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Gates' Big Knife at the Pentagon: Who Wins, Who Loses

Jan 7, 2011 – 3:47 PM
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Sharon Weinberger

Sharon Weinberger Contributor

The official Pentagon spending request is still weeks away, but some winners and losers are already emerging in the battle for a shrinking portion of the budget pie.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced major changes to the Pentagon's budget that are expected to rein in future defense spending. "We must come to realize that not every defense program is necessary, not every defense dollar is sacred and well spent, and that more of nearly everything is simply not sustainable," he told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.
An MC-12 Liberty prepares for takeoff March 11, 2010, at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
Brittany Y. Bateman, U.S. Air Force
An MC-12 Liberty prepares for takeoff March 11 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. The Army will buy more MC-12 reconnaissance aircraft, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

Despite those cautionary words, some areas of the defense budget will actually see increases, benefiting from cuts elsewhere:

Winners

Drones: Not surprisingly, the Pentagon wants more unmanned aircraft, which have been widely used in recent conflicts. Gates said the Air Force plans to purchase more Reapers, the new version of the Predator drone. The Navy also will increase its drone spending with "a new generation of seaborne unmanned strike-and-surveillance aircraft," Gates said.

New bomber: The Air Force for a number of years now has tried to start work on developing a new long-range bomber. Its last effort, however, was canceled. Now Gates has given the Air Force the green light, describing plans for a new bomber as "a major area of new investment for the Air Force." The future bomber, according to Gates, will have the option of being unmanned.

Missile defense: This is one area that always seems to come out on top. Gates on Thursday pledged more money for long-range defense interceptors that will protect Europe and the continental United states. Even though the Bush administration's plans for ground-based interceptors and radar placed in Europe have been scratched, the Obama administration remains committed to moving forward with its own "phased-adaptive" approach that involves using ship-based interceptors.

Spy planes: The military needs more aircraft that can capture images and collect data on what's happening on the ground. "In response, the military, with the Army, will buy more MC-12 reconnaissance aircraft, accelerate procurement of the service's most advanced Gray Eagle UAVs, and begin development of a new vertical unmanned air system to support the Army in the future," Gates said.

Losers

Marine landing craft: The clearest loser under the Pentagon's new budget regime is the Marine Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a waterborne landing craft meant for storming beaches -- something that the Marines haven't done in more than 60 years. Gates has for months hinted that he would like to end the multibillion-dollar program, and now that decision appears final.

Troops: Perhaps the most significant cut -- at least from a symbolic point of view -- is to the active forces of the Marine Corps and Army beginning in 2015. As the first cuts to such forces since 9/11, the move signifies a commitment to scale back military involvement abroad. "These projected reductions are based on an assumption that America's ground combat commitment in Afghanistan would be significantly reduced by the end of 2014, in accordance with the president's strategy," Gates confirmed.

Joint Forces Command: Located in southeastern Virginia, Joint Forces Command was never in charge of directing troops or weapons. Its role was to help transform the military, a somewhat ambiguous mission that likely helped to land it on the chopping block. A couple other lesser-known parts of the Pentagon bureaucracy, like the Network Intelligence and Information office and the Business Transformation Agency, will also go away under Gates' plan.

General officers: Gates believes there are too many high-ranking officers and is set to slash 100 of those positions out of 900. More than two dozen of those positions, he notes, sprang up after 9/11 and should be reduced in line with the draw down in troop levels.
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