Gates axes some costly weapons, emphasizes 'irregular' warfare
Defense secretary applies lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan to new Pentagon budget.
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Gates would also restructure the Army's Future Combat System, a $160 billion program of vehicles, sensors, and other equipment that has run over cost and has yet to fully prove itself in a counterinsurgency environment.Skip to next paragraph
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Instead, the budget provides $2 billion more for remote-controlled airplanes and the intelligence they produce – seen as crucial, particularly in the resource-shy mission in Afghanistan. Gates's budget also provides $500 million more for helicopters and the pilots and aircrews they need to fly.
The budget also recommends billions more to research traumatic brain injury and psychological health – two "signature" injuries that have emerged over the past eight years.
Gates also announced that he would halt the creation of more Army units called "brigade combat teams" that may be seen as more appropriate to conventional warfare. Expanding those units without expanding the Army beyond its current target of 547,000 soldiers, said Gates, could prolong the use of "stop loss," in which the military prevents service members from leaving active duty after their term of service ends.
The defense budget has grown exponentially since before 9/11. In 2000, the baseline defense budget was $287 billion. The proposed fiscal 2010 budget is $534 billion with an additional proposal for $130 billion in pending war costs.
When Gates arrived as defense secretary at the end of 2006, the number of troop fatalities and injuries in Iraq was at some of their highest. As a result, one of his chief acquisition initiatives was to buy new bomb-resistant vehicles for the troops to use in Iraq. But the existing procurement process was not suited to design, bid, and build these vehicles quickly. Gates frequently complained that it took too long to get the vehicles fielded for wars that had been under way for several years. (He eventually succeeded at getting hundreds of vehicles deployed.)
Some analysts explain Gates's approach by likening the budget to an insurance policy – one that funds today's threats rather than remote ones that could emerge tomorrow.
"If I lived on the banks of the Mississippi, it might be nice to have fire insurance, but I sure ... want flood insurance," says Chris Hellman, military policy fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a think tank in Washington.
The launch of a rocket by North Korea over the weekend is a reminder that conventional threats remain. But Mr. Hellman said the launch represented a failure. "Opponents of missile defense will point to it and say that yet another fledgling missile technology didn't work," he says.
The Pentagon chief is also recommending scrapping programs that have come to characterize a bloated department that appeared to reward programs with seemingly few checks and balances. For example, Gates canceled the $6.5 billion presidential helicopter program that would have bought 23 new helicopters for the president. He said an effort to replace the fleet would start anew in 2011.
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," he said. "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."