The Reactions to Gates’ Spending Plans

The reactions to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ proposed budget cuts came in fast following his announcement yesterday of which programs would be getting the axe and which would thrive in the coming years. Democrats and think tanks which may have influenced his moves were gushing while House Republicans went on the attack, slamming wartime defense cuts.

The reactions to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ proposed budget cuts came in fast and furious yesterday following his announcement of which programs will get the axe and which would thrive in the coming years. As expected, they were a mixed bag, with Sen. Carl Levin and certain think tanks may that have influenced his moves were gushing, while House Republicans went on the attack, slamming wartime defense cuts.

Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee came out in support of Gates, especially his move to cancel the Marine Corps’ beleaguered Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

“The commandant of the Marine Corps told me today that he strongly recommended to Secretary Gates that the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program be terminated because it is unaffordable and is not designed to meet current threats,” said Levin in a statement released just after Gates’ announcement. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway, “has assured me that the Marine Corps will pursue a more affordable and effective American-made alternative.”

Still, Levin pledged to “discuss” the move along with all the other so called, DoD-wide efficiency initiatives, “as part of our normal budget process.”

He then Gave Gates a big pat on the back for the Pentagon and Navy’s move last month to buy both classes of Littoral Combat Ship.

“Just last month, we saw an example of how Michigan and the nation can benefit from Secretary Gates’ push for fiscal responsibility,” said Levin. “Thanks to good management by the Navy and by the two contractors involved, the Navy was able to buy more Littoral Combat Ship hulls at lower cost than first estimated. That meant jobs for thousands of Michigan and Wisconsin workers at Marinette Marine, more capability for the Navy and better value for the taxpayer.”

Over at the now Republican-dominated House Armed Services Committee, things were a bit different.

First off, Rep. Todd Akin, chair of the House Armed Services seapower and expeditionary forces subcommittee released this statement, warning Gates that he must keep Congress in the loop on all budget cuts, otherwise lawmakers might not “even consider” his proposals.

“There are certainly wasteful and inefficient parts of the DOD that should be cut,” said Akin. “At the same time, I find it stunning that the Obama Administration thinks cutting almost $80 billion from our defense budget while we are at war is a responsible course of action. I have a number of concerns about the specifics as well as the overall priorities this action reveals. If Secretary Gates wants Congress to even consider supporting any of these proposals, he must personally ensure that Congress receives the information we need, rather than stiff-arming the Congress as has been the norm for the last few years.”

He then hit the partisan politics switch, saying the cuts were part of “the liberal priorities of this Administration.”

The only department undertaking a serious budget cutting exercise is the Department of Defense.,” said Akin. “Where are the similar reviews at any other executive department?  Our military is at war, and our military is the only department asked to seriously tighten its budget?”

Akin also tried to turn the logic of the cuts on its head, claiming they ignored long-term strategic threats, despite the fact that many programs that received funding were those designed to overcome high-end threats being developed by nation’s like China.

“Many of these cuts seem to have been decided upon in a vacuum, ignoring the strategic situation our nation is in, and the capabilities we need to fight and win today and tomorrow,” said the lawmaker. “For example, do we as a nation think that the Marine Corps should be able to get from ships to the shore in a battle?  If so, cutting the EFV is absurd.  If the President and the Secretary of Defense want to get rid of the Marine Corps, they should come out and say that directly.”

Hmm, here’s what Gates said yesterday about the EFV and the future of Marine Corps amphibious assault.

To fully execute the EFV, which costs far more to operate and maintain than its predecessor, would essentially swallow the entire Marine vehicle budget, and most of its total procurement budget for the foreseeable future.

To be sure, the EFV would, if pursued to completion without regard to time or cost, be an enormously capable vehicle.  However, recent analysis by the Navy and Marine Corps suggest that the most plausible scenarios requiring power projection from the sea could be handled through a mix of existing air and sea systems employed in new ways, along with new vehicles, scenarios that do not require the exquisite features of the EFV.  As with several other high-end programs cancelled in recent years, the mounting costs of acquiring this specialized capability must be judged against other priorities and needs.

Let me be clear.  This decision does not call into question the Marines’ amphibious assault mission.  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 online.

