I have been warning you that this was about to happen. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has put one of his key staff members in charge of an ambitious effort to find billions of dollars they can cut from the Defense Department budget. In a memo quoted Tuesday by the Associated Press, Gates says Robert Rangel will lead a new task force “focused on how to spend less on contractors, close the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., and pare back the number of senior civilian employees and general officers at the Pentagon.”
Gates has said these initiatives will help him achieve his goal of finding $100 billion in cost savings in the next five years. The problem I have with that statement is he has already stated an intention to leave office this coming year. That leaves the desire to find these savings for the next 5 years sounding more political than practical.
Several analysts believe the secretary of defense is taking it upon himself to ramp up more DOD efficiency so as not to have budget cuts imposed upon him by the administration or by Congressmen looking to save money in the face of overspending on programs such as the stimulus bills.
This sudden desire to become more budget conscious may have some unfortunate side effects. For example, the spending overhaul could impair U.S. strategic objectives in Iraq. The Pentagon's 2 billion U.S. dollar request to equip and train Iraqi security forces has already been slashed by half, although the decision is not final.
Among the cuts announced by Secretary Gates is the shuttering of Joint Forces Command and an annual 10 percent reduction in spending for contractors over the next three years. These changes are aimed at saving 100 billion dollars over the next five years and part of a broader effort to create a more efficient department of defense.
"They are realizing that from 9/11 until now, the defense department, intel agencies, all aspects of the national security world saw huge increases in their budgets every year," said Kyle Spector, policy advisor at Third Way. "And with the economic climate that we have now, the leaders in those departments started realizing that this can not continue forever," Spector said.
Gates is likely to continue to cut pricey programs such as the F-22 - last year's budget ended production of the fighter plane - and funnel those savings into more support for troops. Last year he also killed Future Combat Systems - the Army's principal modernization program that included plans for manned and unmanned systems that would be linked by an electronic network. "I think we will see a shift from huge weapons systems to more support for the war fighter," Spector said, adding that the military will retain its superiority. "You are not going to see a desire to eliminate the preeminent military edge that the United States has," he said. "That will continue to be, at least for a couple of decades, one of the basic aspects of our military strategy - having this ten-fold edge over the next possible adversary."
The Defense Department (DOD) is faced with the question of how much it can cut until it starts eating into the bottom line and starts seriously effecting American war fighting capability. While the United States currently enjoys a measurable superiority in the world, several countries, including the Peoples Republic of China, have been making significant progress in their modernization programs.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: To get a thorough understanding of this important information, read my other blog on this subject (which follows directly below this one).