Since he was reappointed as Secretary of Defense by the Obama Administration, Robert Gates has been on a crusade to reshape the U.S. military. As he has said repeatedly, his dominant strategic concern is to be able to win the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. To that end he has fired senior generals who did not get the message, altered major procurement decisions and redefined defense doctrine and strategy. Along the way, he also gutted virtually every program to provide the military with advanced capabilities with which to meet the next threat. He has demanded a significant increase in the size of the military, which will saddle DoD with rising support costs at a time when defense budgets will be tightened.
In his interest in focusing the full weight of the military on fighting current wars the Secretary is forcing the services to eat the seed corn for their future. The idea that it is more important for the long haul that the Air Force acquires 100 phony, propeller-drive counter-insurgency fighters than that it acquires sufficient F-22s to ensure air dominance over future battlefields seems ludicrous on its face. So too the belief that what the Army needs is a new ground combat vehicle designed for urban operations but intended for deployment in heavy brigade combat teams whose sole purpose is rapid movement in the spaces between cities to achieve strategic results on the ground.
Caught between the Scylla of declining budgets and the Charybdis of fighting current conflicts, the services are increasingly seeing the need to reduce funding for or even eliminate critical programs that, in particular, contribute most to the joint war fight. Whether it is the E-2D and JSTARS radar planes, the next-generation aircraft carrier, or the network backbone for the future Army, these critical enablers of the joint fight are at risk. Even the advanced communications capabilities such as T-SAT, the Warfighter Information Network and the Joint Tactical Radio System, all of which are critical to truly joint force operations, are under assault.
The consequence of the Gates program is that we now have an Army stuck in the mud, an Air Force reduced largely to hauling things around the world and driving unmanned aerial vehicles, and a Navy with fewer of the critical capabilities that will enable it to influence events ashore. Moreover, each service is progressively being reduced to operating in its traditional lanes. They are in danger of losing the ability to operate together on the battlefield, certainly one more complex than Iraq or Afghanistan. We will continue to have joint billets in the Pentagon and graduates of those assignments will be able to wear a special patch. But where it counts, on the battlefield, we are in danger of losing the real ability to operate jointly.
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