Pentagon budget kills F-22, pumps up Special Ops

New spending plan represents a shift toward counterinsurgency needs.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Defense Secretary Robert Gates, followed by Joint Chief Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright arrived for a news conference at the Pentagon, on Monday.
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Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled Monday a defense budget geared toward fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It proposes to end a controversial Air Force stealth-fighter program and to restructure a costly Army combat system while increasing spending on counterinsurgency and expanding the force.

The only Republican holdover from the Bush administration, Mr. Gates made bold proposals that are likely to run up against entrenched defense-industry interests and members of Congress alike, pushing to fundamentally reshape Pentagon spending, which he believes has been out of balance for many years.

"If approved, these recommendations will profoundly reform how this department does business," he said Monday at the Pentagon.

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Gates will end the Air Force's F-22 Raptor program, leaving it with 187 airplanes that cost anywhere between $140 million a piece – and as much as $350 million when research and development is taken into account. The move was not unexpected, since Gates had hinted that the F-22, which has not been used in either Iraq or Afghanistan, is geared toward potential threats from a "near peer" adversary such as China rather than current needs.

Gates will also restructure the Army's Future Combat System, a $160 billion program of vehicle sensors and other equipment that has run over cost and has yet to fully prove itself useful in a counterinsurgency environment.

Gates also cancelled the $6.5 billion presidential helicopter program that would have bought 23 new helicopters for the president. That program, also over budget, was scrapped altogether. Gates said an effort to replace the fleet would start anew in 2011.

But the Pentagon's $534 billion budget for fiscal 2010 will contain billions in spending that is relevant to today's conflicts.

Gates announced $2 billion for remote-controlled aircraft and other intelligence assets to support troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, $500 million for more helicopters needed in both war theaters, and another $500 million to train and equip foreign militaries.

He is also proposing to expand Special Operations forces by about 5 percent to assist in counterinsurgency operations as well as some of the foreign-military training seen as key in the effort against extremism.

Gates also announced that he would end the Army's creation of more units called "brigade combat teams" – units more appropriate for conventional warfare. He said that if these units were allowed to expand further, they would leave the Army spread too thin.

In unveiling the entire budget all at once, Gates has taken an unorthodox approach to the Pentagon budget. In this case, he revealed his thinking on major defense programs ahead of President Obama's official, detailed budget that will be unveiled late this month or in early May in order to give the American public the context for understanding his proposals.

Gates acknowledged that his budget reflects a broad overhaul of defense acquisition and strategy.

"It is one thing to speak generally about the need for budget discipline and acquisition and contract reform," said Gates. "It is quite another to make tough choices about specific systems and defense priorities based solely on the national interest and then stick to those decisions over time."

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