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National Defense > Blog > Posts > Gates: Every Time I Speak, I Start a Budget War
Gates: Every Time I Speak, I Start a Budget War
At the National Defense University three years ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Air Force leaders to stop pining for the glory days of air warfare and get busy deploying surveillance drones in support of ground forces. At the Navy League a year ago, he accused admirals of drumming up wish lists with too many fighter jets and ships that probably will not be needed. Just a week ago, he went after the Army as he warned West Point Cadets that it was time for ground forces to curb their appetite for big-ticket hardware.

The military brass and defense industry obsessively deconstruct his speeches and view them as signposts for what’s coming next. Too bad that his words are sometimes misunderstood, Gates said Friday in a speech to graduating U.S. Air Force Academy cadets in Colorado Springs.

“My message to the services is being distorted by some and misunderstood by others,” he 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 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 its heavy armored formations for the future. That has been interpreted as my questioning the need for the Army at all, or at least one its present size, the value of heavy armor generally, and the even the wisdom of our involvement in Afghanistan.

“I suspect that my remarks today will be construed as an attack on bombers and tac-air,” he joked.

Gates argued that his actions and budgets over the last four years “belie these mistaken interpretations.” The Pentagon’s 2012 budget proposal seeks funds to modernize the tactical air and bomber fleet, he said. For the Navy, “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.”

During his tenure as secretary of defense, he said, “I have approved the largest increases in the size of the Army and Marine Corps in decades. In 2007 I stopped the drawdown in personnel for both the Air Force and Navy. And I supported and have presided over the surges in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”

But people are still complaining. It must be because Gates sometimes says uncomfortable things, like calling out military bureaucracies for being bloated and wasteful, and for not doing enough to help the troops who are fighting the nation’s wars.

The military services, Gates told Air Force cadets, “must think harder about … how to achieve the right balance of capabilities in an era of tight budgets. … And service leaders must think about how to use the assets they have with the greatest possible flexibility, and how much capability they need.”

So, to all the pundits who will be postulating what weapons systems or programs Gates is targeting in this latest speech, the secretary has a message: “This country requires all the capabilities we have in the services – yes, I mean carriers, tac-air, tanks, and amphibious assault – but the way we use them in the 21st Century will almost certainly not be the way they were used in the 20th Century. Above all, the services must not return to the last century’s mindset after Iraq and Afghanistan, but prepare and plan for a very different world than we all left in 2001.”

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