Gates axes some costly weapons, emphasizes 'irregular' warfare
Defense secretary applies lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan to new Pentagon budget.
In a dramatic departure from tradition, Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled a Pentagon budget Monday that aims to help the US fight a hybrid form of warfare – one in which an insurgent with an AK-47 rifle is backed by a sophisticated ballistic missile.Skip to next paragraph
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Defense spending traditionally reflects conventional threats, posed by countries such as China or perhaps Iran. But Secretary Gates's $534 billion budget recommends billions of dollars for the counterinsurgency needs of unconventional conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan, while making broad and controversial cuts to weapons programs such as the F-22 stealth fighter that Gates sees as part of an outdated, cold-war mind-set.
"I'm not trying to have irregular capabilities take the place of conventional capabilities," Gates said Monday. "I just want the irregular guys to have a seat at the table."
This "reform budget," he said, is an opportunity "to critically and ruthlessly separate appetites from real requirements – those things that are desirable in a perfect world from those things that are truly needed in light of the threats America faces and the missions we are likely to undertake in the years ahead."
The moves were welcomed by some analysts, who have been expecting the Defense secretary to shake things up for more than a year. "This is an important move away from residual cold-war capacity toward the national-security challenges of the 21st century," says John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington.
But slashing bloated weapons programs runs directly counter to the existing defense-industrial complex, which favors conventional weaponry. Gates acknowledged that if approved, his recommendations would "profoundly reform how this department does business."
Congress is likely to resist cutting the weapons programs, which generate a huge number of jobs all over the country. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut expressed concern that ending the F-22 program would not only cut thousands of jobs but could also create strategic holes in the US military capability.
"If we stop the F-22 program now, our industrial base will suffer a major blow before the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter reaches full rate production," Senator Lieberman said in a prepared statement.
Ending the Air Force's F-22 Raptor program would leave it with 187 airplanes that cost on average $140 million a piece. Gates has said earlier that the F-22, which has not been used in either Iraq or Afghanistan, is geared too much toward future threats from a "near peer" adversary such as China.