors to maybe make the PRTs, because of their breadth of expertise, a coordinating authority within their provinces so that they can better synchronize non-kinetic capacity-building activities as well as provide some kind of oversight on the kinetic actions to prevent us from continuing to shoot ourselves in the foot?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that there are two measures that are being taken to try and address that concern. The first is General McKiernan has taken some significant steps in terms of changing the way we go about our operations in Afghanistan, including by the Special Forces, to try and take even further measures to avoid civilian casualties and to avoid antagonizing the local population.
This is something I worry about a lot. If we lose the Afghan people, we've lost the war. And it's one of the reasons I have concerns about the size of our military footprint.
Our forces, when we're completely built up, and NATO's forces, will be pretty close to 100,000 troops. The Soviets had 110 (thousand) to 120,000 troops. They didn't care about civilian casualties, and they lost the war.
And so I'm very concerned how do we keep the Afghan people on our side by helping them understand that we're on their side? And so one of the things that I've talked to General McKiernan about and that he's taking very seriously is how do we partner on virtually all of these operations so that if somebody's knocking down the door, it's an Afghan knocking down the door, not an American, or not a German or somebody else.
And I think we've made a lot of strides in that. And they are doing a lot more joint planning with the Afghans, and I think the kind of operational changes that he has made and that our commanders have made are going to make a difference in that respect -- and especially as we are able to train up more Afghans, so that there are more of them to participate with us.
The other thing that's being done is there is recognition of the need to have better civilian-military coordination.
So one of the things that the defense ministers of RC South have agreed on is to establish a civil cell in the RC South command structure so that there is better coordination between what the PRTs are doing and the other assistance programs, and what military operations are.
It's just being stood up. My hope is that if it works effectively, we can encourage the others in the other regional commands to replicate it, to get at the kind of problem that you're talking about.
But you've identified a serious problem. I do think General McKiernan has taken the proper steps to try and deal with it.
One more question?
Yes, sir. You get the last word.
Q Good morning, sir. Hap Arnold from the War College.
Manned airborne electronic attacks for the Air Force goes away around 2011, and the Navy's building enough Growlers just for fleet defense. What are your thoughts or vision for this particular mission area?
SEC. GATES: I think the honest answer to your question is I haven't addressed that yet. I don't know.
So that was quick, so I'll take one more. (Laughter.)
Q Good morning, Mr. Secretary. I'm -- Dave -- (inaudible). I'm in the War College here, in Seminar 7.
Over the last year, we've had quite a thrashing, the nuclear community in the Air Force. And you've identified some bureaucratic trends that you fight with every day that affect us.
If the service doesn't make it a high priority in this situation -- you have a combatant command with myriad assigned mission areas that probably wasn't necessarily making it a high priority either, and then an office within your staff that's primarily assigned to provide oversight and watch over all these things and make sure you as the secretary don't get surprised.
Part of the principal problem, however, is that at a certain level everything becomes self-assessment and self-reporting. So as you've identified in the TRICARE example, it's hard for you sometimes to get the ground truth.
Has there been any indication or any thought that changing, at least in the nuclear arena, the reporting process or assessment process to give you an independent look? For example, the Federal Advisory Committee report you're going to get soon is largely staffed by people who work in those same offices, who normally provide the same self-reporting to you.
SEC. GATES: Well, I think in the nuclear mission there were several problems. And I think one of them was that from a career standpoint, as we began -- beginning, really, with Desert Storm and ever since, the career opportunities and the opportunities for rapid advancement were not in the nuclear force. They were in the fight. They were in the -- for people who were deployed and ultimately in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
And so there was -- a lot of good people left the nuclear mission in the Air Force to go to what appeared to be a more attractive and promising career field.
But another big piece of the problem was that because of the -- for many of the same reasons, the nuclear mission was denied resources and didn't have the kind of money necessary to fund, in many cases, the new maintenance equipment; to fund the kind of training, continuing training that was required; to fund new facilities, and so on. It was almost like the nuclear mission had been BRAC'd.
And so this year, for the FY '10 budget, I've put in $700 million for nuclear surety, to try and begin to remedy some of these problems for the Air Force.
But the Air Force has -- Secretary Donnelly and General Schwartz, I think, have taken a number of steps to enhance the career field, to provide additional training, but also to change procedures, to change the approach, to change the mentality of folks in the nuclear mission, including going back to the --
When I was in the Air Force, I was in the Strategic Air Command. And every wing commander dreaded the ORI [operational readiness inspection] coming in, because they knew their career depended on whether they passed or not.
And the Air Force, the nuclear mission, is getting back to those kinds of independent assessments of how people are doing. And a lot of units have had trouble getting past those.
It's not because they aren't doing their jobs, but it's because the kind of rigor that those kinds of inspections brought 30 or 40 years ago are being re-instilled in the inspections that are going on now. And so people are being restored to a high level of performance.
So I think that the changes that the Air Force has made over the past year or so in the nuclear mission, the additional resources, give me a lot of confidence we're on the right track in that mission.
Thank you all very much.
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