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Gates set to leave deeper imprint on Pentagon?

Though the Pentagon budget is slated to rise, he confronts an urgent need to force greater discipline on military spending.

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"The categories of warfare are blurring and no longer fit into neat, tidy boxes," Gates wrote in an article in January's Foreign Affairs magazine. "One can expect to see more tools and tactics of destruction – from the sophisticated to the simple – being employed simultaneously in hybrid and more complex forms of warfare."

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Gates, a former CIA director who has worked for several presidents, steered reforms at tradition-bound Texas A&M University until he left to run the Pentagon.

But some who watch the secretary from Capitol Hill say that, for all his talk of defense reform, he has teed up his shot but has yet to swing.

"He ain't mixing it up yet," says one staffer who works for a Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, who asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of the matter. "Despite his high-profile speeches and firings [of high-ranking officers], which are pretty real, he hasn't reached down to the guts of the bureaucracy yet."

The staffer, writing in an e-mail, expects that Gates will start to put his ideas into practice in the next year or so. "I believe Gates does have a long-range plan. He just isn't talking about [it] openly."

Gates's popularity stemmed from the fact that he was not Mr. Rumsfeld, the blustery Defense secretary who oversaw the military's invasion of Iraq. Rumsfeld set out to transform the shape and capabilities of US forces, but his own personality and the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq resulted in little actual change.

"In some ways, [Gates] is more Rumsfeld than Rumsfeld," says Tom Mahnken, who recently left the Pentagon after serving as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for policy planning. "The stereotype of Rumsfeld is that he would hold people's feet to the fire, but the truth is he didn't."

Gates, on the other hand, has fired or let resign the secretary of the Army, the secretary of the Air Force and his chief of staff, and the senior commander of US Central Command.

Still, Gates is working with a team that is not necessarily of his own choosing. Under President Bush, he inherited Pentagon appointees approved by Rumsfeld. Obama's transition team, likewise, made the picks for top positions, though Gates gave input.