On Monday, April 6, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced his long-awaited plans to reshape the U.S. military. He had foreshadowed many of his specific plans in an article in Foreign Affairs in which he argued that more attention – and money – needed to be directed towards the current fight against global terrorism, less money devoted to improving the military’s conventional warfighting capability and the acquisition system reformed.
This week the Secretary proved himself a man of his word. If the President and Congress approve his plans, more funds will go to such items as growing the size of the Army and Marine Corps, increasing the size of Special Operations Forces and adding to their equipment, improved medical care for wounded warriors, increasing the number of manned and unmanned intelligence and surveillance capabilities and buying additional Littoral Combat Ships, DDG-51 destroyers, terminal missile defense systems and F-35 aircraft.
Providing additional resources for military personnel and their families is a good thing. In fact, if anything, the Secretary does not go far enough in supporting the current war against global terrorism. Where are the programs to improve the individual equipment of soldiers and Marines? What about a counterinsurgency fighter for the Air Force? Where is the additional support for riverine forces? Most of what the Secretary proposed in the way of additional capabilities had been in the works for a long time.
It is the rest of the Secretary’s proposals that should give one pause. Rather than being progressive, they are regressive. Each of the Services’ advanced weapons programs were truncated or terminated. Secretary Gates declared that “although the U.S. predominance in conventional warfare is not unchallenged it is sustainable in the medium term given current trends.” What he means by this statement is unclear. How long is the medium term? What if current trends do not continue? Regaining conventional predominance once lost is much more difficult than simply maintaining it. Secretary Gates’ decisions will hamstring the Services’ ability to meet the challenges of which he spoke at the end of the so-called medium term. Competitors will be encouraged to pursue conventional arms races, placing future U.S. security in jeopardy.
In addition, the Secretary wants to hire tens of thousands of additional government civilians and reduce the percentage of contractors in the Defense Department’s workforce. Replacing private sector workers with government employees will do nothing to improve the acquisition process. Remember the A-12 and the Sergeant York? They were both products of the old system with lots of government personnel doing the work now done by the private sector.
Secretary Gates wants to take the Department of Defense back to the future, to a time when the U.S. military did not possess unquestioned conventional superiority and when the huge mass of government personnel inhibited innovation and increased the costs of acquiring weapons systems. This would be a grave mistake.
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