Gates Prepares To Confront Military-Industrial Complex

robert-gates-in-black-hawk.jpgThe Boston Globe reports that Defense Secretary Robert Gates “is preparing the most far-reaching changes in the Pentagon’s weapons portfolio since the end of the Cold War, according to aides.”

Two defense officials who were not authorized to speak publicly said Gates will announce up to a half-dozen major weapons cancellations later this month. Candidates include a new Navy destroyer, the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, and Army ground-combat vehicles, the officials said.

More cuts are planned for later this year after a review that could lead to reductions in programs such as aircraft carriers and nuclear arms, the officials said. […]

“Let’s be honest with ourselves,” Gates told the National Defense University last September. “The most likely catastrophic threats to our homeland — for example, an American city poisoned or reduced to rubble by a terrorist attack — are more likely to emanate from failed states than from aggressor states.”

This is welcome news. As I wrote yesterday, one of the key strategic misconceptions of the Bush administration was to focus on threats from strong state actors rather than non-state actors operating within weak and failed states. (Last fall, CAP’s Brian Katulis argued — as did I — that Gates’ demonstrated approach to 21st century national security challenges was a good reason to keep him in place in an Obama administration.)

In a speech last September, Gates recognized the need to maintain U.S. military superiority, but warned “we must not be so preoccupied with preparing for future conventional and strategic conflicts that we neglect to provide both short-term and long-term all the capabilities necessary to fight and win conflicts such as we are in today.”

Far from signifying “decline,” as some conservatives have predictably claimed, CAP’s Sean Duggan and Laura Conley wrote last month that “spending less money on expensive procurement programs…could signify a renewed commitment to diplomacy and development and help us rebuild credibility overseas.”

There’s also really no overstating how significant it is that the Obama administration — recognizing that many current defense projects are completely unsuited to the threats America actually faces — has effectively decided to confront the military-industrial complex. The article notes that, according to aides, Gates is ready “to counter the defense companies and throngs of retired generals and other lobbyists who are gearing up to protect their pet projects.”

Girding for a showdown with Congress, Gates took the unusual step of making the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other participants in budget deliberations sign nondisclosure agreements to prevent leaks.

But already lawmakers and defense contractors are preparing to fight back. Lockheed, maker of the F-22 jet, recently launched an ad campaign to protect its fighter. Northrop Grumman, which could face cutbacks to its ship-building programs, has hired consultants to write op-eds. Unions are raising alarms about job losses.

Andrew Exum suggests that the Obama administration should “prepare to fight three wars at once: one in Afghanistan, one in Iraq, and one …against the bi-partisan coalition of lobbyists, congressmen, and industry leaders who will fight…tooth and nail on this.”