Gates Calls for Superb Military
Gates Calls for Superb
Military, Not Hollow Force
By Jim Garamone, American Forces
Washington D.C. -- June 15, 2011 -- (AFPS)
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he'd rather have a smaller "superbly
capable" military than a hollow force.
Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense
subcommittee today that even as the department looks for savings there has to be
an admission that reductions will increase risks. It was the secretary's last
appearance before Congress before his retirement June 30.
"This process must be about identifying options for the
president and for you, the Congress, to ensure that the nation consciously
acknowledges and accepts additional risk in exchange for reduced investment in
the military," Gates said. "Above all, if we are to avoid a hollowing effect,
this process must address force structure, with the overarching goal to preserve
a U.S. military capable of meeting crucial national-security priorities even if
fiscal pressure requires reductions in that force's size."
But, he said, if force structure is reduced the consequences
are that a smaller military -- no matter how superb -- "will be able to go fewer
places and be able to do fewer things."
Even as the Defense Department looks for efficiencies and
cuts, the world remains a dangerous place, the secretary said, and those looking
for savings would do well to remember that.
"Our military must remain strong and agile enough to face a
diverse range of threats -- from nonstate actors attempting to acquire and use
weapons of mass destruction and sophisticated missiles, to the more traditional
threats of other states both building up their conventional forces and
developing new capabilities that target our traditional strategies," he said.
Gates discussed areas that will be studied for savings. The
first is the planned future reductions in the size of the ground forces, the
second is the proposed reforms and savings to the TRICARE military health plan
program for working-age retirees, and the third is the budget and the strategy
choices required to meet the savings targets recently laid out by President
In 2006, one of the secretary's first acts was to increase
the size of the Army and Marines. He said at the time, and maintains today, that
the ground forces were being stretched by the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan,
and the surge into Iraq threatened to break the forces. The Army grew by 65,000
to 547,000 and the Marines by 27,000 to 202,000. He further authorized the Army
a temporary increase of 22,000, which will end in fiscal 2013.
"The objective was to reduce stress on the force, limit and
eventually end the practice of stop-loss, and to increase troops' home-station
dwell time," he said. "This has worked. And I can tell you that those stop-lossed
in the Army is now over. There are no Army soldiers stop-lossed."
Army and Marine Corps leaders believe that by fiscal 2015,
they can begin drawing down end strength with minimal risk -- reducing Army
active-duty end strength by 27,000 and the Marine Corps by somewhere between
15,000 and 20,000.
"These projections assume that the number of troops in
Afghanistan will be significantly reduced by the end of 2014 in accordance with
the president's and NATO's strategy," the secretary said. "If our assumptions
prove incorrect, there's plenty of time to adjust the size and schedule of this
Reforming TRICARE is another priority for the department,
Gates said. DOD health care costs have climbed from $19 billion in fiscal 2001
to $52.5 billion in fiscal 2012. The fiscal 2012 budget calls for modest
increases to TRICARE enrollment fees for working-age retirees, which later would
be indexed to national health expenditures. "All six members of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff have strongly endorsed these and other cost-saving TRICARE reforms in a
letter to the Congress," Gates said.
This must happen because the current TRICARE arrangement
cannot be sustained, he said. "If allowed to continue, the Department of Defense
risks the fate of other corporate and government bureaucracies that were
ultimately crippled by personnel costs, and in particular their retiree benefit
packages," he said. He urged the senators to approve the change.
The president called on DOD to find $400 billion in savings.
An earlier effort netted $100 billion in savings over five years. "The goal was
and is to sustain the U.S. military's size and strength over the long term by
reinvesting efficiency savings in force structure and other key combat
capabilities," Gates said.
He called the results mixed saying the services did a good
job of locating savings and making tough choices, with defense agencies doing
less well. "I believe there are more savings to be found by culling more
overhead and better accounting for, and thus better managing the funds and
people we have," he said. "But one thing is quite clear. The efficiencies
efforts the department has undertaken will not come close to meeting the $400
billion in savings laid out by the president."
Meeting those goals will require real cuts and real choices,
"Here I would leave you with a word of caution," the
secretary said. "We must not repeat the mistakes of the past, where budget
targets were met mostly by taking a percentage off the top of everything, the
simplest and most politically expedient approach, both inside the Pentagon and
outside of it."
He called that approach salami-slicing and while it maintains
force structure on paper, it results in hollowing out the force from a lack of
proper training, maintenance of equipment and manpower. "That's what happened in
the 1970s, a disastrous period for our military, and to a lesser extent during
the late 1990s," he said.
Gates has launched a comprehensive review to ensure that
future spending decisions "are focused on priorities, strategy and risks and are
not simply a math and accounting exercise."
The secretary wants congressional support for a leaner, more
efficient Pentagon and continued sustainable, robust investments in troops and
"Our troops have done more than their part; now it's time for
us in Washington to do ours," he said.