Defense Secretary Robert Gates is stepping up his campaign to reshape the nation's defense establishment by shifting Pentagon spending priorities and telling military and civilian officials to change the way they do business.
Returning to his home state, Gates planned to make his case on defense spending in a speech Saturday at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in the former president's hometown. Gates was the featured guest at a celebration of the 65th anniversary of Nazi Germany's surrender ending World War II in Europe.
His spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said the address was intended as a "hard-hitting message" on the need to learn to live with smaller growth in defense budgets in the years ahead, particularly in light of the nation's economic distress.
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 "grave implications" from the combination of an enormous military establishment and a huge arms industry. He worried about excessive influence on society from the military-industrial complex.
Like Pentagon chiefs before him, Gates has made a concerted effort to align defense spending more closely to the evolving security threats that have faced the U.S. since the end of the Cold War nearly a generation ago. Like his predecessors, Gates has achieved mixed results while encountering fierce resistance in Congress and inside the Pentagon bureaucracy.
The Sept. 11 attacks did lead to real change at the Pentagon — but mostly in the form of enormous increases in the defense budget and less in terms of preparing to fight the kind of insurgencies that the U.S. has struggled to overcome in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hugely expensive programs such as the Air Force's F-22 stealth fighter, conceived during the Cold War, lived on.
"When all was said and done, the way the Pentagon selected, evaluated, developed and paid for major new weapons systems and equipment did not fundamentally change — even after Sept. 11," Gates said last summer.
Gates has tried to blunt the ever-rising cost to the government of providing health care for military veterans by proposing relatively modest increases in their insurance premiums, but Congress has blocked him. Those costs, combined with troop pay increases that Congress has added on top of the Pentagon's requests, mean less money available to buy weapons and invest in new technologies.
Gates has managed to limit F-22 production short of what the Air Force had wanted, but he has had less success convincing Congress that the Air Force can get by without producing more C-17 cargo planes.
Last year, Congress defied the administration by including in the 2010 defense budget $465 million to develop an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Air Force's multimission fighter of the future. The White House and Gates still support production of the F-35, which can fulfill multiple combat roles, but the administration asserts that the second engine program is unnecessary.
In a speech May 3 to the Navy League, which advocates for Navy programs and budgets, Gates said the nation must rethink whether it can afford such an enormous naval fleet at a time when the Army and Marine Corps need more money to take care of troops and their families.
In remarks Friday to officers at the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Gates said wryly that he gathered from Navy reaction to his speech that "they didn't much like what I had to say."
On the Net:
Defense Department: http://www.defense.gov/
Eisenhower Library: http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/
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