In Gates's Pentagon budget, humble pie for Lockheed Martin

Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled a budget Monday that seeks to gear Pentagon spending toward today's threats. It also carried a rebuke for the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, which ran into problems developing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
Defense Secretary Robert Gates (l.) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Navy Admiral Michael Mullen talk about President Barack Obama's proposed 2011 budget during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, Monday.

The Pentagon unveiled a $708 billion budget Monday that represents another attempt by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to reform defense spending to support current conflicts and those the US is likely to face – not toward theoretical threats like China.

Since he arrived in 2006, Mr. Gates has tried to focus the massive defense budget on what is needed for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, spending more money on remote-controlled aircraft, vehicles that protect troops against roadside bombs, and helicopters. This budget is built on those tenets, as is the Quadrennial Defense Review, a document also released Monday that lays out Pentagon priorities for the next decade.

But the budget also shows Gates's reformist zeal in other ways. Gates announced that he would withhold $614 million in performance bonuses for defense giant Lockheed Martin after problems came to light in the production and design of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a plane the Pentagon hopes will become its “backbone of US air superiority,” Gates said.

“If I’ve set one tone here at the Department of Defense it’s that when things go wrong, people will be held accountable,” said Gates, who has fired a number of department heads during his tenure.

To give more clout to the Pentagon officer overseeing the project, Gates elevated him to a three-star general and fired the program manager, a more junior officer.

Defense budget by the numbers

This year’s budget includes $549 billion for baseline spending and another $159 billion to fund the wars. Obama is also asking for an additional $30 billion for immediate funding of both wars.

The budget does not include major new cuts but maintains many of Gates’ reforms from last year.

• The defense budget requests $113 billion for procurement and $76 billion for research and development. That represents a larger portion of the budget devoted to fighting “today’s wars,” as Gates has said often.

• It requests $65 million to train 1,500 new helicopter pilots by the end of fiscal 2012 – indicative of the importance of helicopters in irregular warfare operations like Afghanistan.

• It requests $9.6 billion to build and modernize the department’s existing fleet of helicopters, as well as $2.2 billion to increase the number of unmanned airplane patrols.

• The Pentagon’s budget also increases the amount of money to train and assist foreign militaries – from $350 million to $550 million – in an attempt to prevent conflicts around the world.

New priorities

President Obama often slammed defense spending during his campaign, saying that war costs were often “hidden” in the budget. The reverse was also true, with some defense costs put inside war funding bills. While the new budget has not put war funding into the baseline budget, it has attempted to merge the two funding streams and “institutionalize” more of those costs that can be anticipated.

The accompanying strategy document, the Quadrennial Defense Review, for the first time in years scrapped the doctrine that the US military should be prepared to fight two large-scale wars at once. Instead, it concluded that the military should be prepared for a much broader range of security challenges.

Those challenges include technologies that deny American forces access to countries and threats posed by nonstate groups like Al Qaeda, Gates said.


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