Gates Urges Protection of Modernization Funding

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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