McCain Hot On Gates; Webb, Not So Much

Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed a major overhaul of the Pentagon budget and defense arsenals today–a move that will no doubt displease many, many members of Congress, whose districts benefit from some expensive Defense Department procurements. According to Robert Farley, if Gates gets his way we’ll see:

1. No more F-22s.

2. Replacement Air Force bomber delayed indefinitely.

3. Ballistic missile defense funding leans toward the Navy.

4. Aircraft carrier acquisition slowed, with the fleet eventually dropping to 10 carriers.

5. Next generation cruiser (CGX) delayed indefinitely.

6. VH-71 Presidential helicopter dead.

7. No more than three DDG-1000, and maybe only one.

8. Future Combat Systems funding slashed.

The savings from these programs would be funneled into such efforts as enlarging the military’s special operations forces and increasing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support (Predator drones, turbo-prop aircraft, etc.) with $2 billion in additional funds.

The move has at least one powerful friend: Sen. John McCain, ranking member on the Senate Armed Services committee. “I strongly support Secretary Gates’ decision to restructure a number of major defense programs,” McCain said, “It has long been necessary to shift spending away from weapon systems plagued by scheduling and cost overruns to ones that strike the correct balance between the needs of our deployed forces and the requirements for meeting the emerging threats of tomorrow.”

Committee Chair Carl Levin hasn’t put out a statement of his own yet, but in what may be a harbinger of difficulties to come, Sen. Jim Webb wasn’t so kind. I’ll paste his whole, lengthy statement below, but for now here’s a taste: “The secretary’s announcement today is highly unorthodox,” says Webb. “Secretary Gates has proposed funding increases, reductions, deferrals, and cancellations in numerous defense programs. In the absence of a more detailed description of the strategic underpinnings justifying his funding priorities–including an assessment of the level of risk posed to U.S. national security interests–it is difficult to evaluate them in isolation.”

Webb represents Virginia, which benefits immensely from lucrative defense contracts, but he’s also a considered politician and his position will carry some heft.

Gates recently said a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal would have to wait because he and the president have “a lot on our plates right now.”

“Secretary of Defense Gates today proposed a lengthy list of programmatic and manpower decisions as part of his intention to reshape the U.S. defense establishment. These recommendations should–and will–be evaluated in terms of their potential impact on our long-term strategic requirements.

“The secretary’s announcement today is highly unorthodox. Such a major shift toward a ‘different strategic direction’ early in a new administration normally flows from such strategy-driven assessments as the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) or the formulation of a new U.S. national security strategy. Of particular note is his contemplation of maintaining long-term increases in Army and Marine Corps end strength, based on current operational requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the absence of a comprehensive strategy.

“Similar concerns arise regarding our global basing posture, which I strongly believe should be examined based on need and cost-effectiveness, in the same manner that domestic facilities are considered in the Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) process.

“Secretary Gates has proposed funding increases, reductions, deferrals, and cancellations in numerous defense programs. In the absence of a more detailed description of the strategic underpinnings justifying his funding priorities–including an assessment of the level of risk posed to U.S. national security interests–it is difficult to evaluate them in isolation.

“For example, the secretary has called for major adjustments to the U.S. Navy’s force structure–including a reduction in the long term to the statutory requirement for the Navy to maintain a force of 11 operational aircraft carriers. Other proposed changes to the Navy’s current shipbuilding plan for a 313-ship fleet could generate new instabilities.

“I have a very strong view–one developed over many years–that we must grow the Navy’s force structure in order for us to meet our strategic and security interests around the world now and those we are likely to face in the future. This is especially relevant in the Pacific region, where China is pursuing a rapid, comprehensive modernization of its armed forces, including its Navy. Secretary Gates recently reported to Congress this modernization program entails military roles and missions that go well beyond China’s immediate territorial interests.

“In other respects, I commend the secretary’s call for necessary reforms in the way that the Department of Defense conducts its business, including an end to defense supplemental appropriations to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have consistently maintained that funding for such requirements should be included in the base defense budget. I welcome a return to a more disciplined defense budget process.

“I also welcome his advocacy of a fundamental overhaul of defense procurement, acquisition, and contracting. I have warned for more than three years that the Department of Defense has relied too heavily on civilian contractors, especially for wartime support. The secretary’s plan for increasing the size of the defense acquisition workforce and converting 11,000 contractors are needed steps in the right direction.

“We in Congress must consider the secretary’s proposal carefully in our oversight role. We will do so in the months ahead after the defense budget is formally delivered to Congress.”

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