Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Gates Dilemma

The LA Times recently reported on the ongoing budget battle between Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the DoD bureaucracy. With a nation confronting budget shortfalls and a military confronting the challenges of modernization while fighting two wars, Gates will certainly have his hands full.

In Obama's administration, Gates will face two primary issues: how the Pentagon buys weapons and which weapons it chooses to buy. Gates has been a critic of both. …Gates acknowledges the need for strategic bombers and billion-dollar ships. But he has questioned whether the most sophisticated weapons can best counter low-intensity threats. During his first two years at the Pentagon, Gates pushed the bureaucracy to field specialized equipment in Iraq, such as mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, that have helped reduce the number of casualties from roadside bombs.

Gates believes that the Pentagon must improve its ability to develop cheaper and low-tech weaponry for counterinsurgency missions, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the military services remain focused on big weapons programs -- ships, planes and new generations of tanks and troop transports, officials argue.
While Gates may have initially planned to push some of these tough decisions to the next Administration, they are now squarely back in his lap.

For months, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has criticized the Pentagon's spending priorities but has done little to change them, choosing instead to leave the most difficult decisions to the next administration. With the announcement by President-elect Barack Obama last week that Gates will remain in his job in the new administration, the Defense chief has been given broad new power to reshape how the Pentagon selects, designs and builds new weapons systems.

…Gates explained his decision to remain at the Pentagon last week by citing acquisition reform and military modernization as crucial challenges. Pentagon officials, meanwhile, are bracing to see how Gates translates his words into action. Many officials believe that, under President Bush, Gates "punted" on key decisions such as the competition to build a new refueling tanker and whether to halt production of the F-22.

"Now he is going to be the recipient of those punts, and he won't be calling a fair catch," said Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary. "He is prepared to deal with them head-on."

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