Bob Gates’ Army

“This is a reform budget.”

More specifically, though, this a formal indictment of the defense procurement process. Even where weapons systems have ostensibly been “cut,” it’s the procurement process and not really the weapon itself at issue. The FCS armored vehicle, for instance, was killed in its current conception in order to be relaunched in a form the army actually needs. The controversial, cost-overrun F-22 will run out its string, but will be replaced by the joint F-35, which offers more applications across the branches without the symbolic procurement albatross around its neck. (Do we really 2,443 of them, though, even over the timeframe referenced? I thought that was a typo at first.)

The news here, of course, isn’t that the defense procurement system is rotten and in need of drastic reform. When has that not been the case over the past thirty years? And the news isn’t that someone in some branch of the federal government is now going after it. Usually it’s a grandstanding congressman or inspector general, but Secretary of Defense Robert Gates isn’t setting any precedents here. Donald Rumsfeld tried to move the DOD in directions it didn’t want to go in, too. (Although in a lot of ways, Gates is symbolically closing the door on the Rumsfeld-era RMA.)

The news isn’t even that the budget incorporates “lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan” (more boots and helicopters), as well as Somalia and the Malacca Straits (more spending on coastal navy vessels), even if some are painting it as a victory for the irregular warfare faction within the military command.

The real news, to my mind, is that the emphasis on procurement reform will be backed up by actual civilian capacity, beholden to Gates, to watchdog the process within the Pentagon. Consider this: Gates just announced his intention to add more civilian procurement officers to the DOD payroll than additional soldiers. A lot of the actual weapons systems that Gates targeted yesterday might make their way back into this year’s budget after defense lobbyists and beholden legislators get through with it. The same might be true next year and the year after that. But eventually, there will come a time when the budget will be funding new inputs into the procurement pipeline. And when that happens, the administrative infrastructure Gates is building will have shaped what the procurement process — and hence the budget — looks like.

Some scattershot notes on various coverage (my comments are bolded in brackets, all bold in text is my emphasis):

Interesting that the NYT says “halting reductions in Air Force andNavy,” and McClatchy says “halts the expansion of the Air Force and Navy,” whenwhat they mean to say is that the Air Force and Navy will stay the samesize. I’m also surprised to see the C-17 on the chopping block, since strategic airlift is a pretty essential force-projection component of farflung COIN operations — and like helicopters, it’s in short supply globally.

NY Times:

They represent the first broad rethinking of American military strategyunder the Obama administration, which plans to shift more money tocounterterrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan while spending less onpreparations for conventional warfare against large nations like Chinaand Russia. [That’s not what Gates said, as quoted by McClatchy below, or what Sen. Jim Webb — who withheld his assessment until the strategic logic behind the budget was explained — understood.]
. . .

The changes will mean fewer big ships . . . and bolstering the Army’s helicopterforces, Mr. Gates said.


He called the debate between conventional and irregular warfare”artificial,” saying the two threats can overlap. The budget spends 10percent on irregular warfare needs, 50 percent on traditional fightingand 40 percent for dual purposes, he said. [So much for the broad strategic rethink. That’s what the Quadrennial Defense Review will cover, anyway.]


– The Defense Department reduce the proportion of its work done by contractors from 37 percent to the mid-20s.
– DoD convert 11,000 acquisition contracting jobs to Defense Departmentcivilians, then hire 9,000 more acquisition officers, while also hiringas many as 30,000 new civil servants over five years to replaceso-called “support contractors” from the private sector. Gates said the2010 budget will propose hiring 13,000 of those next year.

Gates also said he plans to re-open bidding this summer for amultibillion contract to build a new fleet of aerial refueling tankers,and that he opposed a split buy. [The bidding process at issue.]

As for FCS, the secretary said the vehicles, which are being designedto avoid attacks instead of withstand them, were not geared to addresscombat of the sort taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan. . . . Gates did, however, leave the door open for redesigned FCS armored vehicles to emerge in the months and years ahead. [The conceptual process at issue.]

That’s what jumped out at me. Let me know via e-mail if you think I left anything out.

Update: For a concise box score of the budget recommendations, I haven’t come across better than Defense Industry Daily’s coverage. (Apparently the increased helicopter capacity will come primarily in the form of meeting shortages of crews to man the copters that are already available.)

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