Gates Says “Money Spigot” Closing; Refuses to Endorse FCS

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made clear that the era of defense spending largesse is over. “The spigot of defense funding opened by 9/11 is closing. With two major campaigns ongoing, the economic crisis and resulting budget pressures will force hard choices on this department,” Gates said, “we will not be able to do everything, buy everything.” New budget realities will force DOD to “critically and ruthlessly separate appetites from real requirements – those things that are desirable in a perfect world from those things that are truly needed in light of the threats America faces and the missions we are likely to undertake in the years ahead.”

Gates also signaled he wants to return to a real and honest net assessment: “Our procurement and preparation for conventional scenarios must, in turn, be driven more by the actual capabilities of potential adversaries, and less by what is technologically feasible given unlimited time and resources.”

“I believe that the FY 2010 budget must make hard choices,” he said, I will pursue greater quantities of systems that represent the “75 percent” solution instead of smaller quantities of “99 percent,” exquisite systems.” He also highlighted a number of problematic weapons programs: “The list of big-ticket weapons systems that have experienced contract or program performance problems spans the services: the Air Force tanker, CSAR-X, VH-71, Osprey, Future Combat Systems, Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, Littoral Combat Ship, Joint Strike Fighter, and so on.”

“Efforts to put the bureaucracy on a war footing have, in my view, revealed underlying flaws in the institutional priorities, cultural preferences, and reward structures of America’s defense establishment – a set of institutions largely arranged to plan for future wars, to prepare for a short war, but not to wage a protracted war. The challenge we face is how well we can institutionalize the irregular capabilities gained and means to support troops in theater that have been, for the most part, developed ad hoc and funded outside the base budget.”

In his prepared statement, Gates signaled his concern with the Army’s Future Combat System: “One option is to continue to spin out components of large-scale, long-term modernization projects in real time for early field testing and use in ongoing operations, then fold the results into longer-term product development. We are doing so in Afghanistan and Iraq with Small Unmanned Ground Vehicles, a component the Army’s Future Combat Systems used to clear caves, search bunkers, or cross minefields. Such field testing ensures that a program like FCS – whose total cost could exceed $200 billion if completely built out – will continue to demonstrate its value for both conventional and unconventional scenarios.”

FCS champion, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Ok.) pressed Gates to profess his commitment to the program, which he refused to do. “We’re going to have to take a close look at it… see what can be made available what is useful in this spectrum of conflict from what I would call hybrid complex wars to those of counterinsurgency.” Gates has spoken before about his belief that in the future American troops will face “hybrid” enemies, opponents who will fight as irregulars but equipped with advanced precision guided, man-portable weapons. “I don’t think anything’s off the table at this point.”