Gates: ‘This Is A Reform Budget’

I don’t think it’s overstating things to say that Defense Secretary Gates’ announcement of his 2010 defense budget recommendations represents an appreciable shift in the way that the United States approaches the issue of military acquisitions. Applying lessons learned in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as signifying a recognition that the continuing economic crisis places real constraints on defense spending, Gates’ recommendations are an important — but by no means comprehensive — move toward a responsible re-balancing of America’s defense spending priorities.

Describing it as “the product of a holistic assessment of capabilities, requirements, risks and needs for the purpose of shifting this department in a different strategic direction,” Gates said that “this is a reform budget, reflecting lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan yet also addressing the range of other potential threats around the world, now and in the future.”

Gates laid a shot across the bow of those in Congress who are likely to try and reinstate beloved boondoggles like the Airborne Laser and the F-22 Raptor, (which Gates recommended canceling after 187 are built) saying “I know that in the coming weeks we will hear a great deal about threats, and risk and danger -– to our country and to our men and women in uniform –- associated with different budget choices. Some will say I am too focused on the wars we are in and not enough on future threats.”

The allocation of dollars in this budget definitely belies that claim. But, it is important to remember that every defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk -– or, in effect, to “run up the score” in a capability where the United States is already dominant -– is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in, and improve capabilities in areas where we are underinvested and potentially vulnerable. That is a risk I will not take.

In both his prepared statement and in the Q&A;, Gates dealt with concerns that the rising profile of counterinsurgency practitioners in the Pentagon came at the expense of conventional war-fighting. Gates insisted that he wasn’t letting “irregular capabilities overtake conventional capabilities,” but that he was “just trying to get the irregular guys a seat at the table.”


Back in December 2008, the Center for American Progress released a report recommending specific defense cuts. Below is a list of how those recommendations compare with Gates’ own.

Grow the force initiative:

Gates: Fully protect and properly fund the growth in military end strength in the base budget.

CAP: Continue increasing the size of US ground forces without lowering standards.



Gates: Increase the buy of the F-35 JSF from the 14 aircraft bought in FY09 to 20 in FY10, with corresponding funding increases from $6.8 billion to $11.2 billion. Plan to buy 513 F-35s over five years for an ultimate buy of 2,443. Buy 31 F/A-18s.

CAP: Continue development of F-35 JSF, but do not start full-scale production until flight tests have been completed. Buy F-16 Block 60 fighters, 69 F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets.



Gates: End production of F-22 at 187 (This would mean acquiring four more)

CAP: End production at the current level of 183 planes.


Missile Defense:

Gates: Add $700 million to field more of our most capable missile defense systems, specifically the terminal High Altitude Defense (THAAD) System and Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) programs. Add $200 million for six additional Aegis ships for ballistic missile defense capabilities. Curtail the unproven Airborne Laser (ABL) program and cancel the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) program.

CAP: Cancel unproven missile defense programs.


Air Force Tanker:

Gates: Maintain KC-X tanker schedule and funding, solicit bids this summer.

CAP: Issue a clear set of requirements and evaluate proposals, contract must be awarded as soon as possible.



Gates: Complete production of C-17 program this year.

CAP: Build 20 more C-17s.


Aircraft Carrier:

Gates: Restructure carrier procurement to a five-year build cycle.

CAP: Build the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) and delay building the next carrier for five years.


Littoral Combat Ship:

Gates: Increase the buy of the LCS from two to three ships in 2010.

CAP: Buy four more LCS in 2010.


Future Combat Systems:

Gates: Significantly restructure FCS. Cancel the vehicle component of the current program, saving $87 billion. These vehicles do not reflect the lessons of COIN.

CAP: Recommended broad cuts to the program (reduce budget by 1/3 over the next four years) because of development issues and questions as to the value of the program in counterinsurgency operations.