WASHINGTON, May 24, 2011 — As the nation tightens its financial belt — with defense expected to bear much of the brunt — modernization will be essential if the military is to maintain critical capabilities, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
In what he said would be his last major policy speech in the nation’s capital as his June 30 retirement nears, Gates told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute that questionable modernization programs already have been cut.
“We cancelled or curtailed modernization programs that were egregiously over-budget, behind schedule, dependent on unproven technology, supplied a niche requirement that could be met in other ways, or that simply did not pass the common sense test,” he said.
But other modernization needs – in air superiority and mobility, long-range strike, nuclear deterrence, maritime access, space and cyber warfare, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – are “absolutely critical,” he added.
“We need to build a new [aerial refueling] tanker,” he said. “The ones we have are twice as old as some of the pilots flying them.” The nation must field the F-35 joint strike fighter at a cost that permits large enough numbers to replace the current fighter inventory and maintain a healthy margin of superiority over the Russians and Chinese, he said.
Noting that the size of the Navy fleet has sunk to the lowest level since before World War II and will get smaller as more vessels reach the end of their service life, the secretary stressed the need to build more ships. After a decade of war that has taken a toll on vehicles and helicopters, he said, the nation must recapitalize its ground forces, and at some point must replace its ballistic missile submarines.
“The Reagan build-up of the 1980s fielded a new generation of weapons platforms that continue to be the mainstay of the force today – the M1 tank, Bradley fighting vehicle, Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, Burke guided-missile destroyers, F-15 fighters, and much more,” Gates said. “In contrast, the 1990s represented basically a procurement holiday, except for important developments in precision munitions and [unmanned aerial vehicles]. And … the post-9/11 defense spending surge resulted in relatively little new recapitalization of the force.
“The current inventory is getting old and worn down from Iraq and Afghanistan,’ he continued. “Some equipment can be refurbished with life-extension programs, but there is no getting around the fact that others must be replaced.”
Most of platforms still are “best in class” relative to the rest of the world, the secretary said.
“So with the important exception of air superiority fighters and other high-end systems,” he said, “pursuing costly, leap-ahead improvements in technology and capability is not necessarily required. Our guiding principle going forward must be to develop technology and field weapons that are affordable, versatile, and relevant to the most likely and lethal threats in the decades to come, not just more expensive and exotic versions of what we had in the past.”
Gates pointed out that although the Pentagon’s modernization accounts nearly doubled after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States – with more than $700 billion over 10 years in new procurement, research and development spending – only military capabilities gained only modestly.
In fact, he said, most of the significant new capabilities that have come online over the past decade were largely paid for outside the base budget, via supplemental war requests — in particular, larger ground forces and specialized battlefield equipment such as [mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles], body armor and other gear.
The military needs to modernize, Gates said, but fiscal reality dictates that it do so intelligently.
“Reversing an unsustainable course – where more and more money is consumed by fewer and fewer platforms that take longer and longer to build – meant reforming the acquisition process and the department’s buying culture,” the secretary said. “The goal is that any new weapons system should meet benchmarks for cost, schedule and performance while minimizing ‘requirements creep’ – the kind of indiscipline that leads to $25 million howitzers, $500 million helicopters, $2 billion bombers, and $7 billion submarines.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
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