Gates' Epiphany

When President Obama announced his National Security Team of Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and James Jones, we were a bit apprehensive. And that apprehension was, unfortunately, proven justified when Gates announced his 2010 budget on April 6, 2009.

The 2010 budget is so different from earlier budgets Defense Secretary Gates helped draft and push through Congress during the last Bush years that we had to wonder: did he have some sort of revelation in which it was revealed to him that the threats to the United States had been vastly reduced?

We should have suspected something was amiss when he made senior military leaders sign Non-Disclosure Agreements — in effect a gag order — so that the Service Chiefs could not discuss details of the coming budget with their staffs or even with Congress. The gag orders even reached to the service vice chiefs of staff who run the services on a daily basis. Gates — who describes himself as the Secretary of War — thus ensured that the Service Chiefs had to rely on their personal skills to convince him of their needs without the support of experts whose only reason for being is to provide analysis and advice to the service leaders.
This is a first time this has happened in our history, and it was a dramatic departure from his last two budgets. Again, what drove this epiphany?

Gates’ experience in the CIA was now being implemented to ensure, as he said, that eaks could not be sent to the Hill before he wanted them to be. It became even more apparent to us why the former Secretary of the Air Force, Mike Wynne, and Chief of Staff Buzz Moseley had to go, because both were skilled, knowledgeable infighters who had dominated the last QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review).

Since Gates was using the Air Force budget as a pot of money to pay other services’ bills, he had to change out the more experienced team for one that might be more accommodating.

When the 2010 budget was announced during the Easter recess with the Congress out of town, the average citizen and congressman did not realize that this was the most dangerous budget since the end of World War II. It decimates our Air Force, freezes our long range Missile Defense capability, scales down our naval strike forces and the Army’s future mobility capabilities without the normal analysis. All we have is Gates’ back-of-the-envelope calculations.

The American people need to know that fact. Before any military realignment is undertaken — and, as required by law — the Defense Department conducts a deep-impact analysis of the threats facing America and the weapon systems and manpower needed to deter or defeat them. This is called — again, in the law that requires it — the “Quadrennial Defense Review.”

But the 2009 QDR wasn’t even begun when Gates announced his actions which make the new QDR irrelevant. What was even more surprising was that this budget was not coordinated with the services for military advice prior, which again was a first. The normal expertise and clear analytical justification built into the budget system was missing completely. By Gates’ own admission, he did not consider the impact on the industrial base, which is profound and which he is charged to maintain.

All the cuts have been described as justified by the future of irregular warfare. We applaud the emphasis on that, but does Gates believe that we will never have to deter or fight a conventional war or face down a nuclear threat? His budget says he does.

The Gates budget is also tied to the “less than zero-sum” game imposed by budget constraints. The president signed a $787 billion stimulus that nobody read, so why didn’t Gates ask for 10% (or $79 billion) to recapitalize the services that have deployed for 19 years in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Middle East? We are not short of funds, but the Obama administration has placed a low priority on defense. The stimulus addition to defense could have created 500 thousand jobs, which should be his priority, plus recapitalized a worn-out military, which should be Gates’ top priority.

Now one of the most surprising things was that the secretary did not get all of his facts right on the programs he cancelled. This is one of the dangers of a small, rigidly-bound group having total control of the defense budget.

For instance, his cancellation of the presidential helicopter program was based on future cost projections. The current program is basically on cost and on schedule with nine helicopters delivered. The problem is that the White House, Secret Service and Navy have added a host of gold plated requirements on the next model to be bought (“increment 2”) which could have been removed.

Why cancel the program and throw away $4 billion? The Marine and Navy pilots are very happy with the performance of the helicopter. Gates should have looked at removing the gold plating instead of cancelling the program outright, as the Italian defense Minister said in letter to Mr. Gates on 28 May.

Termination of the F-22 was the most far-reaching and short-sighted of Gates’ decisions. When the program was begun in the late 1980s, the Air Force said it needed 750 F-22s. With the end of the Cold War, the requirement was reduced again and again, to the point at which the Air Force said that with 243 aircraft, there would be a “moderate risk.”

Of what? Of losing a war if we were engaged in more than one conflict at a time.

Now comes Secretary Gates, cutting the force of F-22s to the “affordable” number of 187. Please note that the threat hasn’t changed. If 243 aircraft create a moderate risk of losing a war, what do 187 mean?

It means we have a higher risk, perhaps a fatally higher one, of losing a war. Gates’ termination decision at 187 means that we will have only about 65 combat coded fighters on any given day. That would be the smallest air superiority force since WWI.

That number will also not equip each of the Air Expeditionary Forces that make up the deployable Air Force, nor will the smaller number provide sustainable combat power for the combatant commanders such as Dave Petraeus, Stan McChrystal and the other front-line warriors.

This short-sighted decision is unreasonable when measured against the developing threat we are facing in Iran and North Korea. Gates will not let the F-22 be deployed into the Middle East for unknown reasons but never fails to say that they have not been used in combat. That amounts to a political decision, not a reason to cancel the program.

