Reading In To Secretary Gates' Defense Budget

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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' proposals prioritize health care for troops and veterans, and aim to reform defense acquisition and contracting.

His budget indicates that the Defense Department anticipates future conflicts similar to those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Guests:

Thomas Donnelly, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute

Todd Harrison, fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee

Gates Calls For Shift In Defense Spending Priorities

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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a news briefing at the Pentagon Monday. i

At a Pentagon news briefing Monday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he is shifting priorities and steering resources toward the wars the U.S. military is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a news briefing at the Pentagon Monday.

At a Pentagon news briefing Monday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he is shifting priorities and steering resources toward the wars the U.S. military is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that he wants to "profoundly reform" the way the Pentagon does business, calling for more money for unmanned spy planes, helicopters and other items for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His new budget would eliminate a multibillion dollar satellite program and end production of the F-22 fighter jet.

Gates' announcement marks a shift in priorities — steering more resources toward the wars the U.S. military is fighting today as opposed to conventional wars the U.S. might fight in the future.

"This is a reform budget, reflecting lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan," Gates said.

Gates conceded that he will likely be criticized for focusing too much on current conflicts and not enough on future threats. But that's not the case, he said.

"It is important to remember that every defense dollar spent to overensure against a remote or diminishing risk — or, in effect, to run up the score in a capability where the United States is already dominant — is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in and improve capabilities in areas where we are underinvested and potentially vulnerable," he said. "That is a risk I will not take."

Gates wants more money for mental health care as well as for helicopters, which are urgently needed in Afghanistan. And he wants to maximize the production of unmanned spy planes, like the Predator and Reaper drones, which he says "will represent a 62 percent increase in capability over the current level and 127 percent from a year ago."

Gates also says he's committed to maintaining U.S. air superiority. "Therefore, I will recommend increasing the buy of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from the 14 aircraft bought in FY09, to 30 in FY10," he said.

But not all fighter jet programs will be so lucky: Gates announced he wants to end production of the F-22. He is also scrapping a multibillion dollar satellite program and cutting the budget for missile defense.

Over time, Gates wants to cut the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to 10, and he's scaling back the Army's modernization program.

None of these decisions will be popular with the big defense contractors, such as Lockheed Martin or Boeing. Nor will they be popular with lawmakers whose districts house weapons production plants and all the jobs that support them.

Gates acknowledged that while Monday's announcement represents an end to months of internal Pentagon debate, it's only the opening salvo in the budget battle that will play out across Washington in the coming weeks.

"My hope is that, as we have tried to do here in this building, that the members of Congress will rise above parochial interests and consider what is in the best interests of the nation as a whole," he said.

Even before Gates' news conference finished, members of Congress were busy e-mailing reporters their reactions. Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, called the new budget a "good-faith effort." But Skelton noted pointedly that "the buck stops with Congress," which gets to "decide whether to support these proposals."

It does look as though Gates will have at least one committed and powerful ally in Sen. John McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's calling the Pentagon plan "a major step in the right direction."

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