Strategic Weapons Win in Gates’ New Budget Plans

Defense Secretary Robert Gates today announced the winners and losers of his FY-12 budget request and his effort to save more than $100 billion in defense spending over the next five years. The Air Force and Navy emerging as clear winners while the Army lost the SLAMRAAM and Non-Line of Sight missiles while the Marines lost their Expeditionary Fighting vehicle and saw the F-35B put on a two year probation.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates today announced the winners and losers of his FY-12 budget request and his effort to save more than $100 billion in defense spending over the next five years. The Air Force and Navy emerging as clear winners while the Army lost the SLAMRAAM and Non-Line of Sight missiles and the Marines lost their Expeditionary Fighting vehicle and saw the F-35B put on a two year probation. If the jet isn’t on track by then, the Bravo-model JSF should be gone, Gates proposed.

The Army and Marine Corps will also see force structure cuts along the lines of 27,000 and up to 20,000 troops after 2015, respectively.

However, the two “strategic services,” the Air Force and Navy, fared much better, with both receiving cash for weapons capable of projecting power in the face of high-end 21st century area defenses like those being developed by China or Russia.

As Lexington Institute analyst Loren Thompson put it in an email to DoDBuzz right after the cuts were announced:

“This is the first good budget news I’ve heard for the Air Force is a long time.  Key programs like the F-35A fighter and Global Hawk Block 40 were not cut, while several new programs were added.  Maybe the military is returning to a balanced posture after a decade of counter-insurgency.”

“The Gates proposals portend a diminished role for ground forces in the nation’s future defense as Iraq and Afghanistan wind down,” added Thompson. “The Air Force and Navy typically dominate joint deliberations when there are no major ground campaigns under way.”

The Air Force’s biggest victory may have been getting permission to build a new, optionally-manned, long-range stealth bomber capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The aircraft will be developed using existing technology and work on fielding the jet should begin right away, said Gates.

“The follow on bomber represents a key component of a joint portfolio of conventional deep-strike capabilities – an area that should be a high priority for future defense investment given the anti-access challenges our military faces,” said the Secretary.

The Air Force is also getting cash to buy more MQ-9 Reaper drones and it will be moving ISR programs from war supplementals to the permanent budget. The service will also buy more of the extended expendable launch vehicles to help keep Air Force space programs alive and preserve the U.S. space technology industrial base.

The air service will also see money to buy new Active Electronically Scanned Array radars for its F-15s and will be buying more F-35 simulators.

Naval aviation programs will see funding aimed at overcoming next-generation area denial weapons. This means the sea service will get cash to field everything from new jammers to defeat advanced air defenses to the construction of all new carrier-launched strike and ISR drones. The Navy will also see the purchase of new classes of aircraft carrier, a destroyer, an ocean surveillance vessel, fleet oilers and the Littoral Combat Ship.

The Department of the Navy will buy more F/A-18EF Super Hornets and extend the lives of roughly 150 F/A-18 Hornets to offset the delays in the F-35B production. Gates announced he is moving the troubled F-35B to the back of the F-35 development queue, behind the Air Force’s F-35A and the Navy’s F-35C, and putting it on a two year “probation.”

He described the B as “experiencing significant testing problems.” He then said “these issues may lead to a redesign of the aircraft’s structure and propulsion, changes that could add yet more weight and more cost to an aircraft that has little capacity to absorb more of either.”

The Missile Defense Agency will also see cash dedicated toward buying more long range interceptor missiles and radar sites to protect Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

While the Army will see it’s end strength cut and lost two missile programs, it will see investment in relatively cheap ISR equipment such as C-12 turboprop-based spy planes and Grey Eagle UAVs. It will also develop a new vertical-take off and landing UAV. It will also get cash to modernize its Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Stykers.

Even though the Marines saw two or their main elements of 21st Century power-projection cut or put on probation, Gates insisted that amphibious assault will remain a key mission of the Corps. Instead the Marines will get cash to develop a new, more affordable amphibious assault vehicle, according to Gates.

“This decision does not call into question the Marine’s amphibious assault mission,” said the secretary  We will budget the funds necessary to develop a more affordable and sustainable amphibious tractor to provide the Marines a ship-to-shore capability into the future. The budget will also propose funds to upgrade the existing amphibious vehicle fleet with new engines, electronics, and armaments to ensure that the Marines will be able to conduct ship-to-shore missions until the next generation of systems is brought on line.”

To fund all this, the armed services along with the Pentagon’s various offices and agencies offered up more than $150 billion in efficiency cuts over the next five years.

Here’s a sample of some of the ways this will be done: a DoD-wide civilian pay and hiring freeze expected to save $54 billion in the next five years; reducing the number of civilian contractors by 10 percent; cutting the size of U.S. military headquarters in Europe; eliminating 100 general and flag officer billets; freezing some new military construction; using multi-year aircraft buys and consolidating DoD-wide IT infrastructure, a move expected to save more than $1 billion per year. Intelligence programs will also be consolidated under the Defense Intelligence Agency.

A total of $72 billion from those savings will be redirected into the services’ modernization coffers, said Gates.

He went on to defend his FY-12 budget request of $553 billion saying it equals “about three percent real growth over the funding the department would receive in FY-11 under the current continuing resolution – and about 1.5 percent growth over the Appropriations Committees defense bills for FY-11.”

Still, $553 billion was $13 billion less than what the Pentagon had planned for FY-12 in it’s five year budget plan produced last year. The overall budget plan is expected to chop $78 billion the previous five-year spending plan known as the Future Years Defense Plan.

Gates went on to paint a picture of defense budgets growing at a slight rate through FY-14 and then flat-lining with zero real growth in FY-15 and FY-16.

“Under the proposed budget plan, the Defense Department will continue to see real, albeit steadily diminishing, growth for the next three fiscal years before flattening out in the fourth and fifth year,: said Gates. “What is important is to have a budget baseline with a steady, sustainable, and predictable rate of growth that avoids extreme peaks and valleys in defense spending that can be enormously harmful to readiness, planning and financial management.”

The secretary also defended the Army and Marine Corps troop cuts, saying they will take place in the middle of the decade and only after combat winds down in Afghanistan. He added that even after the cuts, the Army will still be about 40,000 soldiers larger than it was four years ago.

Gates was joined by Chairman of the joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen in saying that the Pentagon, with its massive pot of federal discretionary money, cannot be exempt from the belt tightening required to close deficits and get the nation’s finances in order. Mullen described long term federal debt and economic problems as one of the most serious national security threats to the country.