Akin went on to say that he did support Gates’ move to buy more Super Hornets to make up for delays in the F-35 program. He finished by saying, “I look forward to hearings on every aspect of this proposal.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Randy Forbes, chair of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee described the cuts as “the continued dismantling of the greatest military the world has ever known.”

Forbes then referred to the recent flutter of activity relating to China’s military buildup, from the unveiling of the J-20 stealth fighter to reports that the Asian nation’s DF-21D carrier killer missiles are operational as reasons not to slash defense spending.

His said this despite the fact many of the programs funded in Gates’ proposal are geared more toward meeting long-term threats from nations like China than fighting low-intensity wars.

Forbes then threw in this barb, “If Secretary Gates’ plans and predictions with these defense cuts are as accurate as his Chinese stealth fighter forecasts, Americans ought to be concerned for our national security.”

He was referencing the fact that Gates said in 2009 that China wouldn’t have a stealth fighter fielded by 2020. Whoops.

“Even more appalling, though, is the fact that the Administration is not being honest with the threat we face with China or where our defense dollars are going,” continued Forbes. “Last August when Secretary Gates announced his plans to cut $100 billion of the defense budget, he said, ‘Unlike budget cutting efforts of the past, the services will be able to keep the savings they generate to reinvest in higher-priority warfighting and modernization programs.’ At best, this was naivety; at worst, dishonesty.”

Forbes was referring to the fact that $28 billion of those savings will now go toward what Gates described as “higher than expected operating costs” associated with health care, pay and housing allowances, sustainment of weapon systems, depot maintenance, base support, flight hours and other training.

“Frankly, using these savings in this way was not my original intent or preference, but we have little choice but to deal with these so-called must-pay bills,” said Gates.

The remaining $72 billion will be poured into DoD-modernization accounts.

While House Republicans were firing shots at Gates, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments CSBA was tooting its own horn, saying in a Jan. 7 email newsletter, “you are a blind fool if you are unable to see who is the most influential Think Tank in DC right now.”

Many of the choices in Gates budget proposals reflect CSBA’s thinking about the threat of fighting a China armed with area-denial weapons designed to keep U.S. forces in the Pacific far from the country’s coastline.

Rebecca Grant of IRIS Independent Research lauded Gates’ move to put the Marine’s short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B on two year probation and $4.6 billion to the jet’s development funds, calling it “a vote of confidence.”

“The joint utility of STOVL has always been questionable and all the more so now that Britain’s Royal Air Force has backed out in favor of the carrier variant,” said Grant. “But with two years to go, the STOVL is set up to succeed, not fail.”

“Despite the stern words like probation and reversing cost growth the Department is still all in on F-35. With the F-22 cancelled for petty reasons there is no other stealthy, survivable new fighter program out there,” said Grant.

As expected, all the armed services fell in line and issued statement’s supporting Gates choices.

Most interesting of all military reactions was Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos’ statement saying he fully backs the move to kill the EFV. This was “not the commandant’s actual feeling on the matter,” said said Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson earlier this week when new leaked that Amos had been ordered to pitch the cut to Congress. “Legislators are agitated over the plan to kill EFV, since no real alternative exists to safely get Marines ashore.”

Here’s what Amos had to say:

“Despite the critical amphibious and warfighting capability the EFV represents, the program is simply not affordable given likely Marine Corps procurement budgets,” said the general. “The procurement and operations/maintenance costs of this vehicle are onerous. After examining multiple options to preserve the EFV, I concluded that none of the options meets what we consider reasonable affordability criteria. As a result, I decided to pursue a more affordable vehicle.”

Amos went on to explain that the Corps is fully committed to maintaining its status the premier expeditionary fighting force in the world by buying a new, survivable yet affordable amphibious assault vehicle in the near future.

“To bring this capability to the force sooner rather than later, we intend to capitalize on the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s recent efforts to streamline procurement and to rapidly accelerate the acquisition and contracting processes in developing our new amphibious tracked vehicle requirement,” said Amos. “Shortly, we will issue a special notice to industry requesting information relative to supporting our required amphibious capabilities.”