Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gates takes aim at bloated defense budget

ABILENE, Kansas -- Warring against waste, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday he is ordering a top-to-bottom paring of the military bureaucracy in search of at least $10 billion in annual savings needed to prevent an erosion of U.S. combat power.

He took aim what he called a bloated bureaucracy, wasteful business practices and too many generals and admirals, and outlined an ambitious plan for reform that's almost certain to stir opposition in the corridors of Congress and Pentagon.

"The Defense Department must take a hard look at every aspect of how it is organized, staffed and operated -- indeed, every aspect of how it does business," he said in a speech at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in the former command in chief's home town. Gates was the keynote speaker at a ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of Nazi Germany's surrender in World War II.

The library was a fitting setting for Gates to caution against unrestrained military spending. In his farewell address to the nation from the Oval Office in January 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned of the "grave implications" of having built during that war an enormous military establishment and a huge arms industry that could wield undue influence in American society.

"Eisenhower was wary of seeing his beloved republic turn into a muscle-bound, garrison state -- militarily strong but economically stagnant and strategically insolvent," Gates said. He recalled Eisenhower's impatience with a mindset within the military that often sought to add new weaponry without regard for cost or efficiency -- "pile program on program," as he once put it.

Gates said he had recently come to the conclusion about the urgent need for big cuts in light of the recession and the likelihood that Congress no longer will give the Pentagon the sizable budget increases it has enjoyed since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"The gusher has been turned off and will stay off for a good period of time," he said.

In earlier remarks to reporters, Gates said it was clear that defense budgets will be tight "for as far into the future as anyone can see."

The current defense budget, not counting the cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, is $535 billion; the administration is asking for $549 billion for 2011.

Gates used tough talk to stress that he will personally oversee the effort to reshape the Pentagon bureaucracy, and that he won't be denied.

"We're not going to just roll over to preserve programs that we think we don't need -- regardless of where the pressure is coming from," he told reporters Friday.

Pressed to say whether he would remain as defense secretary next year to wage the budget battle with Congress, he replied, "We'll get this done." Gates has told Obama he will remain at the Pentagon through 2010, but his future beyond that is unclear.

Gates said it highly unlikely that the Pentagon will get Congress to approve budgets in the coming years that grow enough to sustain the current size of the military. That's why he is looking for roughly $10 billion in savings from trimming the bureaucracy and applying that money to sustaining the combat force and investing in its modernization. He said the savings must be repeated in additional years.

"Simply taking a few percent off the top of everything on a one-time basis will not do," he said. "These savings must stem from root-and-branch changes that can be sustained and added to over time."

Gates noted that for the past two years he has focused his budget cuts on major weapons programs that he believed were unnecessary or unaffordable. He managed to get Congress to agree last year, for example, to stop production of the Air Force's F-22 stealth fighter earlier than previously planned, and he halted an Army ground combat vehicle project that had been a top Army priority.

"More is needed -- much more," he said.

That means cutting what he called "overhead" -- the bureaucratic machinery that he said chews up about 40 percent of the Pentagon's budget.

In this category he included the hierarchy of flag officers -- the generals and admirals who run the military services.

To illustrate his point that there are too many of these top officers, Gates said that while the overall troop strength of the Army was sliced by nearly 40 percent during the 1990s, the reduction in generals and admirals across the military was about half that. He suggested that this was a top-heavy structure that is making it harder to get proper resources to the war fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Consider that a request for a dog-handling team in Afghanistan -- or for any other unit -- has to go through no fewer than five four-star headquarters in order to be processed, validated and eventually dealt with," he said.

It is widely known, but also widely accepted, in the military that the bureaucracy is bloated.

Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, the commanding general of the Army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., said Friday that it is obvious there are going to be more intense pressure to save money and that the bureaucracy is going to be a prime target.

"There's tons of bureaucracy," Caslen said in an interview with reporters traveling with Gates, who visited Leavenworth Friday.

In his Abilene speech, Gates also took on the Pentagon's approach to setting what it calls "requirements," or the numbers, types and capabilities of weapons it says it needs to accomplish its mission. He suggested that the military has overstated its requirements in a post-Cold War world.

"Is it a dire threat that by 2020 the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?" he asked.

