WASHINGTON, Sept. 1, 2009 – It is imperative for the nation to get defense acquisition reform right, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday during a visit to Texas to tour the plants of two major defense contractors.

Americans are getting value for their tax dollars spent in the defense realm, Gates told Bloomberg News journalist Peter Cook while traveling to Fort Worth to tour a Lockheed Martin factory that makes the F-35 jet fighter. He later visited an L3 Communications plant in Greenville.

Taxpayers “certainly are getting more than their money’s worth in terms of their men and women in uniform and the performance that they turn in,” Gates told Cook. But acquisition reform is important to the nation’s defense, said he added, so that servicemembers continue to receive appropriate –- and affordable — weapons systems and equipment needed to deter threats to the nation.

The acquisition process needs to move beyond the situation that developed over the years, Gates said, in which so many capabilities are added to a new platform or system under development that it exceeds budget and cannot be purchased in quantity or simply becomes unaffordable.

“We need to get past an era where the platforms become so expensive that we can only buy a small number of them,” Gates explained. For example, he said, the high-tech, but costly, B-2 bomber lists for almost $2 billion each; accordingly, the department has purchased just 19 of the stealthy aircraft.

Rising costs, Gates added, deep-sixed plans to purchase 32 new-generation DDG-1000 destroyers. The Pentagon now will buy just three of the new ships, he said.

Such a state of affairs “doesn’t help our military capabilities,” he said.

“So, the key is getting control of this acquisition process,” the secretary said. To do that, he said, it’s imperative “that programs are being executed according to the budgets that have been established for them, and on the timelines established.”

With the current tight economy, he said, consensus exists among officials in the Pentagon, Congress and the White House “to try to address some of these acquisition issues that have built up cumulatively over a large number of years.”

The new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is an all-purpose aircraft that makes financial sense, Gates said. The F-35 will be used by the Air Force, the Marines Corps and the Navy. Once in production, he said, the F-35’s unit price will be at less than half the cost of the F-22 Raptor fighter that’s tabbed for exclusive use by the Air Force.

The Defense Department is slated to purchase 187 F-22s, which Gates called “a great airplane.” But finite defense resources compelled the Pentagon to favor the F-35, he said.

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