U.S. Must Prepare for Varied Threats, Gates Says

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The U.S. mil­i­tary must be able to con­tend with a wide range of asym­met­ric and con­ven­tion­al threats now and in the future, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.
In a speech at the U.S. Air Force Acad­e­my, the sec­re­tary empha­sized that although he has pushed the ser­vices to insti­tu­tion­al­ize asym­met­ric and uncon­ven­tion­al war­fare capa­bil­i­ties, he knows those are not the only kinds of mis­sions for which the mil­i­tary must be pre­pared.

“But my mes­sage to the ser­vices is being dis­tort­ed by some and mis­un­der­stood by oth­ers,” Gates said. “At the Navy League last year, I sug­gest­ed that the Navy should think anew about the role of air­craft car­ri­ers and the size of amphibi­ous mod­ern­iza­tion pro­grams. The speech was char­ac­ter­ized by some as my doubt­ing the val­ue of car­ri­ers and amphibi­ous assault capa­bil­i­ties alto­geth­er.

“At West Point last week,” he con­tin­ued, “I ques­tioned the wis­dom of send­ing large land armies into major con­flicts in Asia, Africa and the Mid­dle East, and sug­gest­ed the Army should think about the num­ber and role of heavy armored for­ma­tions for the future. That’s been inter­pret­ed as my ques­tion­ing the need for the Army at all — or at least one at its present size — the val­ue of heavy armor, gen­er­al­ly, and the even the wis­dom of our involve­ment in Afghanistan.”

He added that his advo­ca­cy for unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles may be con­strued as an attack on bombers and fight­ers.

“But my actions and my bud­gets over the last four years belie these mis­tak­en inter­pre­ta­tions,” said Gates, not­ing that the Defense Depart­ment is mod­ern­iz­ing the tac­ti­cal air and bomber fleet.

“For the Navy,” he added, “I have approved con­tin­u­ing the car­ri­er pro­gram, but also more attack sub­marines, a new bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­ma­rine, and more guid­ed mis­sile destroy­ers. For the Army, we will invest bil­lions mod­ern­iz­ing armored vehi­cles, tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions and oth­er ground com­bat sys­tems. And the Marine Corps’ exist­ing amphibi­ous assault capa­bil­i­ties will be upgrad­ed and new sys­tems fund­ed for the ship-to-shore mis­sion.”

The sec­re­tary point­ed out that dur­ing his tenure he approved the largest increas­es in the size of the Army and Marine Corps in decades, stopped Air Force and Navy draw­downs, and sup­port­ed and presided over the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“All that said, I have also been try­ing to get across to all of the mil­i­tary ser­vices that they will have many and var­ied mis­sions in the 21st cen­tu­ry,” he said. “As a result, they must think hard­er about the entire range of these mis­sions and how to achieve the right bal­ance of capa­bil­i­ties in an era of tight bud­gets.”

The Unit­ed States requires all of the ser­vices’ capa­bil­i­ties, the sec­re­tary said.

“But the way we use them in the 21st cen­tu­ry will almost cer­tain­ly not be the way they were used in the 20th cen­tu­ry,” he added. “Above all, the ser­vices must not return to the last century’s mind­set after Iraq and Afghanistan, but rather pre­pare and plan for a very dif­fer­ent world than we all left in 2001.”

Mov­ing for­ward, all of the ser­vices need to think aggres­sive­ly about how to tru­ly take advan­tage of being part of a joint force for a vari­ety of mis­sions, Gates said.

“We must always guard against the old bureau­crat­ic pol­i­tics and parochial ten­den­cies –- espe­cial­ly after the Iraq and Afghanistan cam­paigns wind down and bud­gets become tight,” he said.

“It’s eas­i­er to be joint and talk joint when there’s mon­ey to go around and a war to be won,” Gates added. “It’s much hard­er to do when tough choic­es have to be made with­in and between the mil­i­tary ser­vices –- between what is ide­al from a par­tic­u­lar ser­vice per­spec­tive, and what will get the job done tak­ing into account broad­er pri­or­i­ties and con­sid­er­a­tions.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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