Gates’ overconfidence in the F-35 misses the point. The Pentagon planned to have a mix of F-22s and F-35s because the F-35 lacks both the air-to-air dogfighting capability the F-22 has and the F-22’s survival capabilities against the advanced Surface to Air Missile Systems that are about to be deployed into Iran and even North Korea. And then there is the small fact that the F-22 is in production, and the F-35 will not be ready for prime time for years to come.

Gates’ rationale that “exquisite,” dominating combat systems are not required by American aviators…and, that the services should be equipped with aircraft that “will do” is just not embraced by the fighter pilots that actually fly into harm’s way or knowledgeable analysts that study actual lessons learned and contemporary threats and long term trends.

This “just getting-by” logic of his will be costly in lives, in treasure and certainly in our ability to influence or deter, as we will never be able to field the numbers that potential threats have available to them. We owe it to our warriors — and to ourselves — that each aircraft (or other combat system) will be the absolute best that can be produced and delivered — especially the aircraft tasked to perform the “predicate mission” of air dominance throughout the combat area of responsibility.

Why would we terminate the most advanced fighter in the world, as the production is reaching optimum price and delivery schedule for a less capable, unproven, unfielded design that would not win in a fly-off? The F-22 would have a 100 to 0 success rate against the F-35. It makes no sense at all. Ask the captains and majors what they want. They will have to fly them in combat at the risk of their lives and their joint forces.

The cancellation of the Combat Search and Rescue Helicopter — CSAR — for the Air Force 30 days before the winner was to be announced is seemingly based on Gates saying that a single service requirement was not necessary as we had lots of helicopters to do this mission. Unfortunately, the clique of sycophants around the secretary did not realize that we have tried this before in “real” combat, and it has always failed.

True, combat search and rescue is a time critical, high intensity, high risk mission area that demands pilot and aircrew core competencies, focused training, specific equipage and an assigned service responsible to the overall joint team for the organizing, training and equipping of this mission area. In short, as the previous Air Force Chief of Staff (General Buzz Moseley) has stated, “this is an ethical and moral imperative to pick our people up…all our people…across the full joint spectrum of operations. If we are going to send them out to fight…we must have the capability to recover them in distress.”

Since 2001, our CSAR crews have rescued over 3,000 people. The United States Air Force CSAR forces are Joint Forces working for the Joint Force Air Component Commander.

Mr. Secretary, we expect you to provide resources to recover our aircrews in combat and peacetime, every time, and with all possible speed and expertise.

The most egregious errors were in his testimony about the cancelation of the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI). The Lexington Institute’s Dan Goure pointed out six major factual errors in his rationale for canceling the program of a long-range interceptor. Yet Gates would not recant on this important decision on missile defense. On 28 May, former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohn pointed out in an op-ed in the Washington Times that now is not the time to cut $1.4 billion out of long range missile defense with North Korea and Iran increasing their long range missile capabilities. We quite agree with Cohen’s recommendation.

Gates is delaying the Initial Operational Capability of the Next Generation Bomber (NGB) for more study, which is just slow rolling it. The fact of the matter is this “taking of the money” and “delay for additional study” will effectively kill the effort to develop and deliver a lethal, penetrating, persistent, survivable long range strike aircraft that is required to provide the President the true global reach and global strike necessary to deter and dissuade (or deliver strategically paralyzing, decisive blows).

How many of those captains and majors and lieutenant colonels flying B-52s thought that — as it now appears will result from Gates’ decision — they and their sons will be flying the B-52 when it achieves the unenviable distinction of becoming the first 100-year old aircraft still flying in combat? Aches the age of 100 years? Surely America can do better for the pilots and crews who fly.

The Navy saw its carrier battle groups reduced from 11 to 10, which means that they will now end up with nine air wings. This will put us at greater risk at a time that we see an increasing emerging threat in North Korea and Iran. One must ask the question, why is the Obama administration taking such risk?

The Army had their Future Combat System vehicle modernization program cancelled, and General Casey, the Army Chief, said “I supported it, I did not agree with it,” which goes back to our introduction and the gag orders that our senior military leaders were forced to live with for the first time in history.

In summary, Gates still has great credibility on Capitol Hill, and we are still great admirers of all he is trying to do especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, but most members do not understand the dangers of this budget. Most alarming is this budget appears to all observers to be a step towards unilateral disarmament. For the first time in modern history, the administration will not publish the five-year defense program.

North Korea detonated a second nuclear weapon on Memorial Day and continues to fire ballistic missiles specifically to send signals of defiance to the Obama administration. The May detonation was immediately followed by President Ahmadinejad of Iran saying they would continue their nuclear development program. Today, Iran is about to come apart and we are still exhibiting weakness and appeasement.

We are facing some very challenging, very lethal and very technologically advanced threats, and now is not the time for unilateral disarmament. Only our members of Congress can stop this dangerous budget now. Mr. Gates’ priorities and his decisions without analysis are the problem. Our troops fighting today and our troops that will certainly fight tomorrow deserve a more honestly-based and adequately budgeted force structure.

What epiphany did we miss?