Taliban against the wall - flailing.

The Taliban announced Saturday they would begin a new operation against U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, vowing that "all foreign invading forces will ultimately face defeat," according to a statement from the group.

"The Al-Faath (victory) operations will target the invading Americans, the NATO military personnel, foreign advisers, spies who pose as foreign diplomats, members of the Karzai stooge administration and members of the cabinet," the Taliban statement said.

The statement, which listed 10 other targeted groups, said the operation would begin May 10, and would use IEDs, blockades, assassinations, abductions and suicide missions.

Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak said Saturday the Taliban do not have the number of fighters or the means necessary to carry out such plans.

A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force told CNN that the Taliban's "pledge to attack the very people committed to securing Afghanistan's future further demonstrates that they have nothing to offer the Afghan people but more blood and tears."

Hunt is on for "No Name" Terrorists.

(WIRED ) -- Once upon a time, the CIA had to know a militant's name before putting him up for a robotic targeted killing. Now, if the guy acts like a guerrilla, it's enough to call in a drone strike.
It's another sign of that a once-limited, once-covert program to off senior terrorist leaders has morphed into a full-scale -- if undeclared -- war in Pakistan. And in a war, you don't need to know the name of someone on the other side before you take a shot.

Across the border, in Afghanistan, the rules for launching an airstrike have become tighter than a balled fist. Dropping a bomb from above is now a tactic of last resort; even when U.S. troops are under fire, commanders are reluctant to authorize air strikes.
In Pakistan, however, the opposite has happened. Starting in the latter days of the Bush administration, and accelerating under the Obama presidency, drone pilots have become more and more free to launch their weapons.

"You've had an expanded target set for [some] time now and, given the danger these groups pose and their relative inaccessibility, these kinds of strikes -- precise and effective -- have become almost like the cannon fire of this war. They're no longer extraordinary or even unusual," one American official tells CNN.

This official -- like many other officials -- insists that the drone strikes have torn up the ranks of militants.

"The enemy has lost not just operational leaders and facilitators -- people whose names we know -- but formations of fighters and other terrorists," the official tells the Los Angeles Times. "We might not always have their names, but ... these are people whose actions over time have made it obvious that they are a threat."

National security law experts, inside the government and out, are in the middle of an intense debate over whether the remotely piloted attacks are legal. One leading law professor told Congress last week that the drone operators could be tried for "war crimes," under certain circumstances.

The State Department's top lawyer counters that the drone attacks are a legitimate act of self-defense.

The connection between the robotic strikes over there and our safety here appears to be growing, The Pakistani Taliban, who have claimed credit for the botched Times Square bombing, say the car bomb was in retaliation for drone strikes.

But the robotic aircraft are only one component in the war in Pakistan. American troops are on the ground there, and getting into firefights. American contractors are operating a fleet of helicopters above. Higher in the sky are the American drones, flown by the U.S. Air Force and the CIA.

Pakistan tests nuke-capable missiles

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan has test-fired two ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the military said Saturday.

Both the Shaheen-1, which can hit a target 400 miles (650 kilometers) away, and the Ghazvani, with a range of 180 miles (290 kilometers), were fired successfully, Pakistan military officials said.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who witnessed the event with several senior military officials, said that the nation had developed a strong nuclear deterrence capability, according to a government statement.

He said that Pakistan's armed forces were "fully capable of safeguarding Pakistan's security against all kinds of aggression," according to the statement.

Gilani mentioned last month's Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Obama in Washington, an event aimed at enhancing international cooperation to prevent nuclear terrorism. Much of the event focused on Iran's nuclear program, which has drawn deep concerns from the West.

However, the international community also has had concerns about the stability of the Pakistani government and the security of its nuclear arsenal, questioning whether it's safe from the hands of the Taliban.

Gilani on Saturday said the world can now move "beyond safety and security concerns," the statement said. "These were laid to rest at the Nuclear Security Summit where Pakistan forcefully projected a forthright stance on the issue and the world expressed satisfaction at Pakistan's nuclear security arrangements."

Estimates of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal currently range from 60 to 100 weapons. It first declared its status as a nuclear power in 1998, testing five bombs in an exchange with its south Asian archrival, India.


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